When a satirist published a phony U.S. government report in 1967 that recommended against allowing peace to ever break out, most people seemed to fall for the prank. Members of the news media were either in on the joke or victims. The copy I have is marked up with a yellow highlighter by someone who grew angrier and angrier through the book’s pages. Toward the end, when the authors of the “report” advocated reviving slavery, the previous owner of my copy scrawled “BULL SHIT” in all caps across two pages.
This will be a familiar experience to anyone who has ever used both Twitter and sarcasm. No matter how outrageous the joke, there are those who will take it seriously and who will insist on taking it seriously even after having been let in on the joke. Thus the “Report From Iron Mountain on the Possibility and Desirability of Peace” still has believers in its authenticity despite being an obvious prank.
Every April First I publish a phony story of some sort. One year recently I produced a wire service story from Europe on the arrest of Bush war crimes lawyer John Yoo. A U.S. reporter who picked up the story was subsequently quite annoyed. As of course are the victims of every stunt pulled by the Yes Men, not to mention the editors of that literary journal a decade or so ago that printed some “postmodern criticism” that the authors later announced was sheer gibberish. But one always hopes that such jokes serve an edifying purpose for some audience.
Outside of the possibility that Machiavelli was actually mocking princes, and with the possible exceptions of the astute readers who thought Jonathan Swift really wanted them to eat their children and the remarks of whoever first joked to John McCain that a certain governor of Alaska would make a good vice president, the “Report From Iron Mountain” may be the grandest satirical fraud we’ve seen. Colin Powell’s war pitch at the United Nations in 2003 doesn’t qualify because Powell was lying but serious. Leonard Lewin, the author of the Iron Mountain report, was clearly very serious about war and peace but cannot have written what he wrote without laughing to himself the whole time.
The Iron Mountain report argues, straight-faced and tongue-in-cheek, that the war industry is too big to be replaced, for economic purposes, by spending in any other areas. Of course we could invest everything we spend on the military and more in education, transportation, green energy, healthcare, and sustainable agriculture if we chose to. Presumably Lewin knew that we knew this. The report argues that such spending becomes tied-up with the rest of the economy, whereas war spending — by virtue of being wasteful and separate — can be increased and decreased as needed to regulate the rest of the economy. But of course war spending does so little good for the economy because it is wasteful, regulates nothing because it is separate, and has never been reduced to benefit the economy. On the contrary, it increases when corruption in Washington increases, namely almost all the time and much to the detriment of everything else.
“Report From Iron Mountain” argues that war is not a tool of public policy, but that society exists primarily for the sake of war. Wars are not a response to conflicts, but conflicts are attempts and excuses to begin wars. The “authors” point out that peace could be negotiated and maintained if desired, thus subtly suggesting what Lewin would clearly really like to see done. But, write the report’s “authors,” nations always choose to find a path to war. And nations make all other projects subservient to war making.
There are many reasons why this is all proper and good, according to the “report.” War employs and kills off those with fascist tendencies and those who are unemployable in other work (as if these groups were genetically determined minorities in any population). War also, we are told, assists in choking off public sympathy for foreigners during times of peace (as if this were an advantage) and binds a society together in opposition to an external enemy. War comes out of some mysterious urge that, when war has been removed, has found outlet through ceremonial human sacrifice (as if such sacrificing didn’t pre-date war). War also, the report points out, can slow population growth (as if education couldn’t do that and also lessen the per-capita environmental destruction). War, the report’s “authors” claim rather absurdly, has been the inspiration of all great works of art and science (as if an all-out campaign to save the planet from environmental collapse wouldn’t involve any scientific or artistic innovation). War releases stress (as if killing people justifies that). War allows the elderly to kill off the young (supposedly a desirable goal). And so forth.
The Report From Iron Mountain makes crazy arguments for eternal war and an economy dominated by war spending, but the war and the war spending already exist justified by no arguments at all. So the crazy arguments — several of which point out bitter truths — seem almost credible, filling a gaping hole and providing the most plausible line of thinking to satisfy the assumption that war comes out of rational planning.
Of course, war planners can be deeply cynical and cruel. Of course, Wall Street does sometimes nose-dive at the threat of peace breaking out. Of course excuses to start wars are ginned up all the time. Of course, human beings have been known to trade massive death and suffering for their own bit of power. Of course no major effort to create lasting peace is underway or planned. But that doesn’t mean anybody sat down and rationally determined that the good of our nation depended on the kind of budget President Obama just proposed in which a greater share of spending than ever goes into the military and wars. Obama backs that budget because the people he wants to please tell him to, because his advisors think it will help his next election, because the corporate media likes it, because the President and most members of Congress have been paid to like it, and because militarism is exciting — NOT because our society couldn’t survive peace. Peace is the only thing we can survive.
The trick with the Iron Mountain Report is to focus on what it says cannot be done (converting the weapons industry to nonviolent production, establishing the U.S. unarmed forces, and so forth) and begin doing those things immediately. That’s how to read satire as well as how to save the world.
Even Obama would understand that if he hadn’t been born in Africa.