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Though they differ in obvious ways, the political Left and the extreme-libertarian Right share one similarity : they are utopian.  Both posit the notion that Man in the State of Nature led a peaceful and bucolic existence--for the Left a communal one, for the Right a rugged-individualist one--where want was unknown, evil did not exist, and no man coveted the goods of another.  Where conservatism and Judeo-Christianty generally assume that Man carried a flaw (the capacity for sin) deep within himself, these two philosophies instead assume that it was artificial human institutions that corrupted Man.  The Left believes that the problem is capitalism.  The Right blames government.  But both view these intermediary structures as having a baleful influence on the relationships among men and are certain that if they could only be removed we'd return to Paradise. It's entirely predictable then that Report from Iron Mountain, which began as a satire of capitalism and the military-industrial complex, ended up hoodwinking both Left and Right and becoming conspiracy fodder for the loons at both ends of the political spectrum.

The book is presented in the form of a secret report, prepared by an anonymous government commission, on the feasability of moving towards a society based on permanent peace instead of permanent war.  At the heart of the hoax lies the patently absurd, but profoundly Leftist, idea that for capitalism to succeed the economy must be structured around governmental preparations for and prosecution of war.  This is a concept that Paul M. Kennedy more than adequately debunked in his poorly timed but eminently worthwhile book, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000 (1987)(Paul Kennedy  1945-).  But even a casual observer might have been expected to notice how rare a large military budget was in America's first 150 reasonably capitalist years and how poorly the economy was faring under the increasing strains of permanent war.  At any rate, when the book came out, in 1967, its thesis meshed perfectly with the belief that the U.S. was a war-mongering, imperialist, hegemony.  Little wonder that Leonard Lewin's hoax--aided and abetted by folks like Victor Navasky, E. L. Doctorow, and J. K. Galbraith--was accepted by many as a genuine leak of a serious government report.  Oliver Stone notoriously adopted the basic argument about capitalism requiring war as the rationale for why Kennedy was killed in the immensely silly film JFK.

If the problem Mr. Lewin identified appealed to the delusions of the Left though, the remedy he proposed played to the paranoia of the Right, particularly the latter-day militias and white separatists of the 1990s.  For in the section of the report titled "Substitutes for the Function of War", we are presented with an array of totalitarian government actions, up to and including a global police force, eugenics, and slavery.  For guys who fear the black helicopters of the U.N. this was music to their ears.  So when the Feds descended on the militias after the Oklahoma City bombing, one of the surprising things they found was that a whole new generation of extremists, this time from the Right instead of the Left, had accepted the Report from Iron Mountain as the gospel truth.

The book is really most interesting for its hoax effect and for its demonstration of the odd convergence of Far Left and Far Right.  It's an amusing curio, but not much more.  It offers definitive proof that, as H. L. Mencken said (or nearly said) : no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.


Grade: (C)


See also:

Urban Legends
Book-related and General Links:
    -OBIT : Leonard Lewin : Author of Satire on Dangers of Peace (Los Angeles Times)
    -ESSAY : Guest Word : "Report From Iron Mountain" (LEONARD LEWIN, New York Times Book Review: March 19, 1972)
    -INTRODUCTION : to the 1996 Free Press edition (VICTOR NAVASKY)
    -ESSAY : Report from Iron Mountain : Highbrow Hoax Mocks National Security Speak (Jon Elliston, Parascope)
    -ESSAY : Report From Iron Mountain (Museum of Hoaxes)
    -ESSAY : Iron Mountain : A Hoax or Betrayal? (Paula Demers)
    -ESSAY : U.S. News & World Report on The Report from Iron Mountain from November 20, 1967
    -ESSAY : SECRET STUDY GROUP (Sherman H. Skolnick)
    -ESSAY : The JFK 100 : "The organizing principle of any society is for war." (David Reitzes)
    -ESSAY : The Sokal Affair (FEED Mag, 96.06, Gary Chapman)
    -ESSAY : Taking jokes seriously : Tank McNamara gets real, the Iron Mountain hoax, and other cultural buzz (Chris Stamper, 2/20/99, World)
    -ESSAY : The Last Laugh (Michael Lind, 02/08/99, New Leader)
    -ESSAY : Conspire This!( Robert Sheaffer, Nov-Dec, 2001, Skeptical Inquirer)