Front cover of Report From Iron Mountain
In 1967 the war in Vietnam was escalating and race riots were breaking out in many major U.S. cities. Popular distrust of the federal government was growing. It was in this context that on October 16 a book appeared titled Report From Iron Mountain on the Possibility and Desirability of Peace.
It was published by Dial Press, a division of Simon & Schuster.
Leonard C. Lewin, a New York freelance writer, wrote the introduction to the book. He explained that the report had been compiled by 15 experts known as the Special Study Group (SSG) who had been brought together by the U.S. government. The SSG had first met in 1963 at a secret "underground nuclear hideout" called Iron Mountain. They had then held periodic meetings during the next two and a half years to discuss the problems that would confront the United States if it entered into a period of permanent peace. According to Lewin, one of the experts ("John Doe") who was identified as a professor of social science at a 'large Middle Western University,' had decided to release the report to the public.
The report, in language full of think-tank jargon, documented the conclusions of the Special Study Group concerning whether peace was possible, given the economic condition of the world. The SSG decided that peace "would almost certainly not be in the best interest of stable society." War, they argued, was simply too important a part of the world economy, and therefore it was necessary to continue a state of war indefinitely:
War has provided both ancient and modern societies with a dependable system for stabilizing and controlling national economies. No alternate method of control has yet been tested in a complex modern economy that has shown itself remotely comparable in scope or effectiveness.
Details of the Report
The report pointed out that the authority of the government over the people stemmed from its ability to wage war. Therefore, without war the government might cease to exist:
'war' is virtually synonymous with nationhood. The elimination of war implies the inevitable elimination of national sovereignty and the traditional nation-state.
The report included a number of recommendations that the government should follow just in case peace did break out. For instance, it suggested that expensive institutions be created that would mimic the economic function of a war, such as:
(a) A comprehensive social-welfare program, directed toward maximum improvement of general conditions of human life. (b) A giant open-end space research program, aimed at unreachable targets. (c) A permanent, ritualized, ultra-elaborate disarmament inspection system, and variant of such a system.
The report also recommended that the government invent "alternate enemies." For instance, it could mobilize the population by scaring them with reports of extraterrestrial threats, massive global environmental pollution, or "an omnipresent, virtually omnipotent international police force." Alternatively, the population could be roused by "socially oriented blood games" done "in the manner of the Spanish Inquisition and the witch trials of other periods."
The publication of the report caused a sensation. So many copies of it were sold that it made its way onto the New York Times
bestseller list, and it was eventually translated into 15 languages.
The report caused panic among many government officials. President Johnson supposedly "hit the roof" when he learned of it. Cables were sent to U.S. embassies throughout the world instructing them to play down public discussion of the report, and to emphasize that the report had nothing at all to do with official U.S. policy.
The media, meanwhile, frantically searched for and speculated about who had written the report. On November 20 Eliot Fremont-Smith wrote a review for the New York Times
in which he declared that the report was a hoax. He speculated that it had been written either by John Kenneth Galbraith, Kenneth Boulding, or Leonard C. Lewin. However, he had no evidence to prove his speculations.
The suspicion that Galbraith was the author stemmed from the fact that he had written a review of the report under the pseudonym "Herschel McLandress". This review had appeared in the Washington Post
and the Chicago Tribune.
Lewin was suspected because besides having written the introduction to the report, he had also authored a book of political satire.
The Author Revealed
The mystery of who had written the report was revealed in 1972 when Lewin declared in an article in the New York Times
that he had penned the entire report. In other words, there was no Special Study Group and no government plot to maintain a state of war. The entire report had been a hoax. More details of the creation of the hoax were given in 1996 when Simon & Schuster reprinted the Report with a new introduction.
Apparently, the genesis of the report occurred in 1966 when Victor Navasky, editor of the Monocle,
a magazine of political satire, noticed a New York Times
article reporting that the stock market had dipped because of a 'peace scare.' Navasky mentioned this to Lewin who then came up with the idea to write the report. The two of them presented the report to E.L. Doctorow, editor of the Dial Press. Doctorow agreed to publish the work as nonfiction.
Navasky claimed that the purpose of the hoax had been "to provoke thinking about the unthinkablethe conversion to a peacetime economy and the absurdity of the arms race."
Even though Lewin and Navasky admitted the report was a hoax, there still remain some who believe it to be an official government document that was leaked to the public. An ultra-rightwing group known as the Liberty Lobby is one such group. Believing that the report was evidence of a secret government plot, the group printed their own edition of the report. When Lewin found out about this, he sued them for copyright infringement. The case was settled out of court with the Liberty Lobby agreeing to pay Lewin an undisclosed sum.
Links and References
- Leonard C. Lewin, Report from Iron Mountain On the Possibility and Desirability of Peace, Free Press, 1996.
- Jon Elliston, "Report from Iron Mountain: Highbrow Hoax Mocks National Security Speak," Copyright 1996, Parascope, Inc.
- "Hoax or Horror? A Book That Shook White House," U.S. News & World Report, November 20, 1967.