Conspiracy Times – Report from Iron Mountain
The “Report from Iron Mountain” was a 1967 publication that claimed to be a leaked, top secret government report. It argued that though world peace was a nice idea, the economy of war was such a vital part of global stability, it was difficult to come up with substitutes. A hoax? Satire? Or the truth? For more than three decades, the Report has been a cornerstone of intelligent debate… sometimes.
by Philip Coppens
In 1967, a major publisher, The Dial Press, released Report from Iron Mountain. The book claimed to be a suppressed, secret government report, written by a commission of scholars, known as the “Special Study Group”, set up in 1963, with the document itself leaked by one of its members. The Group met at an underground nuclear bunker called Iron Mountain and worked over a period of two and a half years, delivering the report in September 1966.
The report was an investigation into the problems that the United States would need to face if and when “world peace” should be established on a more or less permanent basis. Or to quote from the “official” report: “It is surely no exaggeration to say that a condition of general world peace would lead to changes in the social structures of the nations of the world of unparalleled and revolutionary magnitude. The economic impact of general disarmament, to name only the most obvious consequence of peace, would revise the production and distribution patterns of the globe to a degree that would make the changes of the past fifty years seem insignificant. Political, sociological, cultural, and ecological changes would be equally far-reaching. What has motivated our study of these contingencies has been the growing sense of thoughtful men in and out of government that the world is totally unprepared to meet the demands of such a situation.” The book appeared during the Cold War, but specifically at a time when America was hit by bloody racial riots in its cities and piles of body bags being returned from VietNam. Was the Government really promoting a culture of war? The “Report” was the most talked about book of the year. A number of people believed the Report was authentic. This impression was helped when noted economist John Kenneth Galbraith reviewed the book in The Washington Post, using the pseudonym Herschell McLandress: “As I would put my personal repute behind the authenticity of this document, so I would testify to the validity of its conclusions. My reservations relate only to the wisdom of releasing it to an obviously unconditioned public.”
Still, many, including most other book reviewers, deemed it to be a satire. US embassies were asked to comment and had to disclaim the report, noting it was not an official government report. Still, President Lyndon B. Johnson apparently couldn’t be sure that his predecessor (John F. Kennedy) hadn’t commissioned the report. According to US News and World Report, the President “hit the roof” upon learning of it and ordered that the report be “bottled up for all time”.
But if it was a hoax, who was its perpetrator? Among the accused was Leonard C. Lewin; he had written the report’s introduction, as well as a previous book on political satire. Another suspect was John Kenneth Galbraith, because he had written reviews of the hoax in the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune, even though he had used an alias. But why had he used an alias, and not his real name? Though many suspected it was a hoax, no-one had any evidence to back up their allegations. By 1972, the book had been translated into 15 languages. It was then that Lewin admitted that it had been a hoax, in the March 19 New York Times Book Review. The idea for the Report came from Victor Navasky, who published a satirical magazine, Monocle. Lewin was also helped by Richard Lingeman and Marvin Kitman, both working for Monocle. In 1966, Navasky read an article in the New York Times on a stock market downturn due to a “peace scare”. In 1972, he stated how the Pentagon Papers and other documents about the Vietnam War “read like parodies of Iron Mountain rather than the reverse.” What was the goal of the hoax? He stated that “what I intended was simply to pose the issues of war and peace in a provocative way. To deal with the essential absurdity of the fact that the war system, however much deplored, is nevertheless accepted as part of the necessary order of things. To caricature the bankruptcy of the think-tank mentality by pursuing its style of scientistic thinking to its logical ends. And perhaps, with luck, to extend the scope of public discussion of ‘peace planning’ beyond its usual, stodgy limits.” In short, it was one thing to have “world peace” as an ambition, but like the beauty pageant queens that long for it, the debate needed to transcend it; the “hope” needed to become an action plan, and it would be there that the various facets of an accepted component of the economy, politics and society would be carefully change-managed. By 1980, the book was out of print. The controversy seemed forgotten. World peace had not materialised. But in the 1990s, Lewin discovered that bootleg editions of his book were being distributed by and to members of rightwing militia groups who claimed it was an authentic report. His 1972 admission seemed to have bypassed rightwing America. Lewin sued for copyright infringement, though the groups argued it was a public domain document – i.e. an official document – and that Lewin’s name as author was part of the government deception. In short, they argued that the publication was genuine, but, once leaked, the government did damage control and claimed it was a hoax, asking Lewin to admit to it.
The judge ruled in favour of Lewin, and all remaining copies were turned over to him. But… In 1993, the book made an appearance in the controversial movie JFK, in such a way that it was one of the most powerful scenes of the movie; a scene that “explained” why there was – could be? – a conspiracy why the “military-industrial complex” would want to kill Kennedy. How did this happens? Because Col. Fletcher Prouty believed the Report was authentic and cited it as such in his book, JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy –which was worked into the film script, Fletcher being portrayed by Donald Sutherland, meeting Kevin Costner (Jim Garrison) in Washington – a meeting that never occurred in reality. Stone used a section from Prouty’s book that comes from the Report and worked it into the dialogue: “The organizing principle of any society is for war. The basic authority of a modern state over its people resides in its war powers. . . . War readiness accounts for approximately a tenth of the output of the world’s total economy.” For Stone – and many others – it was clear that the government was a co-existence of various interest groups: the oil industry; the pharmaceutical industry; but mainly, the military-industrial complex… warmongers. In his book, Prouty goes in more detail, writing that the Group’s existence “was so highly classified that there is no record, to this day, of who the men in the group were or with what sectors of the government or private life they were connected.” Still, he claimed to have managed an exclusive interview with a “purported member of the Iron Mountain Special Study Group”, who told Prouty he “believes that the group’s mission was delineated by McNamara, William Bundy, and Dean Rusk.” In 1996, Simon & Schuster reprinted the Report, with a new introduction, underlining that the book was a political satire. Though a hoax, it is a political satire, and thus not without merit. And whereas many Americans are divided over its status as a genuine report or a hoax, in the end, this should not really matter. Whether someone wrote it for the US government, or Lewin wrote it for the American public, there is a message. Full stop. As Lewin himself pointed out: by 1972, reality seemed to have become based on the Iron Mountain Report… because, in essence, the underlying premise is true: war is part of our economy, and definitely so in the United States, whose economy is partially kept in balance by military expenditure. Lewin wrote that at the time, the “world war industry” accounted “for approximately a tenth of the output of the world’s total economy. […]The United States, as the world’s richest nation, not only accounts for the largest single share of this expense, currently upward of $60 billion a year, but also ‘… has devoted a higher proportion of its gross national product to its military establishment than any other major free world nation. This was true even before our increased expenditures in Southeast Asia.’” In fact, America’s military spending is often bigger than the total public spending of many nations – specifically so in Africa. One of the more controversial statements of the book is no doubt this statement: “Wars are not ‘caused’ by international conflicts of interest. Proper logical sequence would make it more often accurate to say that war-making societies require – and thus bring about – such conflicts. The capacity of a nation to make war expresses the greatest social power it can exercise; war-making, active or contemplated, is a matter of life and death on the greatest scale subject to social control.” After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, this statement is largely supported by the world’s population – but was even in the days of Lewin “old news”. Intriguingly, the now notorious “weapons of mass destruction” was a term used in the Report: “The production of weapons of mass destruction has always been associated with economic ‘waste.’”
Lewin argued that war was an important tool, as it created artificial demand, a demand which did not have any political issues: “war, and only war, solves the problem of inventory.” The conclusion of the book is that peace, though extremely unlikely, was actually not in the best interest of society, as war not only served important economical functions, but also social and cultural roles. “The permanent possibility of war is the foundation for stable government, it supplies the basis for general acceptance of political authority.” As well as: “War is virtually synonymous with nationhood. The elimination of war implies the inevitable elimination of national sovereignty and the traditional nation-state.” And: “War has been the principal evolutionary device for maintaining a satisfactory balance between gross human population and supplies available for its survival. It is unique to the human species.” Lewin proposed that until substitutes for war were developed, “war” needed to be maintained, if not improved in effectiveness. Part of the “genius” of Lewin is in the type of proposed potential substitutes he proposed – some of which may have given various governments some inspiration… or is it just coincidence that “reality” mimics fiction? The Report’s recommendations were:
– a giant space-research programme whose goal was largely impossible to achieve (a black hole, budget-wise and hence able to feed the economy);
– create a new, non-human enemy, e.g. the potential threat of an extra-terrestrial civilisation
– create a new threat to Mankind, e.g. pollution
– new ways of limiting births, e.g. via adding drugs to food or water supply
– create fictitious alternate enemies
– create an omnipresent, virtually omnipotent international police force. Some of these options are obviously quite difficult to achieve – and the world has never seen them come true. Other contributing factors to our present world, such as the Internet and technology as a whole, were obviously not envisioned by the author, living in the 1960s as he was. Still, many of the ideas of the Report have come true, and we can only wonder whether they are “created” or genuine problems – and if they are created, whether the idea originated from the Report, or whether the myth was already created before. The Race to the Moon, at the time when the Report was written in 1967, could well have been seen as a black hole, definitely if it was followed by a Mars project, and further missions to outer space. Series like Star Trek and other series definitely wetted and showed that there was a public appetite for “going where no-one had gone before”. Still, despite this interest, in the early 1970s, America had lost interest in the various Moon landings – and the government seemed to take this as its cue to descope the space programme. If anyone was pushing that agenda, he wasn’t too good on keeping the public hooked on the “space drug”.
As to the creation of a non-human, extra-terrestrial enemy: that idea was well-known in science fiction and in the 1930s, Welles had created mass hysteria – at least in some corners – with the radio hoax of an alien invasion. Furthermore, the ET menace was part of the UFO myth, a phenomenon largely kept alive and controlled by the US government – which actively promoted the belief in an alien presence on Earth. That story ran out of power in the late 1990s, shortly after the 50th anniversary of the mythical Roswell crash. Of course, unknown “things” remain to be seen in the sky and the potential to use the phenomenon remains and can be picked up at any time, almost taking up where it was left a decade ago. For a brief moment, in the mid 1990s, it seemed that the new enemy was going to be “non-intelligent”: the possibility that comets and meteors were out there, and were set to strike us. Astronomers asked not money to search for ET, but to search for objects that could kill us, like they had killed the dinosaurs more than 60 million years ago. But that idea once again has not resulted in any clear financial commitment… and if anyone wanted to unite the world because we were facing a global annihilation, it only worked in Armageddon and Deep Impact.
Another new threat has been created, and again we find it listed as a potential remedy to cure the world of the war infection: humanity itself. Not only is there AIDS, bird flu and other killer diseases that make their way in and out of the news, there is also our onslaughts on natural resources, abuse of oil, the threat of sea level and weather changes, etc. Largely, pollution and the environment have been used by governments as an excuse to raise extra taxes, to fill unforeseen gaps in the government’s budgets. Intriguingly, those governments that need extra money most, are the first to embrace the “Green Agenda”. So even though the Report was right in the sense that pollution and the environment could drive the economy, so far, governments have only used it as a supportive economic and social measure – and it seems clear that at the moment, it may miss its global potential, if only because many governments are already redefining the need and use of nuclear energy as an economic requirement – whether it is desirable or not. And that is where “war” remains too: though seen as undesirable by most, it is a part of the economy, it is a part of our life. Some wars are deemed to be “required”, others carefully created, some desired and the excuse defined only later – Iraq 2003 being a primary example of that. But war is also the solution to economic problems: Iraq 2003 being again a prime example: to keep the economy going, the West needs oil – and America needs oil more than most. This is a problem. It is a “fact” that wars need to be fought to keep the war economy going. Iraq 2003 combined the two, in the hope to come up with a winning formula. In truth, it was a “win-win” situation, for war itself was positive for the economy, and if the war resulted in more oil, two goals were achieved.
Still, “war” as a currency was vastly different in 1966 than e.g. 1996. In 1966, the Cold War provided an excuse in the need to build up and maintain – i.e. spend money – on the instruments of war, even though war itself did not need to be fought as such. With the collapse of the East Bloc in the late 1980s, this status quo had to be abandoned. In short, the American military once again needed to fight wars, or a new enemy, which required a military deterrent, had to be found – or created.
The Clinton Administration partially resolved this problem, by setting up the US Army as a “global police force” (another recommendation of the Report) that was for hire – which the European Union took up to resolve problems in Eastern Europe in the late 1990s. However, when Bush came into office, he stated that America would look “inwards” and focus on its internal economy. He did not want to see his army used as a “Global Police Force”. Though extremely ambitious and noble, Bush ran into the very problem that the Report had underlined: war was an economic component. Bush, it seemed, simply did not address it – he seemed to ignore the problem. In his approach, the US military were surplus to requirements… there, but not used. It is clear that troops could not be set loose on the streets of America – though the New Orleans disaster of 2005 came close. As such, September 11 offered a great solution. The Bush Administration realised that the promise they had made in 2000, to bring economic prosperity to America by focusing on its economy and not on war, was far more difficult than they thought. It suggests that before 2000, the Bush Administration had not read the Report… for it had no plan for economic change that excluded war. As a consequence, the Bush Administration embraced Project New American Century, which in short is a variation on the Clinton policy. It argued that America would bring world peace about… by military force… and by creating regime change in countries that held back world peace. But rather than have the US military as a contract resource for hire, the Project wanted America to lead and control this process. In this approach, the US continued to use the military as an “in-house resource” and thus easily plotted into economic models, rather than put it out “for hire”, not knowing whether countries will use it – or will even pay for them (which was part of the European use of the troops for the Balkan). It seems that contributors to Project New American Century have read the Report… and have come up with a new potential solution…