You’ve probably heard a little bit about the top secret experiment the Army conducted during the Cold War. A room glowing flourescent blue, with an unwitting soldier seated in the middle. A doctor wearing horn-rimmed glasses and smoking a cigarette walks in with a syringe. He mutters something softly as the needle goes into the soldier’s arm. Cut to the outside of the building and the sound of breaking glass, as the soldier’s body falls to the ground. (Pro tip: Stay away from windows when experimenting with LSD.) That’s what it’s like in the movies, anyway.
Turns out these experiments were worse in real life. Raffi Khatchadourian’s sprawling exposée on the Army’s psychochemical warfare program in this week’s New Yorker details the collective confusion and chaos that took hold of the armed forces as they imagined the worst during the Cold War. The program was underwritten by an utter disregard for human dignity and medical ethics: Many of the young soldiers who volunteered for the program weren’t told anything about the medical tests they would undergo at Edgwood Arsenal, the Army’s classified facility on the Chesapeke Bay. And many say they were scarred for life after what happened to them inside.