Pubdate: Tue, 04 Jun 2019
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2019 The New York Times Company
Author: Robert D. McFadden


Dr. James S. Ketchum, an Army psychiatrist who in the 1960s conducted
experiments with LSD and other powerful hallucinogens using volunteer
soldiers as test subjects in secret research on chemical agents that
might incapacitate the minds of battlefield adversaries, died on May
27 at his home in Peoria, Ariz. He was 87.

His wife, Judy Ketchum, confirmed the death on Monday, adding that the
cause had not been determined.

Decades before a convention eventually signed by more than 190 nations
outlawed chemical weapons, Dr. Ketchum argued that recreational drugs
favored by the counterculture could be used humanely to befuddle small
units of enemy troops, and that a psychedelic "cloud of confusion"
could stupefy whole battlefield regiments more ethically than the
lethal explosions and flying steel of conventional weapons.

For nearly a decade he spearheaded these studies at Edgewood Arsenal,
a secluded Army chemical weapons center on Chesapeake Bay near
Baltimore, where thousands of soldiers were drugged.

Some could be found mumbling as they pondered nonexistent objects, or
picking obsessively at bedclothes, or walking about in dreamlike
deliriums. Asked to perform reasoning tests, some subjects could not
stop laughing.

It sometimes took days for the effects to wear off, and even then, Dr.
Ketchum wrote in a self-published memoir, many displayed irrational
aggressions and fears. He built padded rooms to minimize injuries, but
occasionally one would escape. Some soldiers smashed furniture or
menaced others, imagining they were running from hordes of rats or

"The idea of chemical weapons is still preferable to me, depending on
how they are used, as a way of neutralizing an enemy," Dr. Ketchum
told The New York Times in an interview for this obituary in 2016, a
half-century after his groundbreaking experiments. "They are still
more humane than conventional weapons currently being used, if the
public can ever get over its psychological block of being afraid of
chemical weapons."

A Cornell Medical School graduate who joined the Army and served his
internship and residency at military hospitals in the 1950s, Dr.
Ketchum had become a passionate believer in nonlethal chemical warfare
by the time he finished his medical training, and in 1961 he jumped at
the chance to join the Medical Research Volunteer Program at Edgewood
Arsenal, a facility built during World War I, when chlorine and
mustard gas had devastated troops.

The research program there, a Cold War project, had no connection with
the notorious mind-control experiments conducted by the C.I.A. in the
1950s, in which LSD was tested on unwitting civilians.

Starting as an ordinary researcher, Dr. Ketchum moved up to chief of
psychopharmacology, head of clinical research and then chief of
behavioral sciences, designing and orchestrating all program research.

Army investigators said that some 5,000 soldiers were tested with
drugs during Dr. Ketchum's tenure at Edgewood, and that no one had
died or been seriously injured in his experiments. The Army ended drug
testing at the site in the 1970s, concluding that using chemical
agents to incapacitate enemy forces, especially on a large scale, was

In his memoir, "Chemical Warfare Secrets Almost Forgotten: A Personal 
Story of Medical Testing of Army Volunteers" (2006), Dr. Ketchum said he 
had embraced the program in hopes of developing mind-altering chemical 
weapons that might save lives and limit maiming on the battlefield.

"I was working on a noble cause," he wrote. "The purpose of this
research was to find something that would be an alternative to bombs
and bullets."

Critics said that his test subjects had been induced to volunteer with
offers of extra pay, weekend passes and light duties, and that they
had been misled by legalistic waivers, signed for each experiment,
that minimized the risks and the consequences of the drugs they were
given. But Dr. Ketchum insisted that his subjects - screened to
eliminate drug abusers and criminals - were fully informed about test
methods and the probable effects of the drugs, which were identified
only by code names.

"We were in a very tense confrontation with the Soviet Union," The New
Yorker magazine, in a 2012 profile of Dr. Ketchum, quoted him as
having once told a radio audience, "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."

While the experiments used popular recreational drugs of the 1960s
counterculture - marijuana derivatives, mescaline and lysergic acid
diethylamide, or LSD - many subjects were exposed to a more powerful
compound called BZ (3-quinuclidinyl benzilate), which produced acute
anxiety, paranoia and delusions.

To test soldiers' performance under the influence of BZ, Dr. Ketchum
in 1962 had a fully equipped communications outpost constructed at
Edgewood - an enclosed mock-up resembling a Hollywood set. One soldier
received a placebo, but three others were given varying doses of the
drug. All were locked up in the "communications center" and for three
days subjected to barrages of commands and messages suggesting that
they were under attack.

Dr. Ketchum, who often filmed his experiments with a theatrical flair,
called this scenario "The Longest Weekend." As hidden color cameras
rolled and radio warnings of chemical assaults intensified, soldiers
panicked, donned gas masks, tried to escape and lapsed into deliriums
that lasted up to 60 hours. The Army concluded that BZ could disable a
small military unit in a compact space, and for a time produced
stockpiles of volleyball-size BZ bomblets.

But to test BZ in battlefield conditions, Dr. Ketchum in 1964
developed a sprawling experiment, code-named Project Dork, at the
Army's Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, to determine if clouds of BZ
could incapacitate enemy troops at 500 and 1,000 yards. He deployed
soldiers in goggled masks and protective clothing, two prefabricated
hospitals staffed with doctors and nurses, a generator to create BZ
clouds, and television cameras to make a documentary.

He called this 45-minute black-and-white film "Cloud of Confusion."
With Bela Bartok's "The Miraculous Mandarin" as mood music, a white
cloud engulfs soldiers as a narrator intones, "And on this desert this
cloud was unleashed so men could measure the dimensions of its
stupefying power."

The soldiers are seen disoriented, stumbling about in confusion. But
Army officials ruled the test a failure because there was no way to
control the psychedelic cloud.

On leave from Edgewood from 1966 to 1968, Dr. Ketchum studied at
Stanford University, made documentaries of San Francisco's psychedelic
subculture, and treated drug-overdose victims at a clinic in the
Haight-Ashbury section of the city.

He continued experiments even after the Army had rejected using
hallucinogenic agents as weapons in the Vietnam War. He left Edgewood
in 1971, served at Army posts in Texas and Georgia and resigned his
colonel's commission in 1976 to return to civilian psychiatry.

Edgewood Arsenal today is a collection of derelict buildings attached
to a military proving ground, its records housed in the National Archives.

James Sanford Ketchum was born on Nov. 1. 1931, in Manhattan, the
older of two sons of Milton and Cecilia (Matson) Ketchum. He grew up
in Brooklyn and the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens. His mother
was a secretary, and his father was a telephone company manager and a
deacon of the Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan, whose pastor,
Norman Vincent Peale, wrote "The Power of Positive Thinking." James
and his brother, Robert, attended public schools in Queens.

After graduating from Forest Hills High School in 1948, James attended
Dartmouth College. He later transferred to Columbia University, where
he earned a bachelor's degree in 1952. He received his medical degree
from Cornell in 1956, joined the Army and served an internship at
Letterman Army Hospital in San Francisco and a residency at Walter
Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

Dr. Ketchum was married five times. His marriage in 1951 to Joan
O'Leary ended in divorce in 1953. His marriage in 1959 to Doris
Fautheree was annulled in 1967. His third marriage, to Phyllis
Pennington, in 1968, ended in divorce in 1973. He married Margot
Turnbull in 1973, and that marriage, too, ended in divorce, in 1986.
He married Judy Ann Schaller in 1995.

In addition to his wife, his survivors include a son, Kevin, from his
second marriage; a daughter, Robin Ketchum, from his fourth marriage;
a brother, Robert; and a grandson. A daughter from his second
marriage, Laura, died in 2017.

After returning to civilian life, Dr. Ketchum taught medicine at the
University of California, Los Angeles; worked in hospitals and
clinics; and treated alcohol and drug abuse cases in private practice
until retiring in 2001. He wrote many treatises on pharmacology and
other subjects.

His wife said he was to be given a military burial at National
Memorial Cemetery of Arizona in Phoenix.

In The New Yorker profile, Dr. Ketchum was asked if he had continued
to wrestle with the ethical dimensions of his experiments on soldiers
in the 1960s - whether he had placed the interests of the nation, as
he saw them, above those of individuals.

"I struggle with these things," he said. But, he added, "I have always
had the feeling that I am doing more the right thing than the wrong
thing here."
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