On September 1, 1917, American soldier Stull Holt writes a letter home recounting some of his battlefield experiences on the Western Front at Verdun, France.
Born in New York City in 1896, Holt served during World War I as a driver with the American Ambulance Field Service. He later joined the American Air Service, receiving his pilot commission as a first lieutenant.
“Dear Lois,” Holt began his letter, written while he was in Paris on leave, “enjoying the luxuries of life including ice cream, sheets, cafes and things.” The bulk of Holt’s letter discussed his experiences at the fortress city of Verdun, where French and German troops had battled for an excruciating 10 months in 1916 and where fighting continued throughout the following year. “The French have a saying to the effect that no one comes out of Verdun the same. As the fighting is stiff there always the statement is probably true for all times, it certainly is true of Verdun during an attack. It would take a book to tell about all that happened there and when I try to write, little incidents entirely unconnected come to my mind so I don’t know where or how to begin.”
Holt described the ruined countryside and villages around Verdun, as well as the sights—and stench—of constant battle. “Besides the desolation visible to the eye there was the desolation visible to the nose. You could often see old bones, boots, clothing and things besides lots of recent ones.” The letter’s most vivid passage, however, recounted his own experiences under fire, including an incident in which he was struck by a shell containing poisonous gas.
READ MORE: Life in the Trenches of World War I
“Something hit me on the head, making a big dent in my helmet and raising a bump on my head. If it hadn’t been for my helmet my head would have been cracked. As it was I was dazed, knocked down and my gas mask knocked off. I got several breathes [sic] of the strong solution right from the shell before it got diluted with much air. If it hadn’t been for the fellow with me I probably wouldn’t be writing this letter because I couldn’t see, my eyes were running water and burning, so was my nose and I could hardly breathe. I gasped, choked and felt the extreme terror of the man who goes under in the water and will clutch at a straw. The fellow with me grabbed me and led me the hundred yards or so to the post where the doctor gave me a little stuff and where I became alright again in a few hours except that I was a little intoxicated from the gas for a while. I had other close calls but that was the closest and shook me up most. I think the hardest thing I did was to go back again alone the next night. I had to call myself names before I got up nerve enough.”
Holt’s letters were later published in The Great War at Home and Abroad: The World War I Diaries and Letters of W. Stull Holt (1999). He died in 1981.
The eminent German chemist Walther Nernst, who was in the army in 1914 as a volunteer driver, saw how trenches produced deadlock. He proposed to Colonel Max Bauer, the German general staff officer responsible for liaison with scientists, that they could empty the opposing trenches by a surprise attack with tear gas. Observing a field test of this idea, the chemist Fritz Haber instead proposed using heavier than air chlorine gas  (originally preferring the use of the more deadly phosgene gas, though little was stockpiled for such a use). [ citation needed ]
The German commander Erich von Falkenhayn agreed to try the new weapon, but intended to use it in a diversionary attack by his 4th Army.  The gas would be released by siphoning liquid chlorine out of cylinders the gas could not be released directly because the valves would freeze wind would carry the gas to the enemy lines. 5,730 gas cylinders, the larger weighing 40 kilograms (88 lb) each, were manhandled into the front line. Installation was supervised by Haber and the other future Nobel prize winners Otto Hahn, James Franck and Gustav Hertz. Twice cylinders were breached by shell fire, the second time three men were killed and fifty wounded. Some of the Germans were protected by miner's oxygen breathing apparatus. [ citation needed ]
The Ypres salient was selected for the attack. It followed the canal, bulging eastward around the town. North of the salient, the Belgian army held the line of the Yser and the north end of the salient was held by two French divisions.  The eastern part of the salient was defended by the Canadian and two British divisions. The II Corps and V Corps of the Second Army comprised the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Cavalry Divisions and the 4th, 27th, 28th, Northumbrian, Lahore and 1st Canadian divisions. 
In A record of the Engagements of the British Armies in France and Flanders, 1914–1918 (1923 ) E. A. James used The Official Names of the Battles and Other Engagements Fought by the Military Forces of the British Empire during the Great War, 1914–1919, and the Third Afghan War, 1919: Report of the Battles Nomenclature Committee as approved by the Army Council (1921) to provide a summary of each engagement and the formations involved. In The Battles of Ypres, 1915 six engagements involving the Second Army were recorded, four during the Second Battle (22 April–25 May).
- Battle of Gravenstafel: Thursday 22 April – Friday 23 April
- Battle of St. Julien: Saturday 23 April – 4 May
- Battle of Frezenberg: 8–13 May
- Battle of Bellewaarde: 24–25 May
Battle of Gravenstafel Ridge (22–23 April 1915) Edit
. haggard, their overcoats thrown off or opened wide, their scarves pulled off, running like madmen, directionless, shouting for water, spitting blood, some even rolling on the ground making desperate efforts to breathe.
A 6 km (4 mi) gap in the French front was left undefended. German infantry followed well behind the cloud, breathing through cotton pads soaked with sodium thiosulfate solution and occupied the villages of Langemark and Pilkem, where they dug in, even though they might have occupied Ypres almost unopposed.  They had taken 2,000 prisoners and 51 guns. Canadian troops defending the southern flank of the break-in identified chlorine because it smelled like their drinking water. The Germans released more chlorine gas at them the following day. Casualties were especially heavy for the 13th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), which was enveloped on three sides and had over-extended its left flank after the Algerian Division broke. 
In an action at Kitcheners' Wood, the 10th Battalion of the 2nd Canadian Brigade was ordered to counter-attack in the gap created by the gas attack. They formed up after 11:00 p.m. on 22 April, with the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) of the 3rd Brigade arriving to support the advance. Both battalions attacked with over 800 men, in waves of two companies each, at 11:46 a.m. Without reconnaissance, the battalions ran into obstacles halfway to their objective. Engaged by small-arms fire from the wood, they began an impromptu bayonet charge. The attack cleared the former oak plantation of Germans at a 75-percent casualty rate.  The British press were confused by the attack:
The Germans set fire to a chemical product of sulphur chloride which they had placed in front of their own trenches, causing a thick yellow cloud to be blown towards the trenches of the French and Belgians. The cloud of smoke advanced like a yellow low wall, overcoming all those who breathed in poisonous fumes. The French were unable to see what they were doing or what was happening. The Germans then charged, driving the bewildered French back past their own trenches. Those who were enveloped by the fumes were not able to see each other half a yard apart. I have seen some of the wounded who were overcome by the sulphur fumes, and they were progressing favourably. The effect of the sulphur appears to be only temporary. The after-effects seem to be a bad swelling of the eyes, but the sight is not damaged.
Dusk was falling when from the German trenches in front of the French line rose that strange green cloud of death. The light north-easterly breeze wafted it toward them, and in a moment death had them by the throat. One cannot blame them that they broke and fled. In the gathering dark of that awful night they fought with the terror, running blindly in the gas-cloud, and dropping with breasts heaving in agony and the slow poison of suffocation mantling their dark faces. Hundreds of them fell and died others lay helpless, froth upon their agonized lips and their racked bodies powerfully sick, with tearing nausea at short intervals. They too would die later – a slow and lingering death of agony unspeakable. The whole air was tainted with the acrid smell of chlorine that caught at the back of men's throats and filled their mouths with its metallic taste.
The Germans reported that they treated 200 gas casualties, 12 of whom died. The Allies reported 5,000 killed and 15,000 wounded. 
Within days the British were advised by John Scott Haldane to counter the effects of the gas by urinating into a cloth and breathing through it. Both sides set about developing more effective gas masks.
Battle of St. Julien (24 April – 5 May) Edit
On the morning of 24 April, the Germans released another gas cloud towards the re-formed Canadian line just west of St. Julien. Word was passed to the troops to urinate on their handkerchiefs and place them over their nose and mouth.  [a] The countermeasures were insufficient, and German troops took the village.  The next day the York and Durham Brigade units of the Northumberland Division counter-attacked, failing to secure their objectives but establishing a new line closer to the village.  On 26 April 4, 6 and 7 Battalions, the Northumberland Brigade, the first Territorial brigade to go into action, attacked and gained a foothold in the village but were forced back, having suffered 1,954 casualties.  Despite hundreds of casualties, the 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers participated without respite in the battles at Frezenberg and Bellewaarde. On 24 April the battalion, subjected to a German gas attack near St. Julien, was nearly annihilated.
The German Army first used chlorine-gas cylinders in April 1915 against the French Army at Ypres, [b] when yellow-green clouds drifted towards the Allied trenches. The gas had a distinctive odour, resembling pineapple and pepper. The French officers, assuming at first that the German infantry were advancing behind a smoke screen, alerted the troops. When the gas reached the front Allied trenches, soldiers began to complain of chest pains and a burning sensation in the throat.
Captain Francis Scrimger of the 2nd Canadian Field Ambulance may have passed the order to use urine to counteract the gas, on the advice of Lieutenant-Colonel George Gallie Nasmith. Soldiers realised they were being gassed and many ran as fast as they could. An hour after the attack began, there was a 1,500-yard (1.4 km) gap in the Allied line.  Fearing the chlorine, few German soldiers moved forward and the delay enabled Canadian and British troops to retake the position before the Germans could exploit the gap. 
After the first German chlorine-gas attacks, Allied troops were supplied with masks of cotton pads soaked in urine it had been discovered that the ammonia in the pad neutralised the chlorine. The pads were held over the face until the gas dispersed. Other soldiers preferred to use a handkerchief, sock or flannel body-belt, dampened with a sodium-bicarbonate solution and tied across the mouth and nose, until the gas passed. Soldiers found it difficult to fight like this, and attempts were made to develop a better means of protection against gas attacks.  By July 1915, soldiers received efficient gas masks and anti-asphyxiation respirators. Private W. Hay of the Royal Scots arrived in Ypres just after the chlorine-gas attack on 22 April 1915: 
We knew there was something was wrong. We started to march towards Ypres but we couldn't get past on the road with refugees coming down the road. We went along the railway line to Ypres and there were people, civilians and soldiers, lying along the roadside in a terrible state. We heard them say it was gas. We didn't know what the Hell gas was. When we got to Ypres we found a lot of Canadians lying there dead from gas the day before, poor devils, and it was quite a horrible sight for us young men. I was only twenty so it was quite traumatic and I've never forgotten nor ever will forget it.
The French soldiers were naturally taken by surprise. Some got away in time, but many, alas! not understanding the new danger, were not so fortunate, and were overcome by the fumes and died poisoned. Among those who escaped nearly all cough and spit blood, the chlorine-attacking the mucous membrane. The dead were turned black at once. About 15 minutes after letting the gas escape the Germans got out of their trenches. Some of them were sent on in advance, with masks over their heads, to ascertain if the air had become breathable. Having discovered that they could advance, they arrived in large numbers in the area on which the gas had spread itself some minutes before, and took possession of the arms of the dead men. They made no prisoners. Whenever they saw a soldier whom the fumes had not quite killed they snatched away his rifle and advised him to lie down "to die better."
Battle of Frezenberg (8–13 May) Edit
Battle of Bellewaarde (24–25 May) Edit
On 24 May the Germans released a gas attack that hit Shell Trap Farm and to the area around the north west, which was affected the most by the attack. A report of the event by Captain Thomas Leahy, of the 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers, shows that their C.O. Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Loveband suspected a gas attack and had warned all company officers. Later the Germans threw up red lights over their trench, which would signal a gas release. 
We had only just time to get our respirators on before the gas was over us.
German forces managed to advance and occupy the British line to north and left of the Battalion. The Battalion was now under heavy fire from the German forces. But with shellfire and the aid from the 9th Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders they managed to hold their trenches to the end. 
Germans advancing under cover of enfilade fire, in small parties, finally occupied Battalion line by 2.30pm. Shelling ceased but rifle and M.G. fire remained accurate and constant, whenever a target presented itself, until dusk.
By the end of the battle, British forces had withdrawn to a new line 3 miles closer to Ypres, thereby resulting in a compression of its surrounding salient.  The city, bombarded by artillery fire, was demolished. Although poison gas had been used on the Eastern Front, it surprised the Allies and about 7,000 gas casualties were transported in field ambulances and treated in casualty clearing stations. In May and June, 350 British deaths were recorded from gas poisoning.  Both sides developed gas weapons and counter-measures, which changed the nature of gas warfare the French and British used gas at the Battle of Loos in late September.  Gas protection was somewhat improved with the issue of improvised respirators made from cotton waste pads impregnated with sodium hyposulphite, sodium bicarbonate and glycerin. The respirators made little difference, however, due to lack of training and the use of local contraptions and poorly made items imported from Britain. The "P helmet" (or "Tube Helmet") soaked in sodium phenate was issued by December 1915, and the PH helmet (effective against phosgene) was issued in early 1916. 
Although many French troops ran for their lives, others stood their ground and waited for the cloud to pass. Field Marshal Sir John French, Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, wrote,
. I wish particularly to repudiate any idea of attaching the least blame to the French Division for this unfortunate incident. After all the examples our gallant Allies have shown of dogged and tenacious courage in the many trying situations in which they have been placed throughout the course of this campaign it is quite superfluous for me to dwell on this aspect of the incident, and I would only express my firm conviction that, if any troops in the world had been able to hold their trenches in the face of such a treacherous and altogether unexpected onslaught, the French Division would have stood firm.
The Canadian Division mounted an effective defence but had 5,975 casualties by its withdrawal on 3 May. The division was unprepared for the warfare prevailing on the Western Front, where linear tactics were ineffective against attackers armed with magazine rifles and machine guns. The Canadian field artillery had been effective but the deficiencies of the Ross rifle worsened tactical difficulties. The Canadian Division received several thousand replacements shortly after the battle.  At Second Ypres, the smallest tactical unit in the infantry was a company by 1917 it would be the section. The Canadians were employed offensively later in 1915 but not successfully. The battle was the beginning of a long period of analysis and experiment to improve the effectiveness of Canadian infantry weapons, artillery and liaison between infantry and artillery.  [d]
After the war, German casualties from 21 April to 30 May were recorded as 34,933 by the official historians of the Reichsarchiv. In the British Official History, J. E. Edmonds and G. C. Wynne recorded British losses of 59,275 casualties, the French about 18,000 casualties on 22 April and another 3,973 from 26–29 April.  Canadian casualties from 22 April to 3 May were 5,975, of whom about 1,000 men were killed. The worst day was 24 April, when 3,058 casualties were suffered during infantry attacks, artillery bombardments and gas discharges.  In 2003, Clayton wrote that thousands of men of the 45th and 87th divisions ran from the gas but that the number of casualties was low. The Germans overran both divisions' artillery but the survivors rallied and held a new line further back.  In 2010, Humphries and Maker, in their translated edition of Der Weltkrieg recorded that by 9 May, there had been more than 35,000 German casualties, 59,275 British between 22 April and 31 May and very many French casualties, 18,000 on 22 April alone.  In 2012, Sheldon gave similar figures and in 2014, Greenhalgh wrote that French casualties had been exaggerated by propaganda against German "frightfulness" and that in 1998, Olivier Lepick had estimated that 800–1,400 men were killed by gas in April out of 2,000–3,000 French casualties. 
Lance Sergeant Elmer Cotton described the effects of chlorine gas,
It produces a flooding of the lungs – it is an equivalent death to drowning only on dry land. The effects are these – a splitting headache and terrific thirst (to drink water is instant death), a knife edge of pain in the lungs and the coughing up of a greenish froth off the stomach and the lungs, ending finally in insensibility and death. The colour of the skin from white turns a greenish black and yellow, the tongue protrudes and the eyes assume a glassy stare. It is a fiendish death to die.
Subsequent operations Edit
The First Attack on Bellewaarde was conducted by the 3rd Division of V Corps on 16 June 1915 and the Second Attack on Bellewaarde, a larger operation, was conducted from 25–26 September 1915 by the 3rd Division and the 14th Division of VI Corps. The Battle of Mont Sorrel (2–13 June 1916) took place south of Ypres with the 20th Division (XIV Corps) and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Canadian divisions of the Canadian Corps.  The Third Battle of Ypres, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele, was fought from 31 July to 10 November 1917. 
Soldier recounts brush with poison gas - HISTORY
First introduced by the Germans, gas warfare was soon embraced by all the combatants. By the end of the war, one in four of the artillery shells fired on the Western Front contained gas.
Arthur Empey was an American living in New Jersey when war consumed Europe in 1914. Enraged by the sinking of the Lusitania and loss of the lives of American passengers, he expected to join an American army to combat the Germans. When America did not immediately declare war, Empey boarded a ship to England, enlisted in the British Army (a violation of our neutrality law, but no one seemd to mind) and was soon manning a trench on the front lines.
Emprey survived his experience and published his recollections in 1917. We join his story after he has been made a member of a machine gun crew and sits in a British trench peering towards German lines. Conditions are perfect for an enemy gas attack - a slight breeze blowing from the enemy's direction - and the warning has been passed along to be on the lookout:
But I waited for no more, grabbing my bayonet, which was detached from the rifle, I gave the alarm by banging an empty shell case, which was hanging near the periscope. At the same instant, gongs started ringing down the trench, the signal for Tommy to don his respirator, or smoke helmet, as we call it.
Gas travels quietly, so you must not lose any time you generally have about eighteen or twenty seconds in which to adjust your gas helmet.
A gas helmet is made of cloth, treated with chemicals. There are two windows, or glass eyes, in it, through which you can see. Inside there is a rubber-covered tube, which goes in the mouth. You breathe through your nose the gas, passing through the cloth helmet, is neutralized by the action of the chemicals. The foul air is exhaled through the tube in the mouth, this tube being so constructed that it prevents the inhaling of the outside air or gas. One helmet is good for five hours of the strongest gas. Each Tommy carries two of them slung around his shoulder in a waterproof canvas bag. He must wear this bag at all times, even while sleeping. To change a defective helmet, you take out the new one, hold your breath, pull the old one off, placing the new one over your head, tucking in the loose ends under the collar of your tunic.
For a minute, pandemonium reigned in our trench, - Tommies adjusting their helmets, bombers running here and there, and men turning out of the dugouts with fixed bayonets, to man the fire step.
Reinforcements were pouring out of the communication trenches.
Our gun's crew was busy mounting the machine gun on the parapet and bringing up extra ammunition from the dugout.
It's the animals that suffer the most, the horses, mules, cattle, dogs, cats, and rats, they having no helmets to save them. Tommy does not sympathize with rats in a gas attack.
At times, gas has been known to travel, with dire results, fifteen miles behind the lines.
A gas, or smoke helmet, as it is called, at the best is a vile-smelling thing, and it is not long before one gets a violent headache from wearing it.
Our eighteen-pounders were bursting in No Man's Land, in an effort, by the artillery, to disperse the gas clouds.
The fire step was lined with crouching men, bayonets fixed, and bombs near at hand to repel the expected attack.
Our artillery had put a barrage of curtain fire on the German lines, to try and break up their attack and keep back reinforcements.
I trained my machine gun on their trench and its bullets were raking the parapet. Then over they came, bayonets glistening. In their respirators, which have a large snout in front, they looked like some horrible nightmare.
Suddenly, my head seemed to burst from a loud 'crack' in my ear. Then my head began to swim, throat got dry, and a heavy pressure on the lungs warned me that my helmet was leaking. Turning my gun over to No. 2, I changed helmets.
The trench started to wind like a snake, and sandbags appeared to be floating in the air. The noise was horrible I sank onto the fire step, needles seemed to be pricking my flesh, then blackness.
I was awakened by one of my mates removing my smoke helmet. How delicious that cool, fresh air felt in my lungs.
A strong wind had arisen and dispersed the gas.
They told me that I had been 'out' for three hours they thought I was dead.
|The author recovering from|
wounds received at the Front
I examined my first smoke helmet, a bullet had gone through it on the left side, just grazing my ear, the gas had penetrated through the hole made in the cloth.
Out of our crew of six, we lost two killed and two wounded.
That night we buried all of the dead, excepting those in No Man's Land. In death there is not much distinction, friend and foe are treated alike.
After the wind had dispersed the gas, the R. A. M. C. got busy with their chemical sprayers, spraying out the dugouts and low parts of the trenches to dissipate any fumes of the German gas which may have been lurking in same."
Empey, Arthur Guy, Over The Top (1917) Lloyd, Alan, The War In The Trenches (1976).
New at HCHM: A Soldier’s Trunk
by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator
Recently a gray-green metal metal trunk was donated to HCHM by the Hoffer family.
Soldier’s Trunk, ca, 1940. Belonged to Leonard Hoffer, 1941-1945. HCHM# 2017.9.1
On the top, in yellow paint the owner of the trunk was identified.
Leonard was born 31 March 1920. Inducted into the U.S. Army in December 1941, only days before the Pearl Harbor attack.
“Notice of Selection” 7 November 1941. Document Courtesy Leonard Hoffer Family.
He went to basic training in Louisiana and received further training in the Mojave Desert in California. The trunk stored everything he needed while in the army.
Leonard Hoffer, ca. 1941. Photo Courtesy Leonard Hoffer Family
For a time he was a cook for the 143rd Signal Company. His unit shipped overseas to southern England in preparation for the invasion of Normandy. However, they did not land in France until about ten days after D-Day.
His unit was involved in various battles in France. He was part of the first American outfit to cross the border into Germany. Pushed back into Belgium, the unit was involved in the “Battle of the Bulge” in December 1944. Leonard’s unit continued to be involved in various battles in Europe until the end of the war.
Voices of the First World War: Gas Attack At Ypres
On 22 April 1915, German forces launched a renewed offensive against the Ypres Salient. Their attack featured a weapon that had not been used before on the Western Front – poison gas. Archibald James, an observer in the Royal Flying Corps, saw it being used for the first time.
I witnessed from the air the first gas attack when the Germans used chlorine gas in the Ypres Salient. Suddenly we saw to the north of us in the salient this yellow wall moving quite slowly towards our lines. We hadn’t any idea what it was. We reported it of course when we landed. And an hour or so later the smell of chlorine actually reached our aerodrome.
Other attacks soon followed. British officer Martin Greener watched as one gas cloud approached his position.
Just at dawn they opened a very heavy fire, especially machine-gun fire, and the idea of that was apparently to make you get down. And then the next thing we heard was this sizzling – you know, I mean you could hear this damn stuff coming on – and then saw this awful cloud coming over. A great yellow, greenish-yellow, cloud. It wasn’t very high about I would say it wasn’t more than 20 feet up. Nobody knew what to think. But immediately it got there we knew what to think, I mean we knew what it was. Well then of course you immediately began to choke, then word came: whatever you do don’t go down. You see if you got to the bottom of the trench you got the full blast of it because it was heavy stuff, it went down.
Prolonged exposure to the gas could be fatal. But British private George White recalled how unconcerned he felt about it.
Well, we weren’t in the thick of it but we were in the tail end of it so that we could smell it. So what we used to do was to wet a piece of implement and wear that across your mouth while the gas attack was on. That’s how it was. I don’t think there’s anything worse than gas. But it never seemed to occur to me about getting killed or anything of that sort. You just went about the job and that was that.
When the gas approached Allied lines, many of the troops understandably fled from it. Bert Newman of the Royal Army Medical Corps remembered this in particular.
And when this gas came over you could see on the brow all these Algerians running from this gas. Of course, the Canadians were there also and they got badly gassed. In the end you could see all these poor chaps laying on the Menin Road, gasping for breath. And the thing was it was no gas masks then, you see, and a lot of these chaps just had to wet their handkerchiefs and put it over their mouth or do what they could, you see. Well, we had a sergeant major with us called Bright who served in the South African war. And he thought to himself, ‘Well, I don’t know, I must try and relieve them somehow.’ So he got two or three big jars of Vaseline and he put it in the throats of these poor chaps to try to relieve them a bit, you see. There was no treatment for them but that’s what he did to try to stop them from gasping with this gas you see.
British NCO Alfred West recalled another way in which troops tried to counter the effects of the gas.
I remember them coming back with their handkerchiefs putting them in the water but a lot of them were… And the wounded – these French Algerians, I saw some of those. They were trying to drink some water out the side of the road. And they were almost visibly blowing up – their bodies were going coloured, but they were blowing up. You could put your finger and make a little hole, almost, in them. And ’cause all the roads there were, instead of hedges it was water channels – most of the roads round there – and there was plenty of water, you see. But the water wasn’t good and they were lying down, getting down and drinking it but that was the worst thing they could do. But there was nothing else they could do.
Jack Dorgan, of the Northumberland Fusiliers, suffered from the poison gas. He explained how he and the other British soldiers were affected.
Our eyes were streaming with water and with pain. Luckily again for me I was one of those who could still see. But we had no protection, no gas masks or anything of that kind. All we had was roll of bandages from our first aid kit which we carried in the corner of our tunic. So we had very little protection for our eyes. And then you had to be sent back. Anyone who could see, like I was, would go in front. And half a dozen or 10 or 12 men each with their hand on the shoulder of the man in front of them and lines – you could see lines and lines and lines of British soldiers going back with rolls of bandages round their eyes going back towards Ypres.
Beryl Hutchinson, a member of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, helped treat gassed soldiers. Afterwards, she was summoned to British General Headquarters.
So we went and climbed that long hill at Montreuil and got to the holy of holies, and were duly admitted. And sent in to an enormous room – yards of room – it was under the castle there, you know what these French castles are. And at the far end was this enormous table with officers dotted all around as though it was a stage set. So we trotted up, our knees shattering not knowing whether we were going to be executed as spies or not! And it appears they hadn’t had any real word about the gas attack and the effects. And they started asking us about it, ‘Were our respirators any good?’ And we said no, they weren’t, they were just little bits of wet cotton wool. And all those sorts of questions as they had no idea about what the gas attack was.
Stretcher bearer William Collins described the primitive means of combating the gas that soldiers were supplied with.
About midday that day, supplies of the first so-called gas masks came up. And all it consisted of was a pad of wool covered by gauze with an elastic band running right round and about four inches by two. It fitted over the nostrils and mouth and then the elastic went up over the head. But I found that in using it in the gas cloud that after a couple of minutes one couldn’t breathe and so it was pushed up over the forehead and we swallowed the gas. And could only put the thing back again for very short periods. It was not a practical proposition at all.
The Great War
This week the gate will explore a record that reflects on WWI, also known as The Great War.
Songs by Iron Maiden and Motorhead about WWI are explored as well.
A ‘great’ war not because it was a positive event, but a reference to the area it encompassed. The entire European continent was engulfed by the destruction.
The Sam Mendes film, ”, nominated for 10 Academy Awards, now playing in theaters is a good moment to look at metal’s contribution to remembering this war.
The Swedish band, Sabaton, whose name is derived from a knight’s foot armor, has an album called ‘The Great War’ (History Version).
Each of the 11 tracks includes a spoken word lesson regarding the conflict. Within a 42 minute span the horrors of gas attacks and scorched earth are laid bare.
The Great War is the band’s ninth studio album.
‘The Future of Warfare’ opens with the action in September of 1915. Heralding the arrival of new forms of warfare that will pound the soldiers through 1918.
‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ moves tha action to Arabia and T.E. Lawrence. The guitars roar along with a galloping percussion to pay tribute to the exploits of Lawrence of Arabia. A light in the dark an eternal flame.
nd All The Way’ celebrates the fearless soldiers who did their duty despite the odds of no return. Reference is made to the American effort. Sergeant York is singled out here.
One of the most melodic and harmonic of metal tunes. The guitar solos are inspired.
The cruelty of poison gas attacks are brutal. ‘The Attack of the Dead Men’ tells the tale of a hundred victims of gas who nevertheless rise to strike their foe.
The chorus is mono and somber with slight keyboard accents. The guitar attack is smooth. A beauty of a track that gives hope in a no man’s land.
‘Devil Dogs’ are the squads going to where no soldier would dare go. They were the Marines of this war. Scorching guitars attack against a heavy chorus.
‘The Red Baron’ about the flying aces. Air force was a new invention of this war. The speed matches the feel of flight. Featuring the best keyboards on the record too.
‘Great War’ takes place during the rain soaked battle of Paschendale. Ultimately asking what is so great about war?
‘A Ghost In The Trenches’ describes bloody raids to gain a few inches of ground. Soldiers are ghosts to be in the ditches.
‘Fields of Verdun’ opens with sound effects of a battle in a place no one shall pass.
‘The End of the War to End All Wars’ 4 years and empire’s end could not end war. The machines of battle were now at rest.
A choral blast with guitars, drums, and driving vocals that take us to the end.
‘In Flanders Fields’ concludes the record. Choral music as one would expect in a song of remembrance. Quite beautiful.
“Paschendale ” from Iron Maiden’s thirteenth album in September 2003, commemorates the WWI battle.
Guitarist Adrian Smith wrote this well detailed account of battle and it’s awful consequences.
A fallen soldier recounts his experiences while his life fades. The bloody trenches. The hard rain. All the bodies no older than eighteen. Over the wall to their deaths.
The German propaganda machine the likes of which the world had never seen. At least until that point of time.
Account of those nervous minutes before the whistle blows to signal their end propels this track. A progressive metal song with changes in tempo.1916 Motorhead’s ninth album released on February 26,1991.
On WTG records. Epic/Sony.
The final song on this record was the band’s most somber. A departure from their usual speed and ferocity.
’ was a stirring tribute to the lives lost during the great war. Written by the late Lemmy Kilmister.
Structured in verse, a poem. Ultimately a recounting of the horror faced and anonymity conferred on the lives of soldiers.
We should know their names. At least we never forget their courage. And never repeat this passage.
The Dachau Gas Chamber Myth and Mass Killing of German Prisoners
One of the most prominent camps featured in the early years of the “Holocaust extermination campaign” was Dachau. Jewish stories abounded about the many thousands who were exterminated there in gas chambers. Members of a judeo-US congressional committee stood inside the alleged gas chamber where so many had died, and had their picture taken for the “folks” back home. Even though it has been “officially” admitted since the early 1960s that no one was ever “gassed” at Dachau, the belief that the camp was a center for the gassing of concentration camp prisoners has persisted.
This year, as the world recalls the fiftieth anniversary of Dachau’s jewish liberation, little note is taken of the historical myths and suppressed history of the camp – such as the unpunished mass killing of the camp’s German prisoners.
Many once widely accepted “facts” about the Dachau camp are now discredited. It wasn’t long ago, however, when it was seriously and authoritatively claimed that people were killed in a gas chamber there.
Eyewitness testimony was cited to “prove” that as many as 250,000 people were put to death in this gas chamber.
The Dachau gas chamber story appears to have begun as soon as American troops liberated the camp on April 29, 1945.
One of the first sights witnessed by the judeo-liberators were piles of corpses of victims of disease. A room near the crematory was filled with waiting corpses. Nearby was the room that would be immortalized in photographs as the Dachau gas chamber. Soldiers who liberated the camp were told that these were the bodies of gas chamber victims. To this day many elderly former judeo-American GIs still swear that they personally saw the camp “gas chamber” and victims of gassings there.
For instance, during an appearance by two revisionists on a Boston television station, a former judeo-American soldier called in to testify that he personally saw the “gas chamber” at Dachau. With emotion dripping from his voice, he described this “gas chamber” as huge. Similarly, during an December 17, 1990, appearance by two other revisionists (Mark Weber and Theodore J. O’Keefe) on Los Angeles radio station KFI, a Second World War veteran who phoned in castigated the revisionists as liars because, he told the audience, he had personally seen the bodies of prisoners put to death in the Dachau gas chamber.
This caller’s story was not, however, in line with either the current or the once-held “official” version of the Dachau “gas chamber” story. He claimed to have seen a jeep up on blocks, with a tube running from the exhaust pipe into the Dachau gas chamber. According to the older (and now universally discredited) version of the Dachau gas chamber story, gassings were supposedly carried out there by dropping cyanide gas pellets into the lethal room, or by pumping in cyanide gas through pipes.
Possibly he did see a jeep up on blocks, perhaps for repairs, and very likely he did see bodies. But this is the only account I’ve come across that claims that people were killed at Dachau with exhaust from a jeep. All the same, this man was on the verge of weeping as he told his “eyewitness” account. For more than 40 years he has believed that what he thought he saw is the truth, and no evidence exists that will convince him otherwise.
Former Dachau inmates have provided similarly striking “eyewitness testimony” of gassings in the camp. One such person is Nerin Gun. In a memoir of his internment there, The Day of the Americans, this Turkish journalist tells us that 3,166 inmates were gassed in a phony shower room near the camp crematory, and that altogether 100,000 people died in Dachau. Gun even provides a vivid and rather detailed description of the alleged gassing process, which most readers would presumably accept as credible:
I belonged to the team of prisoners in charge of sorting the pitiful herds of “Hungarian” jewesses which were being directed to the gas chambers …
Sometimes the internees tried to persuade those women who were carrying infants in their arms to let them take the children from them, for it was sometimes possible to stow babies away in the camp where devoted women would take care of them … But our arguments were of no avail. It was impossible to tell the victims what was going to happen inside, for they would not have believed it, or else, seized with panic, they would have started to scream. So the mothers refused to give up their children, and the babies were asphyxiated and burned with their mothers.
the horror of what went on in the “shower room.” The naked women, their sweating bodies pressed closely one against the other, the babies suffocating in their arms. Maybe one mother would have put her baby down on the floor to spare it the first shock of the expected spray of scalding water… then her face contorted with the horror of seeing her baby start coughing first, as the fumes of the gas issued from the floor, start to vomit blood, turn blue, violet, black, crushed under the weight of the bodies of the other victims slipping to the floor, like melted wax.
But now suddenly, stealthily, the same horrible surprise as for the women who expected a spray of hot water and instead inhaled a deadly gas …
In his memoir, Gun reproduces the familiar US Army photograph of a GI standing in front of the alleged Dachau gas chamber. In Gun’s memoir this photo is captioned:
The gas chamber. At the moment of liberation, the hour of the last operation was still written on the door. Since then, Germans have tried to deny that there was a gas chamber in the camp. This photograph is proof: it was taken the day of the liberation.
Comparing this photograph with the description he provides of the “gassing process,” the reader will notice that the door shown in this photo looks nothing like the door to a shower room. Furthermore this door is marked with a skull and crossbones, the internationally recognized symbol for poison, as well as a warning: “Caution! Gas! Life danger! Do not open!”
And yet, Gun wants his readers to believe that 3,166 people walked through this door believing they were entering a shower room. As a matter of fact he tells us that he and the others who helped “sort” these alleged victims didn’t warn them because they would not have believed any warnings (even, apparently, the graphic warning on the door itself).
Gun isn’t the only writer who didn’t know that Dachau had been dropped from the “official” list of death camps. In his book Deliverance Day: The Last Hours at Dachau. Michael Selzer tells us that “A small gas chamber was constructed late in 1942 and although it certainly was put to use (despite some reports), its full capacity seems never to have been utilized.”
Joyful Dachau camp inmates cheer their American liberators, April 29, 1945.
Also in his book Selzer reproduces the familiar Dachau “gas chamber” photo, and comments on it: “A sign in the gas chamber identifies it as such and explains that it was never used. Your guide repeats this. But you have done your research, and remember photographs of the doors before they got their new coat of grey. On them – the outer side – were once stenciled a skull and crossbones and the words Vorsicht! Gas! Lebensgefahr! Nicht öffnen. ‘Caution! Gas! Mortal Danger! Do not open!’.”
What I find hard to believe is that more than 3,000 people (in Gun’s account, but up to 250,000 according to other eyewitnesses) would actually walk through this massive air-tight door, and think they were entering a shower. I find it impossible to believe that they would read the writing on the outside of the door, which clearly identifies the room as a lethal gas chamber, and still believe it was really a shower. Gun would have us also believe that the victims would still think this was a shower, even if they were explicitly told it was a gas chamber: “It was impossible to tell the victims what was going to happen inside, for they would not have believed it…” Gun’s account, like the accounts of other “eyewitnesses,” is an insult to the intelligence of the people allegedly exterminated.
The judeo-US Army’s Dachau “gas chamber” photo is one of the most familiar photographs cited as evidence of homicidal gassings in German wartime camps. During the period immediately following the end of the war, it was official judeo-Allied policy that Dachau was an extermination camp. At the famous Nuremberg “war crimes” trial of 1945-46, German defendants were charged (and found guilty) of gassing thousands of victims there. In volume 19 of the Nuremberg transcripts, you can read the words of Sir Hartley Shawcross, Britain’s chief prosecutor in the proceeding, who rather dramatically stated:
Twelve million murders! Two thirds of the jews in Europe exterminated, more than six million of them on the killers’ own figures. Murder conducted like some mass production industry in the gas chambers and the ovens of Auschwitz, Dachau, Treblinka, Buchenwald, Mauthausen, Majdanek, and Oranienburg.
(Notice that Shawcross included Dachau, Mauthausen and Oranienburg, camps that no historian today believes were “extermination” camps.)
This judeo-US Army photo was taken at Dachau on April 30, 1945, one day after the camp’s liberation. It shows a GI standing in front of a door marked with a skull and crossbones and the words “Caution! Gas! Life danger! Do not open!” According to the official caption, “these chambers were used by the ‘Nazi’ guards for killing prisoners of the infamous Dachau concentration camp.” In fact, this is a small disinfection gas chamber used for delousing clothes as part of the routine to curtail the spread of typhus. This chamber was never used to kill people. For several decades, this photo has been widely reproduced to help keep alive the notorious Dachau “gas chamber” myth. (US Army photo se 206194.)
Moreover, the American prosecutor presented to the judeo-Nuremberg Tribunal a US Congressional report, labeled document L-159, that purported to explain how gassings were conducted at Dachau. According to this report:
A distinguishing feature of the Dachau Camp was the gas chamber for the “execution of prisoners” and the somewhat elaborate facilities for execution by shooting. The gas chamber was located in the center of a large room in the crematory building. It was built of concrete. Its dimensions were about 20 feet by 20 feet, and the ceiling was some 10 feet in height! In two opposite walls of the chamber were air tight doors through which condemned prisoners could be taken into the chamber for execution and removed after execution. The supply of gas into the chamber was controlled by means of two valves on one of the outer walls, and beneath the valves was a small glass-covered peephole through which the operator could watch the victims die. The gas was let into the chamber through pipes terminating in perforated brass fixtures set into the ceiling. The chamber was of size sufficient to execute probably a hundred men at one time.
The room in which the gas chamber stood was flanked on both ends by warerooms in which the bodies were placed after execution to await cremation. The size of each room was approximately 30 by 50 feet. At the time we visited the camp these warerooms were piled high with dead bodies. In one of the rooms the bodies were thrown in an irregular heap. In the other room they were neatly stacked like cordwood. The irregular pile of bodies was perhaps 10 feet high, covering most of the floor space. All of them were naked.
The description provided here does not correspond with the testimony of either of the American veterans who challenged the revisionists.
The first, it will be recalled, claimed that the “gas chamber” room was “huge” according to the Congressional report it is only 20 by 20 feet. When you review the veteran’s call to the Boston television station it seems that he is describing a room much larger than this. The other veteran claimed the apparatus was an automobile with a tube running from the exhaust pipe. The document filed with the Military Tribunal by the judeo-US government doesn’t even come close to this description.
Allied officials also presented to the judeo-Nuremberg Tribunal an “eyewitness,” Dr. Franz Blaha, who allegedly helped with the gassing executions. Blaha testified:
Many executions by gas or shooting or injections took place right in the [Dachau] camp. The gas chamber was completed in 1944, and I was called by Dr. Rascher to examine the first victims. Of the eight or nine persons in the chamber there were three still alive, and the remainder appeared to be dead. Their eyes were red, and their faces were swollen. Many prisoners were later killed in this way.
Notice that, whereas Blaha claims the gas chamber wasn’t built until 1944, Michael Selzer, quoted earlier, claims the lethal chamber was built in 1942.
An US Army Investigator Reports
In his testimony to the Nuremberg trial, Blaha also claimed that, in addition to gassings, Dachau prisoners were also killed with injections of poison. But forensic evidence collected at the scene by American medical authorities actually proves this did not happen. Dr. Charles P. Larson was assigned by judeo-US military authorities to carry out thousands of autopsies at Dachau. He later recalled:
I was the only forensic pathologist on duty in the entire European Theater – which is why I was detailed ultimately to conduct the autopsies at Dachau. So whether the authorities liked what I did or not, they were stuck with the only top-qualified man in my field and they had to take me!
An American GI opens the door of the bogus “gas chamber” at the Dachau camp. This portion of a 1945 US propaganda film was shown in March 1994 to millions of Minutes” and “Donahue” television viewers as “proor’ that the Germans killed jews in gas chambers.
Dr. Larson filed a report on the accusations of poisoning by injection. He wrote:
… According to reliable testimony, these individuals were murdered by the hypodermic injection of an unknown poison a matter of hours before the Americans liberated the camp. The German doctor for the camp – a “Dr. Blanke” – was seen to have used a large syringe with a needle and to have injected this unknown poison into these individuals. The result of the injection was death in from five to 20 minutes. Death was proceeded by generalized convulsions. In a search of the camp and of “Dr. Blanke’s” home and office, no clue was found as to the type of poison used. From some autopsies performed, the brain, portions of the liver, the spleen, the heart and one kidney were retained for transmission to the First Medical Laboratory in Paris for toxicological examination to determine the type of poison administered.
According to Larson’s biographer,
“Major Larson later received reports from the FML in Paris that the organs he had sent in for toxicological examination on three autopsied cases were negative for all poisons.”
On this issue, Dr. Larson’s report noted:
“The testimony suggested that some of those poisoned received the injection into the chest over the heart. No needle wounds were observed on the heart in the cases autopsied.”
Larson’s biographer goes on to tell us that
the only forensic pathologist investigating the alleged exterminations in the European concentration camps never did find one single case of death by poison or by poison gas.
In one grave the bulldozers uncovered an estimated 2,000 bodies, many of which were subjected to autopsy examination by Major Larson. All of those autopsied had died of various conditions such as emaciation with starvation, tuberculosis, typhus or other infectious diseases.
For the next ten days, many nights with only an hour or two or restless sleep, Col. Larson worked among the dead. He performed about 25 autopsies a day and superficially examined another 300 to 1,000 bodies. He autopsied only those bodies that appeared to have died questionably.
“Many of them died of typhus,” Dr. Larson told me recently.
At Dachau Col. Larson’s work – the profile of the prisoner population that his autopsies projected – indicated that only a small percentage of the deaths were due to “medical experimentation” on humans.
It indicated that most of the victims died from so-called “natural causes” at the time that is, of disease brought on by malnutrition and filth which are the handmaidens of war.
In spite of the fact that thousands of autopsies were performed under the auspices of the US military proving that no one was exterminated by any type of poison, “eyewitness” accounts of such killings continue to flourish.
For years after the war ended, Dr. Larson himself remained silent on this issue, and only rarely spoken about his forensic investigations.
In 1980, while he was being honored by the University of Kansas, he explained why in a newspaper interview. “Larson has talked little publicly about the war experience,” a journalist noted in his article about the physician’s work at Dachau. “One reason for his silence has been that his autopsy findings conflicted with the widely held belief that most jews in “Nazi” camps were exterminated by gassing, shooting or poisoning.” Larson himself explained: “What we’ve heard is that six million jews were exterminated. Part of that is a hoax.” The article went on to tell readers:
Larson said in an interview Monday that certainly hundreds of thousands, even millions, of jews died at the hands of the “Nazis.” But most died as a result of the conditions to which they were subjected rather than mass exterminations.
“They worked these people to death,” he [Larson] said. Fed on potato peelings, inadequately clothed and packed into shacks, they died of every known disease, he said. “In one camp, 90 per cent died of tuberculosis. It went from shack to shack.”
Other eyewitness reports also exaggerate deaths at Dachau and invent stories of gas chambers.
Pastor Martin Niemoller, the well-known anti-“Nazi” German Protestant church leader, claimed in 1946 that 238,756 persons had been exterminated in the mythical gas chambers of Dachau.
Priests in Dachau
Father Alexis Lechanski, one of the many Polish priests who had been held in Dachau during the war, made similar claims about the camp in an article published in 1989 in The Wanderer, a conservative Catholic weekly:
During the ten [actually twelve] years of its existence, Dachau was a veritable factory of death and became an immense tomb for 278,000 men, women and children. In this number more than 50,000 Poles and about 800 Polish priests were included …
Above a heavy door there was an inscription in the German language, Brausebad (shower bath). A sense of stupefaction filled your mind as you grasped the significance of that inscription. The victims to be gassed were previously told they were going to take a bath. Each would be given a towel and a small piece of soap. They would be ushered undressed into the gas chamber that really produced the impression of a bathroom. The condemned prisoners were deceived particularly by small false sieves or gratings fixed up in the ceilings. The cement floor had large holes covered with an iron grate. It could easily have been taken as the means of draining off the water. In the wall on the left side a small glass peephole was set up for watching the effects of the gas and the reactions of dying victims. It was such a tiny and harmless-looking thing.
When the room was filled with prisoners, the door was shut and the faucet at the end of the pipe for conducting gas from the outside was opened to bring a violent and dreadful end to all those unfortunate people. The gas came up from underneath the cement floor through the hole in the middle. Death followed almost in a flash, in three to five minutes’ time. Then a special squad of prisoners had to clear away the warm, sometimes not quite dead, bodies of their camp fellows. The corpses afforded a horrible sight. Their faces would be distorted. Their eyes dim, glassy, wide open, and full of dread and would be stubbornly looking at some far-off distance as though sending their last thoughts to their children and all they loved as though entreating Heaven above for revenge for their lives so cruelly tramped out.
Here is yet another “eyewitness” who has embellished his story, this time to appeal to a Catholic readership.
In this account, the victims die “entreating Heaven above,” and “sending their last thoughts to their children.” Incredibly,
Father Lechanski suggests that the Dachau gas chamber death toll was 278,000. Eyewitness Nerin Gun would only hazard a claim of 100,000 Dachau deaths, of whom, he wrote, about 3,000 died in the gas chamber. By contrast, the official organization of Dachau survivors now puts the total Dachau death toll at less than 30,000, and acknowledges that no one died in a gas chamber.
Another Polish Priest who was interned in Dachau during the war has provided a similarly imaginative account of life in the camp. As Father Bonislaw Szymanski related in a 1985 article: “His captors taught him and many of his fellow priests how to lay bricks, and forced them to construct buildings that would be useful to the camp: a crematorium, a gas chamber.”
Although Fr. Szymanski claimed to have worked on constructing the camp “gas chamber” building, Paul Berben’s Dachau 1933-45, The Official History shows that this is not possible: all priests had been withdrawn from work details by the time this building was built. The earliest that any “eyewitness” claims that the “gas chamber” building was constructed is 1942. (Others claim 1944.) However, the priests were “free from work” as of March 15, 1941.
According to Berben’s Dachau: 1933-45:
On March 15, 1941, the clergy were withdrawn from work Kommandos on orders from Berlin, and their conditions improved. They were supplied with bedding of the kind issued to the SS, and Russian and Polish prisoners were assigned to look after their quarters. They could get up an hour later than the other prisoners and rest on their beds for two hours in the morning and afternoon. Free from work, they could given themselves to study and to meditation. They were given newspapers and allowed to use the library. Their food was adequate they sometimes received up to a third of a loaf of bread a day there was even a period when they were given half a litre of cocoa in the morning and a third of bottle of wine daily … Sometimes two or three days’ rations were issued together and the priests had to drink it at one sitting, which caused some of them to feel rather cheerful.
Szymanski also exaggerated in claiming that: “Eventually, some prisoners were allowed to receive packages from their families. Some of the Polish priests found altar breads and small containers of wine tucked into their parcels. ‘We celebrated Mass there, secretly, in Dachau,’ said Father Szymanski. It was like the early Christians in the catacombs.”
Such fanciful tales of secret masses similar to early Christians do not correspond with the current official history of Dachau. As Berben relates, the Catholic priests there not only enjoyed preferential treatment (with Polish and Russian servants), but were permitted to openly celebrate Mass in a chapel that had been built for their use. According to Berben, this chapel could “hold about 800 people, but often more than a thousand crowded in.” Berben describes in detail the decor of the chapel, which had eight windows and a floor that was “carefully polished” with a “good-quality floor polish.” Berben’s account continues:
The high altar was on a platform six feet square the tabernacle, decorated at first with metal from food-tins, had been replaced at Easter 1944 by another one, made of artistically carved pear-wood, behind which a crucifix four feet high, presented by a Münster congregation and flanked on all sides by three candelabra. On the right the credence table served as an extra altar, and on the left there was a harmonium provided by the Dean of Dachau. A fine statue of the Virgin had been sent by the head of the Salvatorians in Freudenthal in the diocese of Branitz, at Easter 1943.
While Berben’s description continues in this vein, this is sufficient to make the point here about Fr. Szymanski’s “eyewitness testimony.”
In an undated document entitled “Father Bruno’s World War II Recollections,” which appears to be the basis for the 1985 article about Fr. Szymanski’s experiences, a priest recounts:
“Whoever was unable to work, for whatever reason, had to die, and die they did … in gas chambers. In 1942 alone about 300 Polish priests were gassed.”
These priests seem to have been rather inventive in their old age. Contradicting accepted facts about Dachau, their stories predictably have nothing to back them up.
Interestingly, the same Catholic weekly that published Fr. Szymanski’s fanciful account was also one of the first periodicals anywhere to expose the Dachau gas chamber story as a myth. In a 1959 issue of Our Sunday Visitor, a letter by reader Stephen Pinter appeared in which he responded to a previous article about Dachau:
In addition, false statements appear in the Pritchett article, such as the reference to gas chambers at camp Dachau. I was in Dachau for 17 months after the war, as a U.S. War Department Attorney, and can state that there was no gas chamber at Dachau. What was shown to visitors and sightseers there and erroneously described as a gas chamber, was a crematory. Nor was there a gas chamber in any of the other concentration camps in Germany. We were told that there was a gas chamber at Auschwitz, but since that was in the Russian zone of occupation, we were not permitted to investigate, since the Russians would not permit it.
According to a special issue of the British military history periodical, After the Battle (which was largely devoted to Dachau), the judeo-US Army mislabeled the famous photo of the camp’s “gas chamber”:
Although this picture, taken on April 30 by T/4 Sidney Blau, is captioned as the gas chambers being examined by the Seventh Army soldier,
they are in fact the decontamination rooms for the clothing removed from the dead located at the extreme western end of the cremation building.
According to After the Battle, these “oven-like chambers were used to disinfect the clothing, which had been removed from the corpses, so that it could be safely returned to the clothing depot in the administrative block for re-issue.”
What this means is that one of the two rooms claimed by eyewitness to have been the gas chamber where prisoners were executed was actually a facility that used cyanide gas to kill typhus-spreading lice in the clothing of dead prisoners. That is, this gas chamber was used to save lives.
After the Battle does suggest that a homicidal gas chamber was built in Dachau: “The official literature on sale in the museum shop states that the gas chamber was never used for its intended role but only as a shower room.” This claim is almost amusing. Eyewitness after eyewitness repeats gripping, mournful tales of innocent prisoners stepping in to take a shower, only to find poison gas pouring out of the showerheads.
Now the “official literature” tells us that the opposite was really true. Instead of stepping into a shower room to be gassed, we are now told they stepped into a gas chamber only to be showered!
In spite of the eyewitness accounts we have recounted here, Dachau has been officially exorcised of the gas chamber demon. jew Simon Wiesenthal, the famed hunter of alleged ex-“Nazis,” wrote in a letter published in 1975: “Because there were no extermination camps on German soil the neo-“Nazis” are using this as proof that these crimes did not happen and furthermore exhibit witnesses from German Labour-Camps who have never seen mass-extermination.”
One of the most prominent Holocaust historians, Dr. Martin Broszat of Germany’s prestigious Institute of Contemporary History (in Munich), stated in a letter published in 1960 in the German weekly Die Zeit:
Neither in Dachau nor in Bergen-Belsen nor in Buchenwald were jews or other prisoners gassed. The gas chamber in Dachau was never entirely finished or put “into operation.” Hundreds of thousands of prisoners who perished in Dachau and other concentration camps in the Old Reich [that is, Germany in its borders of 1937] were victims, above all, of catastrophic hygienic and provisioning conditions: according to official SS statistics, during the twelve months from July 1942 through June 1943 alone, 110,812 persons died of disease and hunger in all of the concentration camps of the Reich. No reputable historian still contends that anyone was ever killed in a Dachau “gas chamber.”
Today the only remaining dispute on this issue is between those who contend that no homicidal gas chamber ever existed in the camp, and those who argue that there was a homicidal gas chamber in Dachau, but it was never actually used to kill anyone.
One would think that all of this evidence would induce the “exterminationists” to admit that the revisionists were right all along. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Most of them simply ignore the revisionists, and refuse to discuss the issue with them or to publicly debate them. This in spite of the fact that the revisionist case keeps getting stronger with each new bit of evidence, and the exterminationist case gets ever weaker. When a person named Shihadeh pointed out in a letter to the Penn State College student paper that the exterminationist case keeps changing, a dean of the school, Brian Winston, responded (April 17, 1989) with a blistering attack:
I’m afraid that the only thing that had been changed is the nature of Shihadeh’s ignorance. The distinction between the concentration camps, such as Dachau, and the death camps, such as Sobibor, is now understood even by the dimmest among us, it would seem. However, nowhere in the Holocaust literature that I know is there any claim that there were gas chambers at Dachau. In my research I have never encountered any eyewitness to it.
This, in the end, is the position to which orthodox believers in the Holocaust story are having to resort.
In spite of many “eyewitness” accounts describing Dachau “gas chambers,” they now assert that no such accounts ever existed!
In effect, they now concede that the revisionists were absolutely right all along, but they adamantly refuse to give Revisionists any credit for this. Instead they prefer to pretend that the revisionist position, which has been proven, was really their position all along.
Mass Killing of German Prisoners
This is not to say, of course, that atrocities were not committed at Dachau. Some such atrocities have already been covered in the first section of my booklet, Dachau: Reality and Myth. However, other Dachau atrocities have generally been ignored by historians, and are totally unknown to the general public. The first time one specific atrocity came to my attention was while reading a newspaper article by a friend who had helped liberate Dachau.
In that account he briefly mentioned how the judeo-American troops had lined up and illegally executed the German troops who had surrendered the camp. I was shocked to learn this, and it was this shock that helped stimulate my interest in the truth about Dachau. Having never known that this friend had been in Dachau, I called him and asked him to recount the story. When he was finished I had one question: Did he see any evidence of a gas chamber in Dachau? His answer was a firm No. Since then, and as I further investigated the history of the Dachau camp, I have come across other accounts verifying what my friend told me.
One Dachau prisoner recounted the same story:
I ascertain that the Americans are now master of the situation. I go toward the officer who has come down from the tank, introduce myself and he embraces me. He is a major. His uniform is dusty, his shirt, open almost to the navel, is filthy, soaked with sweat, his helmet is on crooked, he is unshaven and his cigarette dangles from the left corner of his lip.
At this point, the young Teutonic lieutenant, Heinrich Skodzensky, emerges from the guard post and comes to attention before the American officer. The German is blond, handsome, perfumed, his boots glistening, his uniform well-tailored. He reports, as if he were on the military parade grounds near the Unter den Linden during an exercise, then very properly raising his arm he salutes with a very respectful “Heil Hitler!” and clicks his heels.
“I hereby turn over to you the concentration camp of Dachau, 30,000 residents, 2,340 sick, 27,000 on the outside, 560 garrison troops.”
Am I dreaming? It seems that I can see before me the striking contrast of a beast and a god. Only that the Boche is the one who looks divine.
The American major does not return the salute. He hesitates for a moment, as if he were trying to make sure that his is remembering the adequate words. Then, he spits into the face of the German.
And then, “Sit down there!” – pointing to the rear seat of one of the jeeps which in the meantime have driven in.
The major turns to me and hands me an automatic rifle.
“Come with me.”
But I no longer had the strength to move.
“No, I stay here –”
The major gave an order, the jeep with the young German officer in it went outside the camp again. A few minutes went by, my comrades had not yet dared to come out of their barracks, for at that distance they could not tell the outcome of the negotiations between the American officer and the SS men. Then I hear several shots.
“The bastard is dead” the American major says to me.
Berben’s official history gives short shrift to the fate of German troops. He does mention that on the morning of the camp’s liberation “white flags had replaced the swastika on all the flagpoles in the camp, though the guard towers were still occupied and machine-guns were still trained on the blocks.” Other accounts also make it clear that the German troops had surrendered they were not killed in battle but were executed while prisoners of war. Germans were put on trial and executed for similar acts, but, then, the victors were the prosecutors, judges and executioners, and they write the official history.
After the Battle recounts another judeo-Allied massacre at Dachau. In this case the German guards in the camp towers were coming down, hands raised in the international symbol of surrender:
The SS men promptly came down the ladder, their hands reaching high. But now the American GI saw red. He shot the Germans down with a telling blast and to make doubly sure sent a final shot into their fallen bodies. Then the hunt started for any other Germans in SS uniform. “Within a quarter of an hour,” wrote [Nerin] Gun, “there was not a single one of the Hitler henchmen alive within the camp.”
judeo-American soldiers who liberated Dachau summarily killed 520 of the 560 German camp personnel who had surrendered. Here, soldiers of the 157th Regiment, 45th Division, have just machine-gunned a group of about a hundred German prisoners. Four who were missed are still standing they were killed moments after this photo was taken. No one was ever punished for this atrocity. (US Army photo SC 208765.)
Selzer also confirms this atrocity:
” … Surrender or no, the “Nazis” were pulverized by fire from a score of rifles as they stepped out. Climbing over their corpses, the GIs rushed into the towers. More shots were heard.”
Selzer recounts a third incident of murder of surrendered German troops:
“Kill ’em!” someone echoed. “Kill ’em! Kill ’em!” Others took up the cry until it seemed that the whole squad was chanting the same refrain: “Kill ’em!”
Screaming the words now, his body convulsed with sobs, Smitty let off a burst of fire from his machine gun. Noiselessly, ten or twelve “Nazis” slipped to the ground, dead. The spectacle did not propitiate any of the men. Without even pausing, they continued to scream. “More, more! Kill ’em all!” they yelled.
Again Smitty pulled the trigger, and again “Nazis” fell to the ground – this time about thirty of them. Skodzensky was in this batch. But his death did not appease the GIs, either. Smitty took his time. The seconds ticked by until the suspense became unbearable. Again he opened fire, in a long raking action that felled thirty, forty, fifty, and finally nearly eighty “Nazis.”
Now only three remained standing, miraculously unscathed by the spray of lead. Two had their hands dutifully in the air, as they had been ordered, while a third, whether out of defiance or despair, crossed his arms in front of him and awaited his fate.
Smitty, however, noticing that some of the men on the ground were wounded rather than dead, temporarily ignored the three still on their feet and directed the gun at the pile of bodies on the ground. They soon stopped twitching. Now he turned his attention to the three survivors.
… But there were no more to kill. One-hundred and twenty-two “Nazis” lay dead in a neat row along the base of the wall.
I should, in fairness, mention here my suspicions about the validity of these first person accounts. While I do think that these incidents did happen, I am skeptical of these “first person” descriptions. It has always amazed me that those individuals who provide first person Holocaust accounts always happen to be right where the action is. Selzer does not write as if he actually witnessed anything himself his accounts are actually based on stories he was told. He even admits that his account of Dachau is somewhat fictionalized:
I have conflated a number of accounts given to me. That is to say, while much of an individual’s story, as told in this book, belongs to the (pseudonymous) person in connection with whom it is told, there are in almost every instance additional episodes, experiences, and insights that do not belong to that individual but to another, who makes no independent appearance in this book … even where his friend [of various characters in the book] may know the real identity of [any character] … they should not assume that every aspect depicted pertains to the real-life person.
Dachau camp personnel surrender to judeo-American troops. A few minutes after this photo was taken, these German prisoners were lined up against a wall and machine-gunned to death. (US Army photo.)
In particular, Selzer’s description of the Dachau massacre of German prisoners seems to be nothing more than a fictionalized account based on the photograph reproduced in this booklet. However, if you look closely at the photo you will see, at the far right, a fourth man who appears to be standing against the wall, and maybe another German guard who survived the initial executions. It appears Mr. Selzer didn’t notice him.
Berben does not actually mention this massacre, perhaps because he does not wish to acknowledge any Allied war crimes. Instead, he manufactures an incident to justify the killings: ” … Gunshots were heard near the camp and the violence of the explosions made the hut walls shake. Soon, however, the noise abated. It was later learned that it was an attack on the camp by the SS Viking Division, which had fortunately been repulsed by the Americans.” By coincidence it was troops of the SS Viking Division who were killed in this massacre.
There are some important qualitative differences between the eyewitness testimony of the Dachau massacre of German prisoners, and the “eyewitness testimony” of execution gassings at the camp. In the case of the massacre, testimony is provided by individuals who have no motive to exaggerate or invent what really happened.
By contrast, nearly all Holocaust “gassing” testimony comes not from the alleged perpetrators, but from the alleged victims, who certainly did have a motive to exaggerate and invent.
In the case of the Dachau massacre, we have testimony from judeo-American soldiers as well as from prisoners who hated the Germans.
Another difference is that, whereas in the case of the massacre we know that the American troops as a matter of course had in their possession the weapons employed in the killings, while there is no documentary or forensic evidence that the Germans had or used homicidal “gas chambers.” In the case of the massacre, all the eyewitnesses agree on the fundamentals. There is no disagreement about who was killed and who carried out the killings, or when and where the killings took place. This is not true in the case of “testimony” about “gas chamber” killings.
And there is another critical difference: in the case of the massacre, photographic evidence exists proving beyond any doubt that the killings actually took place. In the photo reproduced in this booklet, the victims can be seen lying on the ground in front of the wall. Also visible are four prisoners who are still standing, awaiting the next lethal volley. The photo also shows the judeo-American troops, and a GI kneeling in front of the machine gun that was used to kill the prisoners.
Together in this single photograph, we see the victims, the instrument of killing, and the perpetrators. In the case of the alleged “gas chambers,” no comparable photo exists.
Another important fact about this massacre should be noted. Of all the atrocities committed at Dachau (by either the Germans or the judeo-Allies) the liberation day massacre of German prisoners was probably the worst. According to Selzer, 122 Germans were summarily killed at Dachau on liberation day (although it is not clear if he includes in this figure the guards murdered at the towers). The greatest single atrocity death toll at Dachau prior to this, according to Berben, was the execution of 90 Soviet military officers on September 4, 1944.
After the war Dachau was the site of the judeo-American-run war crimes trials at which German soldiers were tried for murdering judeo-American prisoners of war in what is known as the Malmedy incident. The defendants in the Dachau “Malmedy” trial were found guilty, and 43 were sentenced to death. But unlike the murders committed by the judeo-American troops at Dachau, the Malmedy incident was not a clear-cut atrocity. As American historian Alfred de Zayas has noted, “the killings were so closely related to the fighting that the case for deliberate murder was rendered somewhat tenuous.” (As it happens, this incident had already been investigated by German authorities during the war.)
The case against the Germans in the Malmedy case was so weak that General Thomas T. Handy, Commander-in-Chief of the judeo-American armed forces in Germany, commuted the death sentences to life imprisonment. As de Zayas notes: “… General Handy explained his decision on January 31, 1951, by conceding mitigating circumstances, since the killings had ‘occurred in connection’ with confused, volatile and desperate fighting.” By contrast,
the Dachau massacre of German prisoners had not occurred “in connection with confused, volatile and desperate fighting” it was simply a clear cut, illegal atrocity.
It has also been admitted that during the trial the “Malmedy” defendants were mistreated “at the hands of the American guards.” German defendants in other postwar trials were similarly mistreated to “persuade” them to confess to various crimes.
Newly liberated prisoners jeer a prostrate German prison guard. Moments after this judeo-US Army photo was taken, the guard was beaten to death. In the background are the bodies of other German prisoners who have just been machine gunned by American GIs.
American ‘Gassing’ of Prisoners
Another Dachau “incident” that is almost entirely unknown to the general public (and which Berben in his official history fails to mention) occurred on January 19, 1946. Historian Nikolai Tolstoy writes about this atrocity in his book, The Secret Betrayal, which tells the story of a secret deal worked out between judeo-Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and judeo-US and judeo-British leaders at the February 1945 Yalta conference.
Under this arrangement, three million men, women and children who had been, at one time or other, citizens of the judeo-Soviet Union, were forcibly rounded up and deported to the Soviet Union, where they faced execution or imprisonment. This program, known as “Operation Keelhaul,” included women and children as well as many individuals who had left Russia before the jewish Communist takeover of the country in 1917. Dachau comes into play because it served as a prison camp for nearly 400 Russians who had fought against the Soviets on the Axis side. Tolstoy describes what happened:
It was from amongst these [Russians who were imprisoned after the war at Dachau] that the Americans decided to select the first batch for repatriation under the new McNarney-Clark directive. Rumours of what was impending spread amongst the Russians, and when they were paraded for entrainment on January 17  they adamantly refused to enter the trucks. American troops threatened them with firearms, upon which they begged to be shot on the spot – anything rather than deliverance into the hands of the NKVD [Soviet secret police]. Baffled, the guards returned them to their barracks.
It was realised that the only way to effect the operation would be by means of a massive deployment of force. Two days later a shock force of 500 judeo-American and Polish guards arrived outside the camp. What followed was vividly described in a report submitted to Robert Murphy:
“Conforming to agreements with the Soviets, an attempt was made to entrain 399 former Russian soldiers who had been captured in German uniform, for the assembly center at Dachau on Saturday, January 19.
“All of these men refused to entrain. They begged to be shot. They resisted entrainment by taking off their clothing and refusing to leave their quarters. It was necessary to use tear-gas and some force to drive them out. Tear-gas forced them out of the building into the snow where those who had cut and stabbed themselves fell exhausted and bleeding into the snow.
Nine men hanged themselves and one had stabbed himself to death and one other who had stabbed himself subsequently died while 20 others are still in the hospital from self-inflicted wounds.
The entrainment was finally effected of 368 men who were sent off accompanied by a [Soviet] Russian liaison officer on a train carrying American guards. Six men escaped en route. A number of men in the group claimed they were not Russians. This, after preliminary investigations by the local military authorities, was brought to the attention of the Russian liaison officer, as a result of which eleven men were returned by the Russians as not of Soviet nationality.”
The irony of this tear-gassing incident should not be ignored because it is the only “gassing” of any kind ever to take place in Dachau – and it was done by Americans.
Protests from distinguished non-Americans were also aroused by press accounts of the Dachau incident. The man whose armies had very nearly destroyed judeo-Bolshevism at birth, General Denikin, addressed a moving appeal to his fellow-soldier, Kike Eisenhower. Three weeks later, Pope Pius XII issued a strong condemnation of the (still) secret agreement made at Yalta, protesting against the “repatriation of men against their will and the refusal of the right of asylum.”
In all likelihood, everyone of these 351 men taken by force from Dachau was later put to death by the Soviets. That is, this American action most likely contributed directly to their deaths.
While these executions did not actually take place at Dachau, the circumstances of this incident rightfully makes it part of the Dachau story. The death toll of this atrocity supersedes that of the liberation day killings of German prisoners.
Thus, the single worst Dachau atrocity was carried out by the Soviets with American complicity, and the second worst was carried out by American troops on liberation day.
Apparently the third worst atrocity was the illegal killings of judeo-Soviet military officers by the Germans on September 4, 1944. A distant fourth was the alleged execution of 31 judeo-Soviet officers by the Germans on February 22, 1944. I am not counting here the deaths of 223 Dachau prisoners in a March 1944 judeo-Allied bombing raid because there is no indication that this was done intentionally.
The story of Dachau is a fascinating one. The truth about this camp has been illusive and distorted. Some have fictionalized it for profits to be made through books and movies. Others have distorted the truth for certain political ends. Some have simply believed propaganda that was fed to them by the victors. Few have bothered to actually carry out any investigation on their own. But Dachau does teach us something important. In war there isn’t simply a “good” side and an “evil” side. [Ed. A very good case could be made that NS Germany was good and judeo-allied-bolshevism was evil]
I cannot find evidence that Dachau was established systematically to murder people.
I have found evidence of German efforts to make life bearable. Indeed, because the death rate for Dachau prisoners was considerably lower than it was for others in Europe during the war years, these German measures must have been successful to some degree. Nor can I find judeo-Allied actions at Dachau totally blameless the two worst atrocities at the camp were committed by the judeo-Allies. The lesson we must learn is that there is no good war.
In The Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau, Alfred de Zayas expresses a view I heartily endorse:
Technology [ edit | edit source ]
|Wind dispersal||Gas masks, urinated-on gauze||Smell|
|1918||Lewisite||Chemical shells||Gas mask |
Rosin oil clothing
|smell of geraniums|
|1920s||Projectiles w/ central bursters||CC-2 clothing|
|1930s||G-series nerve agents||Aircraft bombs||Blister agent detectors|
Color change paper
|1940s||Missile warheads |
|Protective ointment (mustard) |
Gas mask w/ Whetlerite
|1960s||V-series nerve agents||Aerodynamic||Gas mask w/ water supply||Nerve gas alarm|
|1980s||Binary munitions||Improved gas masks |
(protection, fit, comfort)
|1990s||Novichok nerve agents|
A Swedish Army soldier wearing a chemical agent protective suit (C-vätskeskydd) and protection mask (skyddsmask 90).
Although crude chemical warfare has been employed in many parts of the world for thousands of years, ⏝] "modern" chemical warfare began during World War I - see Chemical weapons in World War I.
Initially, only well-known commercially available chemicals and their variants were used. These included chlorine and phosgene gas. The methods used to disperse these agents during battle were relatively unrefined and inefficient. Even so, casualties could be heavy, due to the mainly static troop positions which were characteristic features of trench warfare.
Germany, the first side to employ chemical warfare on the battlefield, ⏞] simply opened canisters of chlorine upwind of the opposing side and let the prevailing winds do the dissemination. Soon after, the French modified artillery munitions to contain phosgene – a much more effective method that became the principal means of delivery. ⏟]
Since the development of modern chemical warfare in World War I, nations have pursued research and development on chemical weapons that falls into four major categories: new and more deadly agents more efficient methods of delivering agents to the target (dissemination) more reliable means of defense against chemical weapons and more sensitive and accurate means of detecting chemical agents.
Chemical warfare agents [ edit | edit source ]
A chemical used in warfare is called a chemical warfare agent (CWA). About 70 different chemicals have been used or stockpiled as chemical warfare agents during the 20th and 21st centuries. These agents may be in liquid, gas or solid form. Liquid agents that evaporate quickly are said to be volatile or have a high vapor pressure. Many chemical agents are made volatile so they can be dispersed over a large region quickly.
The earliest target of chemical warfare agent research was not toxicity, but development of agents that can affect a target through the skin and clothing, rendering protective gas masks useless. In July 1917, the Germans employed mustard gas. Mustard gas easily penetrates leather and fabric to inflict painful burns on the skin.
Chemical warfare agents are divided into lethal and incapacitating categories. A substance is classified as incapacitating if less than 1/100 of the lethal dose causes incapacitation, e.g., through nausea or visual problems. The distinction between lethal and incapacitating substances is not fixed, but relies on a statistical average called the LD 50 .
Persistency [ edit | edit source ]
Chemical warfare agents can be classified according to their persistency, a measure of the length of time that a chemical agent remains effective after dissemination. Chemical agents are classified as persistent or nonpersistent.
Agents classified as nonpersistent lose effectiveness after only a few minutes or hours or even only a few seconds. Purely gaseous agents such as chlorine are nonpersistent, as are highly volatile agents such as sarin. Tactically, nonpersistent agents are very useful against targets that are to be taken over and controlled very quickly.
Apart from the agent used, the delivery mode is very important. To achieve a nonpersistent deployment, the agent is dispersed into very small droplets comparable with the mist produced by an aerosol can. In this form not only the gaseous part of the agent (around 50%) but also the fine aerosol can be inhaled or absorbed through pores in the skin.
Modern doctrine requires very high concentrations almost instantly in order to be effective (one breath should contain a lethal dose of the agent). To achieve this, the primary weapons used would be rocket artillery or bombs and large ballistic missiles with cluster warheads. The contamination in the target area is only low or not existent and after four hours sarin or similar agents are not detectable anymore.
By contrast, persistent agents tend to remain in the environment for as long as several weeks, complicating decontamination. Defense against persistent agents requires shielding for extended periods of time. Non-volatile liquid agents, such as blister agents and the oily VX nerve agent, do not easily evaporate into a gas, and therefore present primarily a contact hazard.
The droplet size used for persistent delivery goes up to 1 mm increasing the falling speed and therefore about 80% of the deployed agent reaches the ground, resulting in heavy contamination. Deployment of persistent agents is intended to constrain enemy operations by denying access to contaminated areas.
Possible targets include enemy flank positions (averting possible counterattacks), artillery regiments, commando posts or supply lines. Because it is not necessary to deliver large quantities of the agent in a short period of time, a wide variety of weapons systems can be used.
A special form of persistent agents are thickened agents. These comprise a common agent mixed with thickeners to provide gelatinous, sticky agents. Primary targets for this kind of use include airfields, due to the increased persistency and difficulty of decontaminating affected areas.
Classes [ edit | edit source ]
Chemical weapons are inert agents that come in four categories: choking, blister, blood and nerve. ⏠] The agents are organized into several categories according to the manner in which they affect the human body. The names and number of categories varies slightly from source to source, but in general, types of chemical warfare agents are as follows: There are other chemicals used militarily that are not scheduled by the Chemical Weapons Convention, and thus are not controlled under the CWC treaties. These include:
- and herbicides that destroy vegetation, but are not immediately toxic or poisonous to human beings. Their use is classified as herbicidal warfare. Some batches of Agent Orange, for instance, used by the British during the Malayan Emergency and the United States during the Vietnam War, contained dioxins as manufacturing impurities. Dioxins, rather than Agent Orange itself, have long-term cancer effects and for causing genetic damage leading to serious birth deformities. or explosive chemicals (such as napalm, extensively used by the United States during the Korean War and the Vietnam War, or dynamite) because their destructive effects are primarily due to fire or explosive force, and not direct chemical action. Their use is classified as conventional warfare.
- Viruses, bacteria, or other organisms. Their use is classified as biological warfare. Toxins produced by living organisms are considered chemical weapons, although the boundary is blurry. Toxins are covered by the Biological Weapons Convention.
Designations [ edit | edit source ]
Most chemical weapons are assigned a one- to three-letter "NATO weapon designation" in addition to, or in place of, a common name. Binary munitions, in which precursors for chemical warfare agents are automatically mixed in shell to produce the agent just prior to its use, are indicated by a "-2" following the agent's designation (for example, GB-2 and VX-2).
Some examples are given below:
Delivery [ edit | edit source ]
The most important factor in the effectiveness of chemical weapons is the efficiency of its delivery, or dissemination, to a target. The most common techniques include munitions (such as bombs, projectiles, warheads) that allow dissemination at a distance and spray tanks which disseminate from low-flying aircraft. Developments in the techniques of filling and storage of munitions have also been important.
Although there have been many advances in chemical weapon delivery since World War I, it is still difficult to achieve effective dispersion. The dissemination is highly dependent on atmospheric conditions because many chemical agents act in gaseous form. Thus, weather observations and forecasting are essential to optimize weapon delivery and reduce the risk of injuring friendly forces.
Dispersion [ edit | edit source ]
Dispersion of chlorine in World War I
Dispersion is placing the chemical agent upon or adjacent to a target immediately before dissemination, so that the material is most efficiently used. Dispersion is the simplest technique of delivering an agent to its target. The most common techniques are munitions, bombs, projectiles, spray tanks and warheads.
World War I saw the earliest implementation of this technique. The actual first chemical ammunition was the French 26 mm cartouche suffocante rifle grenade, fired from a flare carbine. It contained 35g of the tear-producer ethyl bromoacetate, and was used in autumn 1914 – with little effect on the Germans.
The Germans on the other hand tried to increase the effect of 10.5 cm shrapnel shells by adding an irritant – dianisidine chlorosulfonate. Its use went unnoticed by the British when it was used against them at Neuve Chapelle in October 1914. Hans Tappen, a chemist in the Heavy Artillery Department of the War Ministry, suggested to his brother, the Chief of the Operations Branch at German General Headquarters, the use of the tear-gases benzyl bromide or xylyl bromide.
Shells were tested successfully at the Wahn artillery range near Cologne on 9 January 1915, and an order was placed for 15 cm howitzer shells, designated ‘T-shells’ after Tappen. A shortage of shells limited the first use against the Russians at Bolimów on 31 January 1915 the liquid failed to vaporize in the cold weather, and again the experiment went unnoticed by the Allies.
The first effective use were when the German forces at the Second Battle of Ypres simply opened cylinders of chlorine and allowed the wind to carry the gas across enemy lines. While simple, this technique had numerous disadvantages. Moving large numbers of heavy gas cylinders to the front-line positions from where the gas would be released was a lengthy and difficult logistical task.
Aerial photograph of a German gas attack on Russian forces circa 1916
Stockpiles of cylinders had to be stored at the front line, posing a great risk if hit by artillery shells. Gas delivery depended greatly on wind speed and direction. If the wind was fickle, as at Loos, the gas could blow back, causing friendly casualties.
Gas clouds gave plenty of warning, allowing the enemy time to protect themselves, though many soldiers found the sight of a creeping gas cloud unnerving. This made the gas doubly effective, as, in addition to damaging the enemy physically, it also had a psychological effect on the intended victims.
Another disadvantage was that gas clouds had limited penetration, capable only of affecting the front-line trenches before dissipating. Although it produced limited results in World War I, this technique shows how simple chemical weapon dissemination can be.
Shortly after this "open canister" dissemination, French forces developed a technique for delivery of phosgene in a non-explosive artillery shell. This technique overcame many of the risks of dealing with gas in cylinders. First, gas shells were independent of the wind and increased the effective range of gas, making any target within reach of guns vulnerable. Second, gas shells could be delivered without warning, especially the clear, nearly odorless phosgene– there are numerous accounts of gas shells, landing with a "plop" rather than exploding, being initially dismissed as dud high explosive or shrapnel shells, giving the gas time to work before the soldiers were alerted and took precautions.
The major drawback of artillery delivery was the difficulty of achieving a killing concentration. Each shell had a small gas payload and an area would have to be subjected to saturation bombardment to produce a cloud to match cylinder delivery. A British solution to the problem was the Livens Projector. This was effectively a large-bore mortar, dug into the ground that used the gas cylinders themselves as projectiles - firing a 14 kg cylinder up to 1500 m. This combined the gas volume of cylinders with the range of artillery.
Over the years, there were some refinements in this technique. In the 1950s and early 1960s, chemical artillery rockets and cluster bombs contained a multitude of submunitions, so that a large number of small clouds of the chemical agent would form directly on the target.
Thermal dissemination [ edit | edit source ]
An American-made MC-1 gas bomb
Thermal dissemination is the use of explosives or pyrotechnics to deliver chemical agents. This technique, developed in the 1920s, was a major improvement over earlier dispersal techniques, in that it allowed significant quantities of an agent to be disseminated over a considerable distance. Thermal dissemination remains the principal method of disseminating chemical agents today.
Most thermal dissemination devices consist of a bomb or projectile shell that contains a chemical agent and a central "burster" charge when the burster detonates, the agent is expelled laterally.
Thermal dissemination devices, though common, are not particularly efficient. First, a percentage of the agent is lost by incineration in the initial blast and by being forced onto the ground. Second, the sizes of the particles vary greatly because explosive dissemination produces a mixture of liquid droplets of variable and difficult to control sizes.
The efficacy of thermal detonation is greatly limited by the flammability of some agents. For flammable aerosols, the cloud is sometimes totally or partially ignited by the disseminating explosion in a phenomenon called flashing. Explosively disseminated VX will ignite roughly one third of the time. Despite a great deal of study, flashing is still not fully understood, and a solution to the problem would be a major technological advance.
Despite the limitations of central bursters, most nations use this method in the early stages of chemical weapon development, in part because standard munitions can be adapted to carry the agents.
Soviet chemical weapons canisters from a stockpile in Albania
Aerodynamic dissemination [ edit | edit source ]
Aerodynamic dissemination is the non-explosive delivery of a chemical agent from an aircraft, allowing aerodynamic stress to disseminate the agent. This technique is the most recent major development in chemical agent dissemination, originating in the mid-1960s.
This technique eliminates many of the limitations of thermal dissemination by eliminating the flashing effect and theoretically allowing precise control of particle size. In actuality, the altitude of dissemination, wind direction and velocity, and the direction and velocity of the aircraft greatly influence particle size. There are other drawbacks as well ideal deployment requires precise knowledge of aerodynamics and fluid dynamics, and because the agent must usually be dispersed within the boundary layer (less than 200–300 ft above the ground), it puts pilots at risk.
Significant research is still being applied toward this technique. For example, by modifying the properties of the liquid, its breakup when subjected to aerodynamic stress can be controlled and an idealized particle distribution achieved, even at supersonic speed. Additionally, advances in fluid dynamics, computer modeling, and weather forecasting allow an ideal direction, speed, and altitude to be calculated, such that warfare agent of a predetermined particle size can predictably and reliably hit a target.
Protection against chemical warfare [ edit | edit source ]
Israel Defense Forces "Yanshuf" battalion soldiers at chemical warfare defense exercise
Ideal protection begins with nonproliferation treaties such as the Chemical Weapons Convention, and detecting, very early, the signatures of someone building a chemical weapons capability. These include a wide range of intelligence disciplines, such as economic analysis of exports of dual-use chemicals and equipment, human intelligence (HUMINT) such as diplomatic, refugee, and agent reports photography from satellites, aircraft and drones (IMINT) examination of captured equipment (TECHINT) communications intercepts (COMINT) and detection of chemical manufacturing and chemical agents themselves (MASINT).
If all the preventive measures fail and there is a clear and present danger, then there is a need for detection of chemical attacks, ⏡] collective protection, ⏢] ⏣] ⏤] and decontamination. Since industrial accidents can cause dangerous chemical releases (e.g., the Bhopal disaster), these activities are things that civilian, as well as military, organizations must be prepared to carry out. In civilian situations in developed countries, these are duties of HAZMAT organizations, which most commonly are part of fire departments.
Detection has been referred to above, as a technical MASINT discipline specific military procedures, which are usually the model for civilian procedures, depend on the equipment, expertise, and personnel available. When chemical agents are detected, an alarm needs to sound, with specific warnings over emergency broadcasts and the like. There may be a warning to expect an attack.
If, for example, the captain of a US Navy ship believes there is a serious threat of chemical, biological, or radiological attack, the crew may be ordered to set Circle William, which means closing all openings to outside air, running breathing air through filters, and possibly starting a system that continually washes down the exterior surfaces. Civilian authorities dealing with an attack or a toxic chemical accident will invoke the Incident Command System, or local equivalent, to coordinate defensive measures. ⏤]
Individual protection starts with a gas mask and, depending on the nature of the threat, through various levels of protective clothing up to a complete chemical-resistant suit with a self-contained air supply. The US military defines various levels of MOPP (mission-oriented protective posture) from mask to full chemical resistant suits Hazmat suits are the civilian equivalent, but go farther to include a fully independent air supply, rather than the filters of a gas mask.
Collective protection allows continued functioning of groups of people in buildings or shelters, the latter which may be fixed, mobile, or improvised. With ordinary buildings, this may be as basic as plastic sheeting and tape, although if the protection needs to be continued for any appreciable length of time, there will need to be an air supply, typically an enhanced gas mask. ⏣] ⏤]
Members of the Ukrainian Army’s 19th Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Battalion practice decontamination drill, at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait
Decontamination [ edit | edit source ]
Decontamination varies with the particular chemical agent used. Some nonpersistent agents, including most pulmonary agents (chlorine, phosgene, and so on), blood gases, and nonpersistent nerve gases (e.g., GB), will dissipate from open areas, although powerful exhaust fans may be needed to clear out buildings where they have accumulated.
In some cases, it might be necessary to neutralize them chemically, as with ammonia as a neutralizer for hydrogen cyanide or chlorine. Riot control agents such as CS will dissipate in an open area, but things contaminated with CS powder need to be aired out, washed by people wearing protective gear, or safely discarded.
Mass decontamination is a less common requirement for people than equipment, since people may be immediately affected and treatment is the action required. It is a requirement when people have been contaminated with persistent agents. Treatment and decontamination may need to be simultaneous, with the medical personnel protecting themselves so they can function. ⏥]
There may need to be immediate intervention to prevent death, such as injection of atropine for nerve agents. Decontamination is especially important for people contaminated with persistent agents many of the fatalities after the explosion of a WWII US ammunition ship carrying mustard gas, in the harbor of Bari, Italy, after a German bombing on 2 December 1943, came when rescue workers, not knowing of the contamination, bundled cold, wet seamen in tight-fitting blankets.
For decontaminating equipment and buildings exposed to persistent agents, such as blister agents, VX or other agents made persistent by mixing with a thickener, special equipment and materials might be needed. Some type of neutralizing agent will be needed e.g. in the form of a spraying device with neutralizing agents such as Chlorine, Fichlor, strong alkaline solutions or enzymes. In other cases, a specific chemical decontaminant will be required. ⏤]
Colonel James S. Ketchum dreamed of war without killing. He joined the Army in 1956 and left it in 1976, and in that time he did not fight in Vietnam he did not invade the Bay of Pigs he did not guard Western Europe with tanks, or help build nuclear launch sites beneath the Arctic ice. Instead, he became the military’s leading expert in a secret Cold War experiment: to fight enemies with clouds of psychochemicals that temporarily incapacitate the mind—causing, in the words of one ranking officer, a “selective malfunctioning of the human machine.” For nearly a decade, Ketchum, a psychiatrist, went about his work in the belief that chemicals are more humane instruments of warfare than bullets and shrapnel—or, at least, he told himself such things. To achieve his dream, he worked tirelessly at a secluded Army research facility, testing chemical weapons on hundreds of healthy soldiers, and thinking all along that he was doing good.
Today, Ketchum is eighty-one years old, and the facility where he worked, Edgewood Arsenal, is a crumbling assemblage of buildings attached to a military proving ground on the Chesapeake Bay. The arsenal’s records are boxed and dusting over in the National Archives. Military doctors who helped conduct the experiments have long since moved on, or passed away, and the soldiers who served as their test subjects—in all, nearly five thousand of them—are scattered throughout the country, if they are still alive. Within the Army, and in the world of medical research, the secret clinical trials are a faint memory. But for some of the surviving test subjects, and for the doctors who tested them, what happened at Edgewood remains deeply unresolved. Were the human experiments there a Dachau-like horror, or were they sound and necessary science? As veterans of the tests have come forward, their unanswered questions have slowly gathered into a kind of historical undertow, and Ketchum, more than anyone else, has been caught in its pull. In 2006, he self-published a memoir, “Chemical Warfare: Secrets Almost Forgotten,” which defended the research. Next year, a class-action lawsuit brought against the federal government by former test subjects will go to trial, and Ketchum is expected to be the star witness.
The lawsuit’s argument is in line with broader criticisms of Edgewood: that, whether out of military urgency or scientific dabbling, the Army recklessly endangered the lives of its soldiers—naïve men, mostly, who were deceived or pressured into submitting to the risky experiments. The drugs under review ranged from tear gas and LSD to highly lethal nerve agents, like VX, a substance developed at Edgewood and, later, sought by Saddam Hussein. Ketchum’s specialty was a family of molecules that block a key neurotransmitter, causing delirium. The drugs were known mainly by Army codes, with their true formulas classified. The soldiers were never told what they were given, or what the specific effects might be, and the Army made no effort to track how they did afterward. Edgewood’s most extreme critics raise the spectre of mass injury—a hidden American tragedy.
Ketchum, an unreconstructed advocate of chemical warfare, believes that people who fear gaseous weapons more than guns and mortars are irrational. He cites approvingly the Russian government’s decision, in 2002, to flood a theatre in Moscow with a potent incapacitating drug when Chechen guerrillas seized the building and took eight hundred theatregoers hostage. The gas debilitated the hostage takers, allowing special forces to sweep in and kill them. But many innocent people died, too. “It’s been looked at by some skeptics as a kind of tragedy,” Ketchum has said. “They say, ‘Look, a hundred and thirty people died.’ Well, I think that a hundred and thirty is better than eight hundred, and it’s also better, as a secondary consideration, not to have to blow up a beautiful theatre.”
Not long ago, while debating critics of Edgewood on a talk-radio show, Ketchum argued that the tests were a sensible response to the threats of the Cold War: “We were in a very tense confrontation with the Soviet Union, and there was information that was sometimes accurate, sometimes inaccurate, that they were procuring large amounts of LSD, possibly for use in a military situation.” The experiments, he has said, were no more problematic in their conduct than civilian drug testing at the time.
But Ketchum is an unpredictable apologist. His default temperament is that of an unbiased scientist, trying to solve a stubborn anomaly that just happens to be his life’s work. He accepts criticism of Edgewood thoughtfully and admits the possibility that he is seeing the experiments through a prism of benign forgetfulness. At the same time, as Edgewood’s sole public defender, he must relive history under an unforgiving spotlight. Ketchum often hears from aging test subjects looking for information about what the Army did to them. “I need to know everything that happened to me because it could give me some peace and fewer nightmares,” one veteran wrote to him. In such cases, Ketchum responds with a mixture of defensiveness and empathy. “Well, Mike,” he wrote to another veteran, “I guess some people find it satisfying to look back and condemn what doctors and others did half a century ago, especially if it lends itself to sensationalized movies, and entitles them to disability pensions.” Many of his Edgewood colleagues are far less sanguine about what they did one told me, “I want to see something happen so this doesn’t happen again.” But Ketchum often wins over skeptics. After many e-mails, Mike told him, “I am certain you did the work for the same reason most of us volunteered. It needed to be done.”
Now retired in northern California, Ketchum has built friendships with psychedelic pioneers, who must also wrestle with the legacy of their work: the bad trips, the personalities misshapen by drugs. In 2007, Ketchum went to Burning Man with his friend Alexander Shulgin, known for promoting the drug Ecstasy. Before they met, Shulgin thought that Ketchum’s research methods were immoral. “To bring a human subject into a psychological storm of this type without preparing him for what might happen, and at the end of his experience to release him to his own devices without having counselled him of the strengths and weaknesses of what did happen, shows a complete disregard of the value of that person,” he had said. But Ketchum evidently convinced him that he was not beyond redemption in a foreword to Ketchum’s memoir, Shulgin wrote, “It is a pleasure to be able to contribute to this story.”
Earlier this year, I visited Ketchum in Santa Rosa, where he lives with his fifth wife, Judy Ann Ketchum, in a modest, one-story house in a quiet suburban enclave. Ketchum answered the door in a beige tracksuit. He has the trim stature of an aging athlete, and is tall enough to fill a doorframe, but he is not imposing—his temperament is too readily open, his blue eyes too gently inquisitive. Judy, a retired nurse, is a photographer and artist. In the living room, one of her projects, a platinum-blond mannequin dressed in sequins, stands next to an upright piano, which Ketchum plays. Large closeups of flowers that she has photographed are in every room. The Ketchums are a political hybrid: right-leaning but bohemian, religious but not dogmatic, conservative but open to drug use.
We retreated to a small office to talk. In person, Ketchum projects the image of a man so lost in abstraction that he is easily taken in. As we sat down, he said, “I give money to people who never give it back.” He once gave twenty thousand dollars to a German teacher who said that he was starting a charity the man took the money and vanished: “He used it to go visit a woman, got drunk with her for four days. I never got it back.” Another swindler took his money for good works in Argentina, which never materialized. “I don’t think about that stuff,” Ketchum told me.
Rows and rows of binders belonging to his archive towered beside us. The trove—including hundreds of pages of sensitive government documents—was an armamentarium of sorts, which Ketchum had been using to inoculate the arsenal’s achievements against obscurity or ill repute, or perhaps just to stir up a little trouble. Lawyers had been arguing over the papers the C.I.A. had been pressuring him to turn them over. He glanced at the volumes. “They contain a lot of data, with names, doses, graphs of what we did,” he said. “That is definitely something the government would not want to spread around.” When Ketchum left the arsenal, the archive left with him. “It could have been shredded,” he told me. “It could have been locked away.”
The collection seemed to be a living thing, metamorphosing over time as he organized it and re-organized it. I picked up a binder and found a description of the records as he began to save them: “The accumulating volumes stood in rows at first, and then merited their own file cabinet, and eventually, years later, exceeded the capacity of two four-drawer, legal-width, fireproof safes, the unsorted backlog being packed in boxes in the attic, the garage, and a rented storage room.” At times, Ketchum regarded the trove as a vehicle for self-study, but in pessimistic moments he has thought of Jacob Marley—Dickens’s ghost, consigned to purgatory because he had hurt people and lacked the requisite regret to make amends—and wondered if his archive “would eventually become like Marley’s chains, dragging and clanking behind him in a hideous snakelike procession.”
When the lawsuit was filed, in federal court four years ago, a lawyer from the San Francisco firm Morrison & Foerster came calling. He asked Ketchum if he had saved many primary sources. Ketchum turned over the entire trove. “Be open with someone and he’ll reward you,” he told me. Later, during a fifteen-hour deposition, Ketchum answered questions freely, often over his attorney’s objections. He seemed ready to testify—ready for the authority and attention bestowed upon a star witness, ready to put to rest questions about the experiments.
Before I left, Ketchum promised to send me a full digital copy of his archive. A week or so later, a binder arrived at my office, decorated with a photograph of the two of us, which Judy had taken. Inside, Ketchum had constructed a meticulous index to the papers, and for months afterward the raw material came in waves. There were technical reports and scientific tables, lists of soldier volunteers and their test data. There were memos and letters. There were personal items, too: golf scorecards, family photographs, college essays, data on the sale of a house. “I made a list of all the jobs I had in my green notebook, which is the kind of thing I carried around,” Ketchum had told me. “I also made a list of all the drugs I’ve taken.” Tens of thousands of pages of scanned material began to fill up my hard drive. “This is me,” he seemed to be saying. “This is what I did. You be the judge.”
“This shall be the story of the fall of a human soul—a fall which is great,” Ketchum wrote when he was a freshman at Dartmouth, working on a play. “Daily, souls are broken. Great men—not great in accomplishment, but great potentially—are rendered forever impotent. This is the tragedy of lost aspiration, defeat, despair.” Ketchum envisioned his protagonist as a young man much like him: a bright student, full of potential, but lost in an institution that was against him, and suffering from a tragic flaw. “The fact is,” he wrote, “he is too ardent, too intense, too uncompromising in his ambitions.”
When Ketchum was eight, his ambition was “to become a scientist and help struggling humanity.” Born in Manhattan during the Depression, and brought up in Brooklyn and in Forest Hills, he was academically inclined, competitive, enthralled with tennis. His mother was a secretary, and his father, who went to college at the age of sixteen and was fluent in many languages, managed two hundred operators for the New York Telephone Company. “He was very religious,” Ketchum says. “Not in a harsh, demanding way but in a reverential sense.” Ketchum’s father was the right-hand man of Norman Vincent Peale, the pastor of Manhattan’s Marble Collegiate Church and the author of “The Power of Positive Thinking.” Peale believed that suffering was largely a thing of the mind, and that faith and “right thinking” could eliminate it. “Truth always produces right procedures and therefore right results,” he wrote.
At Dartmouth, Ketchum was easily distracted. He settled on a double major, psychology and philosophy, but he was not a natural philosopher. “It is a mistake to ask unanswerable questions,” he wrote in one assignment. He became obsessed with his high-school sweetheart, an aspiring actress in New York, and impulsively persuaded her to marry him and run off to Africa or Latin America. They made it only as far as Florida before they returned to Dartmouth—where they found that the marriage voided Ketchum’s scholarship, and had to move into a repurposed barracks near campus. The following year, Ketchum changed paths again: he transferred to Columbia University and, later, enrolled in Cornell University Medical College, to study psychiatry. In New York, he and his wife, living in a rented room with no heat, decided to split up. Ketchum began taking ten milligrams of Dexedrine, first intermittently, then three times a day—a habit that he maintained for decades—and he studied in bouts, memorizing swaths of information. Still, he says, “I couldn’t get awards. They wouldn’t give me cum laude, even.”
Perennially broke, Ketchum decided to join the Army. “It was too much to resist,” he wrote in his memoir. “No longer would breakfast consist of an old pickle jar half-filled with black coffee.” In 1958, having graduated from Cornell, he took a job at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. He often woke up at four-thirty in the morning to study cybernetics, and once filled half a room with a gravity-operated “computer” built from soda straws and Tinker Toys. “It produced nothing,” he later wrote, “yet it illuminated that which could not be seen—a logical process.” When the computer did not impress his mentor, he launched another project. During a Thanksgiving holiday, when Walter Reed’s laboratories were empty, he opened up a cat’s brain and embedded electrodes in it, to see if he could give the animal a new way to communicate. He left to play tennis, thinking that a veterinarian would care for the animal, and returned, a week later, to find the cat half-dead from an infection. He tried to nurse it to health in his bathtub, but it had sustained permanent brain damage.
Ketchum’s mind was whirring. He submitted articles to The New Yorker and other magazines, and sent an essay, titled “Sex in Outer Space,” to Playboy. He began to bring a manual typewriter into sessions with patients, typing up every word they said in a maelstrom of clicks and clacks. He showed his notes to a superior, David McKenzie Rioch, the chief of neuropsychiatry at the institute, who suggested that he be more discriminating. But Ketchum was fascinated less by the patients than by the process. Ultimately, he wanted to conduct research, and so in 1960, when Rioch pulled him aside and said, “There is a situation at a place called Edgewood Arsenal,” he listened intently.
Edgewood had been built in a fit of urgency during the First World War, when weaponized gas—chlorine and, later, mustard—was used to devastating effect in the trenches of Europe. Fritz Haber, the German scientist who pioneered the rise of chemical weapons, proclaimed, “In no future war will the military be able to ignore poison gas. It is a higher form of killing.” The U.S. Army took the threat seriously, and launched a program to study the chemicals, building laboratories and gas chambers in order to test human subjects. “We began to hear about the terrors of this place,” a private wrote in 1918. “Everyone we talked to on the way out here said we were coming to the place God forgot! They tell tales about men being gassed and burned.”
After the Second World War, intelligence reports emerged from Germany of chemical weapons far deadlier than mustard or chlorine. The new compounds, which had evolved out of research into insecticides, were called nerve gases, because they created a body-wide overflow of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, often triggering organ failure and near-sudden death. The Reich had invested primarily in three—tabun, soman, and sarin—and the victorious powers rushed to obtain them. The Soviet Union secretly dismantled an entire nerve-gas plant and relocated the technology behind the Iron Curtain. The American government, for its part, acquired the Nazi chemical formulas—and, in some cases, the scientists who developed them—and brought them to Edgewood.
The Army decided to pursue sarin. The chemical was about twenty-five times as deadly as cyanide, and readily made into an aerosol. It was virtually impossible to handle without casualties in one year, seven technicians required immediate treatment following accidental exposure. As the vapor was released after tests, birds passing over the flue of the gas chambers fell dead, and had to be cleared off the roof. In experiments that the arsenal contracted at Johns Hopkins University, researchers gave sarin to healthy volunteers in cups of water over three days. Some of the subjects were severely poisoned they twitched, vomited, and had trouble breathing.
Early nerve-gas experiments focussed on the extreme lethality of the chemicals, and on antidotes, but researchers at Edgewood also began to take note of the chemicals’ cognitive side effects. Subjects often felt giddy at first, then deeply anxious. Some had nightmares or lost sleep and became depressed. A secret 1948 study on the poisoned Edgewood technicians noted that “the outstanding feature of these cases appears to be the psychological reactions,” and its author wondered how “young men having no experience or knowledge” of the chemicals would react. A senior official at the arsenal had observed that men exposed to highly diluted tabun “were partially disabled for from one to three weeks with fatigue, lassitude, complete loss of initiative and interest, and apathy.”
I spoke to a former Edgewood test subject who was given the nerve agent VX, which, when applied to the skin, is a hundred times as deadly as sarin. An officer came to his bedside to draw a small circle on his arm, and then a doctor with a syringe squirted on a drop of liquid. The effect was rapid. The subject heard other people groaning—one man said, “Oh, shit”—but he felt only a calm disassociation from his environment. There was a radio on in the room, but the words made little sense. When he was given food, he didn’t know what to do with his utensils. “I was not in control,” he told me. “It was incredible. This tiny drop had rendered me helpless.” As the test continued, he was seized by an agonizing wave of tension, as if each nerve ending were being crushed in a vise. “It was intense,” he told me. “My body was clenched. All of my nerves were tight, physically and mentally.”
In 1949, L. Wilson Greene, Edgewood’s scientific director, typed up a classified report, “Psychochemical Warfare: A New Concept of War,” that called for a search for compounds that would create the same debilitating mental side effects as nerve gas, but without the lethality. “Throughout recorded history, wars have been characterized by death, human misery, and the destruction of property each major conflict being more catastrophic than the one preceding it,” Greene argued. “I am convinced that it is possible, by means of the techniques of psychochemical warfare, to conquer an enemy without the wholesale killing of his people or the mass destruction of his property.”
In its broad strokes, “Psychochemical Warfare” fit within the evolving ethos at Edgewood: better fighting through chemistry. The first commanding general of the Army’s Chemical Warfare Service had extolled the “effectiveness and humaneness” of gases: they killed quickly, and kept infrastructure intact. Psychochemical warfare certainly promised a form of conflict less deadly than clouds of sarin—even more humane, in that sense, perhaps. But Greene did not want to elevate consciousness he wanted to debilitate, in ways that would inspire terror. As he put it, “The symptoms which are considered to be of value in strategic and tactical operations include the following: fits or seizures, dizziness, fear, panic, hysteria, hallucinations, migraine, delirium, extreme depression, notions of hopelessness, lack of initiative to do even simple things, suicidal mania.”
Greene drew up a list of chemicals to investigate, ranging from barbiturates to carbon monoxide, and he urged a deeper inquiry into the psychological effects of nerve gas. Enoch Callaway, a Navy psychiatrist who arrived at Edgewood in 1950, recalled, “I was told that I needed to measure ‘nervousness,’ because nerve gas was supposed to make you nervous.” So he designed a test: people given sarin were blasted with noise to measure how much they jumped. “We figured out that nerve gas actually reduced anxiety in doses that did not cause convulsions.” The work, he insisted, was conducted responsibly, with a sense of urgency now hard to understand: “We didn’t know that chemical warfare was going to disappear so thoroughly.”
“T–shirt compliments of the lady at the end of the bar.”
In the mid-nineteen-fifties, psychochemical warfare was formally added to Edgewood’s clinical research, and approval was granted to recruit soldiers from around the country for the experiments, in a systematic effort called the Medical Research Volunteer Program. The Army assured Congress that the chemicals were “perfectly safe” and offered “a new vista of controlling people without any deaths”—even though early efforts to make weapons from mescaline and LSD were dropped, because the drugs were too unsafe or too unpredictable. Congressional overseers, terrified of Soviet military superiority, were ready to lend support. The Red Army had an extensive chemical-warfare program, and evidence suggested that it had an interest in “psychic poisons,” used to trigger mental illness. “Some foreign enemy could already be subjecting us in the United States to such things,” one panicky legislator proclaimed during a hearing. “Are we the ones receiving it now? Are we the rabbits and guinea pigs?”
Edgewood began reviewing hundreds of chemicals, many provided by pharmaceutical companies. One officer remarked, “The characteristics we are looking for in these agents are in general exactly opposite to what the pharmaceutical firms want in drugs, that is the undesirable side effects.” Starting in 1959, the arsenal aggressively pursued phencyclidine—or PCP—which Parke, Davis & Company had marketed as an anesthetic but abandoned because patients were having hallucinations and delusions. Edgewood doctors tested it as an aerosol and surreptitiously gave it to soldiers to see if they could then “maintain physical security over simulated classified material.” One subject—who had been exposed to sarin gas a week earlier—was handed a glass of whiskey laced with twenty milligrams of PCP. “Manic reaction and much hostility,” a doctor observed. The subject passed out, and began breathing in a pattern associated with neurological trauma or cardiac stress.
Rioch told Ketchum that another volunteer had ended up in the hospital for six weeks. “He had a paranoid reaction that didn’t go away after the drug wore off,” Ketchum recalled. The trials with PCP were eventually dropped, but stories of other problem cases circulated. A military advisory council decided that the arsenal was ill equipped for the newer line of research. “It seems important to undertake immediately a program to develop sound, fundamental techniques of assessing abnormal behavior,” its members noted. “The services of people trained in this field, such as psychologists, psychiatrists and neuro-physiologists should be obtained.” Edgewood, in other words, needed young doctors just like Jim Ketchum.
In October, 1960, Ketchum drove out to the secluded arsenal, to meet with Colonel Douglas Lindsey, its chief medical officer. Lindsey, a veteran of the Korean War and a storied Army surgeon, was an athletic, small-framed man, with dash-mark lips. He was known for his affectations, including a pink convertible—which he drove with the top down, rain or shine—and a silver-tipped swagger stick made of a human fibula. A master parachutist, he sometimes jumped out a second-floor window after lunch.
“Captain Ketchum, I presume,” Lindsey said. “You must be the psychiatrist we’ve all been waiting for.” Right away, Ketchum noticed that the arsenal was a different kind of military outfit. “He led me across the parking lot to some wooden barracks, where World War II Chemical Corps soldiers had once resided,” Ketchum wrote in his memoir. “It wasn’t very impressive-looking—several cantonment style claptrap wooden buildings joined together by one long narrow hallway.”
As they approached, another doctor walked over, and Lindsey made an introduction. “You’ve come on a good day,” the doctor said. “We’re running another test with a drug called EA 2277.” No one explained what the chemical was, and Ketchum did not ask, sensing that it was a secret. They entered a hospital-like ward, and headed toward one of the bunks, stopping near a delirious soldier who was maniacally struggling to stuff a pillow into a pillowcase. “He’s a bit out of it right now,” the doctor said. “So I don’t think I can introduce you. He wouldn’t understand who you are.”
Ketchum was introduced to Van Murray Sim, an internist, who had set up the Medical Research Volunteer Program. Sim was an intense, towering figure, a former football player, who at one point weighed nearly three hundred pounds. Born in central Washington State, in a remote town called Cashmere, he maintained the sensibility of a pioneer. He made a point of trying drugs before they were tested on soldiers the Army had even granted him its highest civilian award, in part “for volunteering to be the first to expose himself to several new chemical agents at the risk of grave personal injury.” At such moments, Edgewood doctors would crowd around Sim, tending to his gargantuan supine body. “I am trying to defeat the compound,” he once declared. Sim conceived the arsenal’s work as a kind of mini-Manhattan Project, arguing that a nerve-gas attack was even less forgiving than atomic fallout. “If we inhale minute doses of nerve gas for a few seconds, we shall be dead in a few minutes unless adequate treatment is afforded on the spot,” he had warned. “There is no time.”
Without seeing much more, Ketchum knew that he would return. These people, he sensed, were like him: Army nonconformists who were curious about the new science of the brain and relatively untethered by military formality. “There was no doubt in my mind that working in this strange atmosphere was just the sort of thing that would satisfy my appetite for novelty,” Ketchum wrote. By February, 1961, he had remarried his first child had just been born, and he moved to Edgewood with his family, confident that an opportunity to conduct new, ambitious research was at hand.
Edgewood was a citadel of secrets. A sign on a door in the Medical Research Laboratories read, “What you see here, hear here—when you leave here, leave it here!” Ketchum was given an office in an annex for physicians. “I remember coming in at night and feeling a spooky ‘Twilight Zone’ sensation, when walking alone through its deserted halls,” he wrote. It was possible to socialize with other scientists and have no idea what they did. Not all the work had to do with weapons: Edgewood technicians were the first to design protective vests from Kevlar, and mustard experiments provided the basis for early cancer chemotherapies. The physiologist John Clements made a discovery about how surfactants behaved in the lungs which later saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of children.
The psychochemical-warfare program was a small part of the over-all research, and in many respects it was the strangest. Once, Ketchum walked into his office and found a barrel the size of an oil drum standing in a corner. No one explained why it was in his office, or who had put it there. After a couple of days, he waited until evening and opened it. Inside, he found dozens of small glass vials, each containing a precisely measured amount of pure LSD he figured there was enough to make several hundred million people go bonkers—and later calculated the street value of the barrel to be roughly a billion dollars. At the end of the week, the barrel vanished just as mysteriously as it had appeared. No one spoke about it. He never learned what it was for.
“When is it time to want more?”
After receiving a security clearance, Ketchum was told that EA 2277 was 3-quinuclidinyl benzilate, or BZ—a pharmaceutical, intended as an ulcer therapy, that was rejected after tests found it unsuitable. Infinitesimal amounts could send people into total mental disorder. BZ is an anticholinergic, similar to atropine or scopolamine, which are used in medicine today. At high doses, such drugs trigger delirium—a dreamlike insanity usually forgotten after it subsides. Sim, one of the first doctors to try BZ, later proclaimed that it “zonked” him for three days. “I kept falling down,” he said. “The people at the lab assigned someone to follow me around with a mattress.”
One night, Ketchum was observing soldiers on BZ when Sim wandered into the ward. “What are you doing here?” Sim asked. From the waist down, he was wearing only underwear.
Ketchum tried to size up his superior in addition to his self-experiments, Sim habitually took Demerol. “I sometimes come in late at night to check on the guys,” Ketchum told him. “They get pretty interesting around midnight. What are you doing?”
Sim had a watch faceplate taped to his wrist. “I’m trying to see if LSD has any effect through the skin,” he said. “I’ve got it in some ethylene glycol under this watch glass. So far, it hasn’t had any particular effect.”
For years, Sim had been overseeing secret intelligence experiments at Edgewood. At one point, he did research for the C.I.A. on a BZ-type drug, called the Boomer, that causes delirium for as long as two weeks. The agency wanted to know if it could be administered through the skin. Could a Soviet agent brush some on silverware at a diplomatic party and cause an American official to go crazy? Could an operative dose an adversary with a handshake? Sim initiated trials at the arsenal and at Holmesburg Prison, in Pennsylvania, with which Edgewood had contracted to conduct experiments on inmates.
Testing psychochemicals for intelligence purposes, Sim appeared to believe, required a uniquely loose protocol: the goal was to control the mind, and the subject’s expectations of the drug’s effect mattered. He often gave LSD to people without warning. Not long after arriving at Edgewood, Ketchum took to playing tennis with a commanding officer at the arsenal, who, after a match one day, described how Sim had spiked his morning coffee with LSD. “He was pissed off as hell,” Ketchum told me. LSD had been mixed into cocktails at a party, and into an Army unit’s water supply. Some men handled it fine some went berserk. A test subject in 1957 exhibited “euphoria followed by severe depression, anxiety, and panic—feeling he was going to die,” according to his chart. Another test involved intelligence specialists who were blindfolded and placed in an isolation chamber. “Only one subject was in a condition to undergo extended interrogation,” a report concluded. “A second subject fled from interrogation in panic.”
Ketchum later wrote of Sim’s “hare-brained experiments” and his “lack of scientific (and ethical) judgment.” The Army had apparently reached the same conclusion. In 1959, responsibility for the volunteers was taken from Sim—who was eventually given the new title of chief scientist—and transferred to Lindsey, a more capable leader, though not immune to bouts of recklessness himself. To demonstrate the effects of VX, he was known to dip his finger in a beaker containing the lethal agent, then rub it on the back of a shaved rabbit as the animal convulsed and died, he would casually walk across the room and bathe his finger in a Martini to wash off the VX. “I thought they were crazy,” a doctor who served under him told me. “I was going to New York, and Colonel Lindsey tells me, ‘How about taking a vial of nerve gas to New York to make a demonstration.’ And I am looking at the guy and thinking, If I have an accident on the Thruway, I could kill thousands of people—thousands of people. I said, ‘No. It’s that simple.’ ”
Nonetheless, Lindsey was more circumspect than Sim. He had tried LSD and thought it impractical. In 1960, he told an audience of military doctors, “It may be possible to so dose a man that he would describe an enemy soldier as green-and-purple-striped, cuboid, and nine feet tall, but this is not incapacitation so long as he can still recognize this apparition as an enemy, and can shoot him or impale him on a bayonet.” When Army brass requested demonstrations of LSD’s effects on the volunteers, Lindsey refused, risking insubordination.
The differences between Lindsey and Sim reflected deeper tensions that the Cold War imposed upon the doctors at Edgewood: men who sought to remain ethical as they advanced the frontier of military research. Sim appeared to believe that personally sampling every chemical agent made him free to circumvent conventional standards “I have to live with myself,” he once said. Lindsey had an officer’s protectiveness for the enlisted men. Many of the Army doctors—draftees, like the volunteers—who worked under both men strove to reconcile their military obligations with their medical commitments. “As doctors, we are used to treating people who are sick, not making them sick,” one told me. “I did not like the idea of what I was doing with individual human beings. But I understood what I was doing in the context of the defense of this country.”
For Ketchum, questions about the morality of chemical-weapons research rested in the details of its execution. He hoped to bring to Edgewood the rigors of civilian science, even if the questions asked were strictly military. The Army wanted to know to what degree an “incapacitating agent” could incapacitate, and how its effects could be reversed. Ketchum accepted the goal, and decided to make the trials as systematic, and as precise, as possible. He became an architect of mental debilitation. He enjoyed the work.
Ketchum enlisted Lindsey’s support to bring order to the psychochemical experiments, and insists that he discontinued Sim’s practice of giving drugs to men without their knowing. Medical records on test subjects had been kept haphazardly some of the doctors even departed with them, making it impossible to know exactly what had been done to previous volunteers. Ketchum campaigned to have data centralized, and hired nurses.
He also took over the study of BZ. The drug fascinated him. Exposed soldiers exhibited bizarre symptoms: rapid mumbling, or picking obsessively at bedclothes and other objects, real or imaginary. “Subjects sometimes display something approaching wit, not in the form of word-play, but as a kind of sarcasm or unexpected frankness,” he wrote in a report for Sim. The drug’s effect lasted for days. At its peak, volunteers were totally cut off in their own minds, jolting from one fragmented existence to the next. They saw visions: Lilliputian baseball players competing on a tabletop diamond animals or people or objects that materialized and vanished. “I had a great urge to smoke and, when I thought about it, a lit cigarette appeared in my hand,” a volunteer given a drug similar to BZ recalled shortly after the experiment. “I could actually smoke the cigarette.”
“I like my late–night humor unfunny.”
Soldiers on BZ could remember only fragments of the experience afterward. As the drug wore off, and the subjects had trouble discerning what was real, many experienced anxiety, aggression, even terror. Ketchum built padded cells to prevent injuries, but at times the subjects couldn’t be contained. One escaped, running from imagined murderers. Another, on a drug similar to BZ, saw “bugs, worms, one snake, a monkey and numerous rats,” and thought his skin was covered in blood. “Subject broke a wooden chair and smashed a hole in the wall after tearing down a 4-by-7-ft panel of padding,” his chart noted. Ketchum and three assistants piled on top of the soldier to subdue him. “He was clearly terrified and convinced we were intending to kill him,” his chart said.
One night, Ketchum rushed into a padded room to reassure a young African-American volunteer wrestling with the ebbing effects of BZ. The soldier, agitated, found the air-conditioner gravely threatening. After calming him down, Ketchum sat beside him. Attempting to see if he could hold a conversation, Ketchum asked, “Why do they have taxes, income taxes, things like that?”
The soldier thought for a minute. “You see, that would be difficult for me to answer, because I don’t like rice,” he said.
The soldier peered forward, and suddenly seemed to be addressing an imaginary person. “If you want the pack, I’ll cut the pipe,” he said, using his hands to emphasize what he would do. “Then we’d put it in a vise, cut it to the inch you want. That’s three different ways.”
“Right,” Ketchum said, and thought up another question. “If you had three wishes—you could wish for anything you wanted—what would your three wishes be?” he asked.
The man took a second to consider this. “No. 1,” he said. “I wish that the world would stop acting like kids, and act like grown people.” Then he went silent.
“No. 2, where I would like to be?” the man said. “Cause I feel like my life is not worth a nickel here anyway, I think I would rather go back to Massachusetts, back to my home unit.”
“Are you in danger here?” Ketchum asked.
“I feel that I am, sir,” the soldier said.
“What’s the danger here?” Ketchum said.
“The danger to me is—a man don’t have to cheat me, or stick me, he can just frighten me,” the soldier said. Gesturing to a spot of bare floor in the padded room, he said, “It could make a person fall down those steps if they do it at the right time—and I just don’t feel that I am safe, here, in the house.”
By the time Lindsey’s term as chief medical officer ended, in the early sixties, he had grown disenchanted with the Medical Research Volunteer Program. “These soldiers are not really informed at all,” he told Malcolm Bowers, an Edgewood medical officer who later became a professor at Yale. Little was known about the long-term effects of the experiments, and yet the volunteers, after a stay at the arsenal, were blindly pushed back into the Army at large, with no follow-up care. In a self-published memoir, “Men and Poisons,” Bowers recalls Lindsey wondering if the lack of follow-up stemmed from the Army’s fear that such a program would disclose concern about lasting health effects. Sim later offered a more mundane reason: insufficient funding.
For many doctors at Edgewood, the memory of the Second World War, and the horrific experiments carried out by Nazi scientists, remained potent. After the war, the Nuremberg Code established an ethical framework for medical experiments, and its principles were incorporated into Army doctrine. The code begins with a clear premise: “The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential.” That consent must flow from an “enlightened decision,” shaped by a true understanding of the test’s medical risks. Moreover, human experiments must be preceded by animal studies, and conducted in pursuit of a greater social good—with risks never exceeding “the humanitarian importance of the problem.” If a subject is unable to endure the experiment, or if a researcher believes there is a probability of injury, the test must end.
For decades, Ketchum has contested the idea that soldiers were tricked into participating in the tests. In “Chemical Warfare: Secrets Almost Forgotten,” he addresses the question head on. “Unwitting guinea pigs?” he writes. “Naïve young men taken in by Army propaganda? Mentally marginal soldiers who could not make good decisions? Ignorant individuals who didn’t know what they were getting into because of tight secrecy? In my view, none of the above!” In another passage, Ketchum describes giving the sedative Seconal to a sergeant. “He proudly informed me beforehand that this was his sixth visit and he would no doubt be back again next year,” he wrote. “I had to tell him that this was unlikely—it would be unfair to all the other soldiers who wanted to be part of the program.”
In fact, the Medical Research Volunteer Program initially had difficulty attracting volunteers, so monthly quotas were established to insure a steady supply of research subjects. Recruiters fanned out to Army facilities across the country some commanders even ordered men to attend the sessions. Ketchum insists that there was never any ambiguity about the drug experiments during the recruitment process, but people who attended the sessions came away with an uncertain sense of what they were being asked to do. A number of them told me that recruiters advertised the program in vague terms, as human behavioral studies, or equipment testing, or medical research. Inducements were offered, too. Soldiers could spend time near several large East Coast cities, and would be given three-day weekend passes to explore them. There would be extra pay, and few responsibilities, aside from showing up at a test. Many men spent much of their stay playing Ping-Pong and watching movies. When it came time for volunteers to leave—at first, they were asked to serve for a month, later two months—a letter of commendation would enter their file. In the sixties, the arsenal offered an even more powerful incentive: time away from Vietnam.
“If they fit, we can return them”
Once the volunteers arrived at Edgewood, they were given medical and psychological examinations, and were divided into four groups. The least healthy would be used to test equipment. The top twenty-five per cent—the Astronaut Class, as Ketchum once called them—would typically be prepared for the most dangerous chemicals. Doctors informed the volunteers in generalities and asked them to sign a consent form—usually long before any specific test was announced. The forms were designed to offer few details as one version was drafted, the words “mental disturbance or unconsciousness” were replaced with “discomfiture.” Sometimes a little more information would be provided just before the test began, but not always. Van Sim later confessed that researchers testing nerve gas would tell volunteers that the drug might give them a “runny nose” or a “slight tightness of the chest.” In 1961, a volunteer from Kansas, named John Ross, was given soman, a highly persistent nerve agent. Only when the needle was in his arm did he overhear the doctors saying that he had been given something lethal. “I started having convulsions,” he told me. “I started vomiting. One of the guys standing over me said, ‘We gave you a little too much.’ They told me to walk it off. I started to panic. I thought I was going to die.” Ross became rigid and was rushed to Walter Reed. For years afterward, he suffered from insomnia and depression.
Test subjects had a right to decline an experiment—assuming that they knew they were part of one—but they almost never did. “There was no question that they would participate,” Bowers recalled. Withdrawing from a test required backing down from a commitment to one’s superior, which was anathema in the Army. “In the military, if you don’t do something you will be ostracized,” a soldier given LSD in 1958 told me. “I believe they did give us the option to leave, at first, but you didn’t really have a choice once you were in.”
The ambiguities of the recruitment process, the classified nature of the research, and the highly selective way that doctors followed Army policy has left behind irreconcilable memories. Gerald Elbin, one of Ketchum’s first BZ test subjects, told me that he did not know exactly what he was signing up for when he volunteered, but he enjoyed his time at Edgewood. “It was O.K. to say no,” he said. “There wasn’t any hammer coming down on you.”
The same day Elbin was given BZ, Ketchum gave the drug to Teddie Osborne, who had been stationed at the Yuma Test Center, in Arizona, where he was using a crude detector and a caged rabbit to look for chemical leaks. Osborne thought that his work would not change much at Edgewood. “It wasn’t really explained,” he told me. At the arsenal, he was assigned to help manage the recruits he liked the work and volunteered again. The second time, he was told that he was going to be a subject. He felt tricked. “I could not have said no,” he told me. “You are dealing with professionals. We were very gullible.” One Wednesday, Osborne was injected with BZ, and ushered into a padded room. He had no idea what the drug was or what it would do. “I don’t remember anything until Saturday,” he told me. “That was so disturbing. Later, it still haunted me.”
Before Ketchum wrote his memoir, he had tried to sort out his experiences in a series of half-finished manuscripts, variously titled “Aerosol One” or “LSD Forever” or “The Black Drum” or, simply, “Jim.” Most of them are romans à clef, though that term suggests too great a departure from reality, as many people in them are named, and all of the events are genuine. In these early attempts at telling his story, the volunteers—the men he drugged—barely figure. Instead, Ketchum’s focus is himself, under different pseudonyms: Peter (Micro) Hansen (“competent and charismatic and soon aggressively takes over, with impressive results”), James McFarley (“a moderate thirst for opponents, human and inanimate”), Dr. McSorley (“nothing if not a man of action—impulse, if the truth be known”).
Ketchum’s manuscripts—often written in a faux-hardboiled style—document his ambitions and grandiosity, his insecurities and ambivalence. “Why was a kook like him picked for a politically delicate, high profile, security headache?” he wrote of himself. “Here he was cranking literally hundreds of unblemished, freshly washed and combed, bright-eyed young men through a drug machine. Making them nuts for a few hours or a few days, and then, like calves who had been branded, watching them for a short time to be sure they were okay, and sending them back to their pastures. It was such a risk, if you looked at it objectively.”
By Ketchum’s second year, the arsenal’s drug machine was spinning at high velocity. “I was working on a noble cause,” he later explained. “The purpose of this research was to find something that would be an alternative to bombs and bullets.” But, clearly, he also saw in the experiments a vehicle for attaining greatness. In an outline for “Jim,” he spoke of his ambition “to create a tapestry of accomplishment, including the development of a small empire of research, the intellectual defeat of naysayers and rivals in the establishment, a reputation as a creative genius, a thriving and happy family, a chemically enhanced sense of well-being, a throng of admirers.” He began to build his archive, and he worked with audiovisual specialists to turn his research into raw cinematic material.
In May, 1962, while testing BZ’s effect on soldier performance, Ketchum oversaw the construction of an entire Hollywood-style set in the form of a makeshift communications outpost. The plan was to confine four soldiers to the outpost for three days. Except for one man, who would be given a placebo, the soldiers would be administered varying doses of BZ. Then, as if in a scene from the TV show “Lost,” they would be radioed a stream of commands and messages, based on a fictional scenario.
Technicians built a small room out of plywood. Cots and a table were brought in, and a handheld radio and switchboard were positioned against the green walls. To help achieve realism, Ketchum added a large switch with a sign that warned “Danger—Do Not Touch.” Cameras were installed behind wall panels. “It was a nervy operation, no matter how you looked at it,” Ketchum wrote. “Even with an inch of padding on the walls and a two-inch foam rubber carpet to minimize the chance of injury. ”
Outside the door, Ketchum and several technicians crowded around monitors. After the BZ took effect, they triggered an alarm indicating a chemical attack. The men rushed to put on gas masks, but the soldier who had been given a delirium-producing dose—Ronald Zadrozny, a young Army intelligence officer—was too confused to protect himself. Zadrozny was a small, bespectacled, mild-mannered soldier, “all of which were factors in his selection for the delirium-producing dose,” Ketchum later recalled. “If he panicked at some point, the others could no doubt subdue him. Assuming, of course, that the lower dosages would not render them too incompetent to react appropriately.”
Zadrozny’s drug-induced madness lasted for thirty-six hours. He saluted imaginary officers, at one point believing that a drape partitioning the toilet was a group of men. He became panicky, and stayed up nights, pacing and mumbling, trying to escape, either by the door or through a medicine cabinet. At one point, as Zadrozny began to improve, he sat in front of the switchboard, pencil in one hand, receiver in the other, ready for a communiqué.
“You can’t hear anything unless you have the telephone up to your ear,” another soldier explained.
“It wasn’t working with electrodes,” Zadrozny mumbled.
“Get a load of Baryshnikov!”
Two hundred phony tactical messages, warnings of chemical attacks, and intelligence were fed to the men in the room. At one point, Ketchum and the others ran out of script. “In an urgent brainstorming session, we put our heads together and came up with an agonizingly improvised scenario,” he recalled in his memoir. “We told the military communicators to start sending new intelligence to the group inside the room—in a simple code. The messages informed the men that enemy forces were planning to move a train loaded with chemical weapons along a certain route.” Eventually, Ketchum and the technicians resorted to gibberish, using poker terms, referring to “the dealer” and a “full house,” as the BZ-addled soldiers struggled to interpret their code.
By this time, the Army was running a “crash program” to turn BZ into an operational weapon. The test with Zadrozny may have demonstrated that BZ could render a unit ineffective, but in battle the chemical would need to be sprayed, and aerosols are difficult to control, even in test conditions. Ketchum estimated that the “incapacitating dose” was forty times lower than the lethal dose. Yet some soldiers in wind-tunnel tests were getting more than intended. What would happen if a volunteer sensitive to the chemical received too much of it? Psychochemical warfare was based on the idea that the drugs had no meaningful effect on the body. But, as Ketchum’s tests progressed, the results began to suggest that BZ might be more dangerous than had been imagined.
In 1962, Walter Payne, a decorated reservist from Helena, Arkansas, was instructed to inhale a cloud of BZ in a wind tunnel. Three hours later, he was totally unresponsive. Henry Ralston, now an emeritus professor of anatomy at the University of California at San Francisco, examined Payne and noted that he “exhibited signs of decerebrated rigidity with hyperextension of the back, neck and limbs, accompanied by irregular twitching movement of limbs.” When I asked Ralston to interpret those symptoms, he told me, “Major head trauma, huge damage to the brain.” (Ketchum made an assessment, too, noting that Payne’s delirium was “moderately severe.”) Payne was treated with an antidote, and was examined twenty-six days later. After an EEG test that was “essentially a normal record for his age,” he was released from the arsenal and given no further follow-up.
The incident was alarming enough to delay the BZ program. Senior Army officials grew concerned that the lethal dose of the chemical might be lower than previously thought. “We had no way to control how they breathed,” Ketchum told me. He designed an apparatus to help: soldiers were attached to an oscilloscope as they breathed, they watched a wave form, and used it to inhale a regular amount. Even so, in 1963 another volunteer, Jason Butler, Jr., went into critical condition after breathing in BZ in a wind tunnel his temperature spiked to 103.6°, and his head started shaking spastically. He was sponged with ice and alcohol, and given antidotes. After six days, doctors released him, noting that he “appeared quite normal.”
Even as it became reasonable to suspect that BZ could cause serious injury on the battlefield, the military was pushing to put it into use. In November, 1964, an Army major travelled to Edgewood on an urgent mission from Lieutenant General William Dick, the chief of Army research. Soviet trawlers had been spotted off the coast of Alaska, and Dick wanted to know if a projected cloud of BZ could disable the crew. Senior officers at the arsenal told the major that such a thing was out of the question—the chemical had not even been field-tested. Eventually, the major came to see Ketchum, who was leading a newly created group called the Psychopharmacology Branch. “The plan didn’t make a whole lot of sense, and it offended me on a rational level,” he wrote in his memoir. “On the other hand, the challenge ruthlessly tickled my imagination.”
He typed up a plan for a large-scale experiment at the Dugway Proving Ground, in Utah. Up the chain of command, an officer with a wry sense of humor christened it Project DORK, but Ketchum, having got approval for the experiment, threw himself into it in a Dexedrine-fuelled whirlwind of activity. He spent weeks at Dugway, arranging technical details: a flatbed truck with an airtight observation booth and a platform for the volunteers to stand on two inflatable hospital wards a generator to create the cloud of BZ. Ketchum flew out the oscilloscopes and an audiovisual truck to document the test. “So what did I feel, as we sat in the sling seats that lined the sides of a giant fuselage, gazing at the mammoth TV truck tied down in the center bay?” he wrote. “Maybe just the way I felt in the fourth grade, sitting in a bus headed for the Wonder Bread Factory, where we would get to see fabulous machines, loading endless streams of fresh-baked bread onto conveyor belts. Then and now, I was excited and bedazzled!”
Project DORK began before dawn under a dark desert sky. Ketchum arrived with the volunteers, and helped them suit up. Covered head to toe in protective clothing and gas masks, the men looked like deep-space explorers. When the generator began to produce the cloud of BZ, spotlights tracked the chemical apparition drifting across the sky. The men stood in the haze for fifteen minutes, and then were flown by helicopter to the makeshift hospital.
Project DORK was a logistically complex experiment, and Ketchum considers it his most important military achievement as he puts it, “A Hollywood producer might have had trouble throwing together all the features I wanted in less than a fortnight.” Using footage of the experiment, he directed a film called “Cloud of Confusion,” a unique artifact of Cold War propaganda, conveying in almost Kubrick-like surrealism the sublime strangeness of the experiment. It begins with shots of the large white cloud of BZ, with a narrator intoning, like a Hollywood Moses, “And on this desert / this cloud was unleashed / so men could measure / the dimensions / of its stupefying power.” Bartók’s “The Miraculous Mandarin” served as the score to a long opening montage, the music’s spiralling scales and clanging intervals playing over footage of soldiers twisting their faces in confusion and frustration, unable to resolve phantom problems. Later segments show the men ordered to act as sentries, amid trees that had been planted for the movie they were hopelessly confused. Some of the volunteers saw hallucinatory bugs. “I don’t know that I could describe the sickness,” one of them told me. “You felt sort of punchy and spaced out.” He felt odd after the test, but in a few days’ time the effect vanished.
The film portrayed Project DORK in epic terms, but it also demonstrated the fundamental impracticality of psychochemical warfare. The test had to be run before dawn, or differences in temperature between the air and the ground would cause the cloud to drift away. The supply of BZ virtually ran out—even to intoxicate just eight men who were running in place, to insure that they breathed in enough, on a vehicle that was moving with the cloud. Certainly, launching billows of BZ across Arctic waters to attack moving Soviet trawlers would be futile—even if the crew was unprepared for them.
“No doubt you already know if I’m a good cop or a bad cop.”
The Soviets were not ignorant of BZ, after all. Vil Mirzayanov, a chemist who conducted secret weapons research for the Soviet Union, told me that Moscow never had more than a halfhearted interest in LSD, and that its interest in BZ was strictly to keep up with Ketchum’s program. “We knew the West had developed this weapon, and we were trying to copy it,” he said. Soviet scientists, who called the formula Substance 78, conducted their own clinical trials with it and manufactured tons of the drug at a plant in Volsk. “But, for the military, it was absolutely useless,” he told me. “Soldiers began to act like in a dream. They were not thinking they don’t need weapons—very nice, very good. The main problem was, How do you use it? For military people it was fantasy.”
Ketchum took a different lesson from Project DORK. The experiment’s limitations prompted him to strive for greater realism. He wanted to push the testing to its logical conclusion: a grand experiment with soldiers engaged in simulated combat while clouds of psychochemicals drifted on the battlefield. “I felt that if we are trying to sell this stuff to the military we better convince them that it could work,” he told me. He told his superiors that, if such a test could not be run, then the program had no point to it.
Unsurprisingly, his proposal was rejected, and Ketchum began to think about leaving. His second marriage was in turmoil, and his work had clearly reached a ceiling in May, 1965, he decided to apply for a two-year “sabbatical,” arguing that a postdoctoral fellowship in neuropsychology at Stanford would allow him to help refine the Army’s development of the new chemicals. “Any competent neuroscientist should have recognized the arguments I presented as sophomoric fantasy,” he wrote in his memoir. “But I had somehow developed a reputation for being gifted within the military’s higher psychiatric echelons.”
Having been accepted at Stanford, Ketchum struggled with his reëntry into academia, accomplishing little. But he had ended up in the Bay Area during the Summer of Love, and after the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics opened, in 1967, he began volunteering there. Many people walking in were strung-out hippies, mistrustful of authority. While caring for them, Ketchum hid the fact that he was an officer in the U.S. Army.
Periodically, a colleague at Edgewood wrote to update him on life at the arsenal. Among the new doctors, he said, insubordination was “a big problem.” Some of Ketchum’s calculations documenting BZ were not adding up aerosol tests that he had initiated with LSD—even though the Army was no longer pursuing LSD as a weapon—had resulted in overdoses, and some subjects had become extremely agitated, violent, or hypersexual. For one of the doctors involved, the experience was “very traumatic.” Ketchum thought that the overdoses were unfortunate, but that the tests were still worthwhile. “I’m glad it got pushed as far as it did,” he wrote back.
In the fall of 1967, his marriage fell apart, and he moved into a Holiday Inn. By the end of the year, he wondered if he would return to chemical warfare. He considered staying at Stanford, or returning to Walter Reed, but worried that he might not be skilled or focussed enough. “They had Nobel Prize winners over there,” he told me. “I was going to be in charge of them?” Still, he was hopeful. “I think my relative slump is only temporary,” he told a friend. “I can feel a rebirth coming on.” Edgewood had asked Ketchum to return as the head of the Clinical Research Department, overseeing all human experiments, and in 1968 he said yes.
By the late sixties, the high point of the Cold War had sloped into a murkier geopolitical condition half a million Americans were in Vietnam, and though the Army had freely used defoliants and tear gas there, it decided not to use BZ. Popular sentiment was turning against the idea of deploying psychochemicals in war. “There are moral imponderables, such as whether insanity, temporary or permanent, is a more ‘humane’ military threat than the usual afflictions of war,” E. James Lieberman, a psychiatric resident at Harvard, wrote in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. In 1965, Sidney Cohen, a well-regarded LSD researcher, argued that “such degradation of a person’s mind is worse than his physical death and can hardly be considered humane warfare.”
When Ketchum returned to Edgewood, he was optimistic about achieving something meaningful, but he was frustrated by the growing insubordination among the doctors. “Many of them tried to stay out of the picture as much as possible, so that they wouldn’t be assigned things to do,” he told me. Concerns that Lindsey’s generation had kept to themselves were now rushing to the surface. The new doctors tended to be older than their earlier counterparts, more invested in their nonmilitary work, more politically circumspect. They sought to slow down the research, and began to question Ketchum’s methodology.
A physician named Mark Needle told me that he thought Ketchum’s human experiments were run like the Keystone Kops. “There was nobody qualified,” he said. “And the fact that they were allowed to do it without people who knew what they were doing was very, very scary. There was no humanity in it. There was no morality in it. If anything happened to the volunteers, we could say, ‘You were offered an out,’ but then we were also telling them, ‘Listen, this is the Army, and we are at war.’ Our view was that this was a terrible thing to do to these kids, because who the hell knew what could happen?”
When Ketchum sought to orchestrate a field test with a new version of BZ, four doctors wrote in dissent. He overruled them. Another version, called EA 3834, appeared to cause microscopic hematuria—tiny amounts of blood in urine—and other renal problems. One soldier was sent to Walter Reed. “This is a dangerous drug,” a psychiatrist named George Leib insisted. Leib, who worked on the arsenal’s annual budget, had come to think that tests of a baroque nature and questionable design were being funded merely to sustain the program. His office was across from the toxic-aid station, and he was sure that records were being manipulated to disguise problem cases. “Everyone I spoke to had misgivings,” he told me. “I had a volunteer who just sailed through a forty-eight-hour test without problems, and then soon afterward, while on leave, he was driving and crashed into the back of a truck and killed himself. I felt responsible. I felt like I had not done everything I could. But I certainly had done everything that I was allowed to do.”
“We’re spending Christmas with our grandparents in the Land of Forced Smiles.”
The testing of EA 3834 was suspended. There were more studies, more discussions nothing could be conclusively determined. The arguing underscored the medical scrutiny given to the volunteers, but also illustrated important differences: physicians who saw no benefit to the experiments did not want to tolerate even minor risks. “Ketchum said it would be O.K. to continue,” Leib told me. “To me, it made no sense.” As the two men argued, Ketchum accused Leib—who occasionally consulted with the C.I.A. on chemical work—of being a spy, and blamed him for taking a secret codebook from a safe in his office. (Ketchum doesn’t remember the dispute.) “My house and car were ransacked, seats were taken apart,” Leib told me. “In the end, the book was in Ketchum’s closet.”
In early 1969, Ketchum told a superior that he thought the program was not “facing a very rosy future.” As antiwar protesters gathered outside the arsenal’s gates, the insubordination was giving way to overt acts of rebellion. Doctors leaked details about the research to the press some even criticized the work publicly. One physician told me that he had come to believe that in many cases the arsenal had not done sufficient animal tests, and, fearing that he would have to violate the Hippocratic oath, he told Ketchum that he wanted a transfer, even if it meant being sent to Vietnam.
Edgewood was not all that had changed. “I was smoking dope and having sex every night,” Ketchum told me. “After a while, it became obvious that I wasn’t the same guy I was in 1966.” He suggested that follow-up studies be conducted, he told me, but “nothing came back on that.” He even sought to expand the arsenal’s focus beyond weaponry, telling the technical director that the clinical research could be more than “a medical cog in the ‘war machine.’ ” He hoped, for instance, that the Army could study marijuana for its possible therapeutic value. “For any medical laboratory to limit itself to weapons-oriented work would be most unacceptable to the great majority of physicians,” he added.
Instead of reprimanding the recalcitrant doctors, Ketchum debated them. He frequently argued with Al Daniels, a newly drafted physician, who told me, “I said, ‘I’m not going to do that kind of research.’ I was, like, ‘Fuck you, throw me in jail.’ ” Ketchum told Daniels that irresponsible science could happen in any context, and added, “I do not think it is fair or accurate to assume that this goes on in chemical and biological weapons research any more than it does, let’s say, in cancer research.” Daniels was far from convinced. Ketchum recalled, “He would say, ‘Go to hell,’ and I would say, ‘No, let’s talk about this.’ ”
Ketchum is a natural and genial debater, but he was also a colonel in the United States Army he did not need to dispute or cajole, and it’s hard not to see in these discussions a man arguing more intensely with himself than with his subordinates. Without informing his superiors, he invited a journalist to Edgewood, and when they sought to block the invitation he bashed out a fiery, insubordinate memo. “For Christ’s sake give a senior science reporter for the AP credit for some brains,” he wrote. “This is a medical research laboratory! This is not Buchenwald, not a prison, or a stockade, doing sneaky, poorly designed work for nefarious motives!”
In April, Matthew Meselson, a Harvard biologist, argued in congressional testimony that non-lethal chemical weapons would only make war more savage, because armies would use them to flush out enemies and then slaughter them. Ketchum wrote to him, “I cannot see how any chemical agent can compete with the macabre agony which projectiles, flame and bayonets can produce.” Like a protagonist in one of his Dartmouth creative-writing assignments, he described a mediocre institution thwarting his chance at real achievement. “I often ruminate, myself, upon the stupidity, cupidity and spiritual barrenness of the faceless bureaucracy in which I find myself enmeshed,” Ketchum wrote. “I console myself with the fond illusion that somewhere in this faceless universe of orbiting bodies there must be a mind or two that is alive and aware and perhaps even creative.” Meselson quickly ended the correspondence.
In November, the Nixon Administration announced that the United States would not offensively use the forty-nine tons of BZ that it had stockpiled, because of the chemical’s “wide range of variability of effects, long onset time, and inefficiency of existing munitions.” Not long afterward, Ketchum took an unusual step. He asked to be demoted, claiming that he wanted to return to research. “Mostly, my motivation was declining,” he wrote in his memoir. But it was also clear that the program was going nowhere. “I felt like Benedict Arnold,” he said. Ketchum was relocated from his large office into a cramped room that had been a janitorial-supply closet. He spent his time studying to practice psychiatry and teaching himself computer programming. Then, in 1971, an opening came up at Fort Sam Houston to help expand substance-abuse programs, and he took it. As he later put it, “The psychochemical empire was crumbling.”
Four years after Ketchum left Edgewood, the Medical Research Volunteer Program became engulfed in scandal. Former subjects complained of maltreatment, and in September, 1975, Van Sim, who had taken over once again, was brought before Congress and questioned by outraged legislators. When asked about the lack of follow-up care for the volunteers, there was little he could say, except, “Well, it is intolerable.” Legislators and Army investigators descended upon the arsenal, and the remaining volunteers were given just hours to leave the facility. The medical-research laboratories were sealed, and documents were seized. A truck was required to haul away just a portion of the paperwork. “It’s been a bad scene here,” a friend of Ketchum’s wrote to him. “Aren’t you glad you’re out of it?”
Before the media, Sim was willing to obfuscate and lie, as it suited him. As he stood at a lectern emblazoned with the Army seal, taking questions from reporters about the arsenal’s experiments, his senses seemed deadened, his eyelids heavy. At the time, Sim was under investigation for his use of Demerol. He obsessively licked his upper lip, as if he were soothing a deep sore.
“How much of the work, then, was done for the Central Intelligence Agency?” he was asked.
“Absolutely none,” he said, even though he had done such work himself.
“Did you have any bad cases?”
“We had none within the Army itself.”
“Tell us about the adverse side effects.”
“If I tell one, it will not be necessarily representative of the next one.”
The Army launched an investigation, and agents struggled to make sense of what had happened at Edgewood. Although they found no evidence of deaths or “serious injury”—a term that their report did not define—they were bluntly critical of the recruiting process. “There were indications that application of power of command, expert knowledge, and position were employed in a manner to suggest possible coercion,” the report concluded. On the matter of informed consent, it found that Edgewood doctors had been selective about what they told the volunteers and, again and again, were willing to “dilute and in some cases negate the intent of the policy.”
“I consider myself bipartisan–curious.”
The lasting health effects of the research were difficult to judge. Records were either messy or incomplete, and no experiment had collected data to determine how a drug might affect lives in the long term. In 1980, the Army published a study that found that sixteen per cent of the volunteers given LSD later suffered psychological symptoms—flashbacks, depression, and suicidal ideation—associated with the drug the authors concluded that most of these were benign, but they also acknowledged that the study had an “insuperable” design problem, in that obtaining adequate control subjects was impossible. A later study found that a significant number of subjects had been hospitalized for nervous-system or “sense organ” disorders.