From 1955 to 1975, the Army conducted chemical weapons testing on volunteer soldiers at the Edgewood Arsenal facility in Maryland in pursuit of an agent that could disable enemy troops on the field of battle without killing them.
"Dr. Delirium & the Edgewood Experiments" is a new Discovery+ documentary (available on June 9, 2022) that chronicles the program and its long-term effects on the soldiers who participated in the testing. Dr. James Ketchum led the experiments, and we've got a clip in which he defends his methods.
The heart of the film is interviews with a group of Veterans who participated in the testing program, mostly during the Vietnam War era. These men make a convincing case that they were not briefed about the risks involved in the program and did not understand the potential for the long-term effects they've endured.
On the other side is an in-depth and wide-ranging interview with Ketchum filmed shortly before his death in 2019. The Army colonel had no regrets about the experiments and believed he was acting in the best interests of the nation as it faced a Cold War threat.
Former ABC and Politico correspondent Tara Palmeri leads a team of investigative journalists as they reexamine a dark chapter of Army history. The documentary was produced by Zero Point Zero Production, the production company behind Anthony Bourdain's "Parts Unknown," so there's more visual flash and on-camera time for reporters than PBS viewers might expect.
However, much of that flash comes from recordings made during the actual experiments. Watching soldiers suffer through delirium and panic attacks while older survivors describe their experiences makes for powerful viewing.
While early experiments with marijuana and LSD get plenty of discussion, much of the long-term damage seems to result from experimentation with the powerful incapacitating agent 3-Quinuclidinyl benzilate, commonly known as BZ. The chemical caused a delirium that included hallucinations and an inability to carry out tasks.
"Dr. Delirium & the Edgewood Experiments" gives ample airtime to theories that Edgewood hosted Nazi scientists given asylum under the Pentagon's notorious Operation Paperclip program, but never quite manages to tie the Germans to Ketchum's experiments.
The truth about the CIA is quite another story, one that should've been a huge news story a decade ago but gets fully recounted here for anyone who missed the truth the first time. There's a reason we have such incredible details about the program available now, and this film makes excellent use of the truths revealed during a massive lawsuit.
In the end, the focus is on the Veterans who endured these experiments and the struggles many have faced since. These men aren't polished or rehearsed, and the filmmakers let them have their say, even when things veer into pure speculation. They deserve that respect and the audience this documentary can bring.