History of a Hoax

How the Hoax Began:
In 1967 the Cold War was still a major factor in U.S. foreign policy, the body bags from Vietnam were beginning to pile up, several major American cities were sites of bloody race riots, and theories about the Kennedy assassination continued to abound. And in that year too, a respected mainstream publisher, The Dial Press (whose list included such prestigious writers as James Baldwin, Norman Mailer, and Richard Condon) released Report From Iron Mountain. Purportedly, the book was a suppressed, secret government report written by a commission of eminent scholars investigating and determining the nature of the problems that would confront the United States if and when a condition of "permanent peace" should arrive, and proposing recommendations to deal with that contingency.

Lewin imagined some shocking conclusions: lasting peace, while not theoretically impossible, was probably unattainable; even if peace could be achieved it almost certainly would not be in the best interests of a stable society to achieve it, for war fills certain essential and basic social, cultural, and economic functions; until other ways of filling these functions were developed, the war system must be maintained-and improved in effectiveness.

With a dispassionate logic that led to a "value free" rationalism, Lewin then went on to propose a number of possible substitutes for the essential controls provided by war. In cold, think-tank jargon he explored such "unthinkables" as: the creation of a giant space-research program aimed at unreachable targets (economic control); creation of "alternate enemies," such as deliberately engineered massive environmental pollution of a contrived extraterrestrial threat (political control); the institution of modern sophisticated forms of slavery (whose first step might be a National Service Program), socially acceptable "blood games" modeled after witch hunts, and organized repression of minority groups (social control); birth control drugs added to food and water supply and universal test-tube procreation (ecological control).

The Inspiration:
The inspiration for this incredible piece of satire was a short New York Times item about how the stock market had tumbled because of what the headline called a "Peace Scare. " The hoaxers' target, according to Lewin, was "the military-supported think tanks whose pseudoscientific assertions were taken quite seriously by people in the defense department and military industries.... Another objective of the book was to serve as a warning that a transition from a war economy to a peace economy would not be easy, a point that appears all the more pertinent today."

The Reception:
The 1967 edition of Report From Iron Mountain was the most talked about book of the year. A number of people, including some prominent intellectuals, believed the Report was authentic. Many others, including most book reviewers, labeled it satire. John Kenneth Galbraith's review of the book written under the pseudonym "Herschel McLandress" appeared in the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune. The book was variously described by reviewers as "a harmless subterfuge," "a hair-raising analysis," "the sinister work of a sick mind," and "a serious fraud." As a work of social and political commentary, it has been compared to Swift's "A Modest Proposal" and "Dr. Strangelove."

In 1972 after the book had been translated into 15 languages, Lewin publicly admitted the hoax, and by 1980 the book was out of print, the controversy all but forgotten by the mainstream press and public. Until...

In what may be one of the most bizarre twists of political satire, Lewin discovered that bootleg editions of his book were being distributed to members of the ultraright-wing militia movement who claimed it was an authentic government document and, therefore, in public domain. The back cover copy of the bootleg edition maintains Lewin's claim of authorship "was just another move in a deception game played with exceptional cunning and skill." Lewin sued for copyright infringement and the bootleg copies were turned over to Lewin. However, as a May, 1995, front-page article in the Wall Street Journal stated, extreme-right fringe groups continue to quote Report From Iron Mountain as "proof of a secret government plot to suppress personal liberties and usher in a New World Order dominated by the U.N."

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