From 1963 to 1966 the U.S. government assembled a team of prominent thinkers from all walks of life to determine what would happen if &rsquoeace broke out.’ The group, surprisingly but with unassailable logic, determined that war was necessary and desirable and that the government should do all it could to maintain the status quo. If peace became inevitable, the report suggested everything from creating an outer-space menace to setting up some new, socially acceptable form of slavery. The report was leaked in 1967 by a conference member harboring a guilty conscience, and it scandalized Washington.
The ultimate compliment for any form of political satire is to be taken seriously by the people it is skewering. On that scale Report from Iron Mountain, which has been a lightning rod for both Right and Left since its appearance, could hardly be more successful. The hoax, written in perfect think-tankese, captures the mix of Olympian detachment and awesome cynicism that has flowed out of Washington for much of the American Century. Lewin’s book (and he really did write it) exposes the mindset that we can thank for Vietnam and so much else.
Report from Iron Mountain was bolstered, if not trumped, by reality - the Pentagon Papers and the Pax Americana, a Defense Department plan to take over Latin America, emerged soon after. But the book’s enduring popularity, particularly among those who never got the joke (apparently Lewin had to sue to get right-wing groups convinced of the book’s authenticity to stop printing and selling copies) suggests that the governmental worldview that Report from Iron Mountain lampoons - as well as the paranoia that that immorality unleashes in the citizenry -is very much with us. - Michael Gerber
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