The pinnacle of Colonel James S. Ketchum’s career in developing psychochemical weapons during the Cold War was a field test that he orchestrated at the Dugway Proving Ground, in Utah, in 1964. The test, code-named Project DORK, was designed to gauge whether clouds of a delirium-inducing drug, called BZ, could incapacitate soldiers at distances of five hundred or a thousand yards, in a realistic setting. In “Operation Delirium,” an article in The New Yorker this week about the Army’s Cold War experiments on chemical weapons, I describe the experiment in detail, as well as a film that Ketchum directed about it, called “Cloud of Confusion.” Far from the formal, airless, informational tone that one associates with Cold War propaganda movies, Ketchum’s film is uniquely loose and unpolished; it attempts to capture the mind-altering effect of the drug as much as it seeks to describe it. In his memoir, “Chemical Warfare: Secrets Almost Forgotten,” Ketchum explains, “It was my purpose to create a contemplative, suspenseful mood in order to heighten interest, hoping to distinguish this movie from the usual dry Army documentary.”
The video above, “War of the Mind,” compiled by The New Yorker, provides a brief look into the making of the film, and into the Army’s broader cinematic attempts to document its search for the perfect psychochemical weapon.
See also “Manufacturing Madness,” our video compilation of chemical experiments on soldiers at the Army’s Edgewood Arsenal.