Report from Iron Mountain

Iron Mountain
Iron Mountain

Report from Iron Mountain (1967) was originally published as if it were a secret government document, supposedly spirited out from inside the military-industrial complex.

In fact, the book was an elaborate and brilliant publishing hoax orchestrated by left-liberal critics of U.S. cold war policies, who saw the U.S. government as favoring the arms race at the expense of a healthy domestic social welfare economy. It was written by Leonard C. Lewin as a parody of the rhetoric and analysis of cold-war era think tanks such as the Hudson Institute that supported a strong military establishment.

The hoax was concocted by a group of writers that included Lewin, Victor Navasky, E. L. Doctorow, Richard Lingeman, and Marvin Kitman. Originally, the idea was for the participants in the hoax to write articles as if they had seen a secret report that had been suppressed by the government. Lewin successfully argued that it made more sense to write an actual report on which to base comments.

The upper echelons of the publisher, Dial Press, were aware that the book was a hoax, but the sales department was not informed, and was told to market the book as a work of nonfiction. The book proved so popular that it went into multiple printings.

In introductory material to Report from Iron Mountain, Lewin states that the report was drafted by a high-level government commission that held meetings at a secret underground facility called Iron Mountain, said to be located in New York State. Lewin claims that the report was provided to him by a pseudonymous John Doe, described as a social science professor at a large university in the Midwest.

Following his introduction, Lewin reproduces the transcript of an “interview” with Doe where details of the Iron Mountain meetings are discussed. Doe tells Lewin he attended the meetings of the Special Study Group at Iron Mountain, but developed a minority position that led him to make the report public through Lewin.

The “report” itself reviews the relationship of the economic health of the United States to periods of war or preparation for war as opposed to periods of peace. It concludes that a semipermanent state of war or some other aggressive ritualized form of public combat is beneficial to the economy, and should become the conscious (although secret) policy of U.S. ruling elites until acceptable alternatives can be found. It proposes the establishment of a War/Peace Research Agency to explore future options that will guarantee the economic and political survival of the society.

Although there was immediate speculation that Report from Iron Mountain was a hoax, the book was such a skillful parody that it also prompted serious discussions in reputable publications ranging from daily newspapers to scholarly journals.

Some of the original group involved in the hoax encouraged this debate while not revealing their knowledge of the book’s origins. It was not until 1972 that Lewin officially admitted he was the author in an article in the New York Times Book Review.

After the book went out of print, right-wing groups, including Noontide Press, publishing affiliate of the Institute for Historical Review (IHR), circulated several bootleg editions of the book. Originally founded by Willis Carto of Liberty Lobby fame, IHR was primarily devoted to challenging the accepted facts of the Nazi genocide of Jews.

IHR and other right-wing groups would note that the book was called a hoax, but in a sly way that suggested it might actually be true. This “decide for yourself” approach acknowledges the hoax while suggesting the text is nonetheless a model guide that explains the logic behind world events. Offended by this turn of events, Lewin successfully filed suit to block distribution of the bootleg copies.

In 1996 the Free Press issued a new edition of the book with a new preface and several appendices that discussed how the hoax was perpetrated and included some of the early responses to its publication.

Nevertheless, some admirers of the book across the political spectrum continue to insist it is an actual government document. Discussion of the Report from Iron Mountain, including the debate as to whether or not it is a hoax, continues on the Internet.