originally published July 3, 2013
In 1967, a book dropped onto bookstore shelves, one that would rattle the public and tear away the curtain that had been concealing some of the United States government’s darkest secrets. The book contained the findings of a secret think tank – one that revealed the true intent of those bastards in Washington, and their priority of power over true service of the people.
Except the whole thing was a lie. We think. It depends on whom you ask. The Report From Iron Mountain fueled the already mighty passions of the die-hard conspiracy-lovers who were still reeling from the assassination of JFK a few years earlier. But alas, it was revealed to be a hoax. Or was it? Even now, some people aren’t sure.
You can probably stir up some good fights about it if you get the right crowds together.
In 1967, the anti-war movement had swung its club in San Francisco and its dimpled ball of discontent had soared across the country. So the purported findings of a 1963 panel of intellectual elites, in particular the findings that may have pushed President Johnson to nudge a deeper foothold in the escalating Vietnam conflict, drew a few pairs of curious eyes.
This 15-member group, who remained fully anonymous for obvious national security reasons, met in an underground nuclear bunker known as Iron Mountain. They continued to meet in other locations around the globe over the next two years, until one rogue member – a professor at a Midwestern college – felt he needed to leak the whole thing to the public in the form of a best-selling book. The goings-on at Iron Mountain produced enough grim conclusions to help hurl the book off the shelves and into people’s hands.
Most importantly, the panel determined that peace was not actually in the best interests of society. War was part of the economy. Without it, all those people making bullets, land mines, stretchers and coffins might have to find other employment, perhaps in less-reputable fields. Like politics.
The government might also be seen as less necessary without war, so there was another reason to keep the rockets red-glaring. Nations exist in order to keep the war machine well-oiled and well-used. So to give up on war would mean shattering the economy, bringing down the government, and undermining every stitch that holds the fabric of our lives together.
Oh, and collective aggression – that was another big thing. Humankind is fraught with an insatiable sense of aggression, and a war – along with a good, identifiable enemy – is a great way to ooze that aggression out in a healthy (well, healthy apart from all the death and stuff) way. Otherwise, what mass violent spectacle will we turn our attention to?
Actually, according to the findings that might just become reality. In the absence of war, the think tank recommended the government set up ‘blood games’ in order to keep our lust for gore and gristle somehow sated. If that didn’t seem viable – and keep in mind we were still two decades away from The Running Man here – the government needed to invent some other foes against whom we could all unite. Aliens maybe. Deadly pollution (though that one actually came true). And if that didn’t fly, we could just bring back slavery.
According to the U.S. News & World Report, when President Lyndon Johnson read the book, he flew into a panic. He ordered it to be “suppressed for all time”, and issued a directive to all US embassies to make sure they all knew to deny that this report had anything to do with official US policy. Johnson’s reaction, which of course came from an unnamed source in the White House, was seen as a confirmation that the panel inside Iron Mountain was real.
In 1972, a writer and one-time labor organizer named Leonard C. Lewin let it slip in an issue of The New York Times Book Review that he had penned the entire thing himself. It was a satire, Lewin proclaimed, over-the-top and intentionally morally abhorrent. Dial Press let the book trickle out of print in 1980. But when another publisher, the Liberty Lobby, tried to put the text back onto shelves, Lewin had to sue in order to establish his legitimate copyright. The Liberty Lobby insisted this was a government document that needed to be in the public domain.
Now, if Lewin truly wrote the book, this was the ultimate tip-off that his hoax had gotten out of control. These weren’t just the nutjobs in the tin-foil hats waving his book in the air to proclaim its legitimacy – now shit was going to court. Lewin and the Liberty Lobby settled out of court, with Lewin getting some money and over a thousand unsold copies of the reissue getting tossed in the incinerator.
But this wasn’t just wishful thinking on the part of the Liberty Lobby and the others who believed it all to be real. No, there was more so-called evidence on the table.
That’s John Kenneth Galbraith, a respected professor of economics at Harvard University. Under the pen-name Herschel McLandress, Galbraith reviewed The Report From Iron Mountain in November of 1967, shortly after its release. Galbraith – or McLandress, I suppose – claimed to know first-hand that the report was genuine. He had been invited to be a part of the think-tank, and while he hadn’t accepted, he had been consulted from time to time with their findings.
Not only that, but he completely agreed with the report’s findings. Keep the war going. Bring back slavery. Send Arnold Schwarzenegger to do battle with comically-themed goons and put it on television for the masses.
Six weeks later, Galbraith (under his own name this time) told the Associated Press that he was in fact a part of the conspiracy. The next day, he tried to explain away the joke – always a sign that either it wasn’t effectively funny to begin with or his audience was a little dopey – by stating that he believes the book was probably written by either Dean Rusk, the US Secretary of State, or Claire Booth Luce, the first American female ambassador.
So we are left with either the greatest literary hoax of all time, one that involved the President of the United States, a lawsuit, and which became mandatory reading for wild-eyed conspiracy theorists for decades to come, or else the report was real, and the cover-up to make it look like a hoax was brilliant.
I’m going with the former. Not because I trust the government, but simply because the idea for the cover-up is just too clever. I hope.