Report From Iron Mountain on the Possibility and Desirability of Peace, (1967)
by Leonard Lewin
The book is written as the fictional account of the experience of "John Doe," a social science
professor at a large university in the Middle West. It relates how in 1963, the professor received a
message from Washington telling him he had been chosen to serve on a commission of the highest
Even though the book poses as a work of fiction - probably to protect the author from legal and
physical danger - many think it is most likely the report of actual events. Among those who take the
book to be non-fiction is the outstanding military critic, Colonel L. Fletcher Prouty.
The goal of the commision was "...to determine, accurately and realistically, the nature of the
problems that would confront the United States if and when a condition of 'permanent peace' should
arrive, and to draft a program for dealing with this contingency."
The caller telling the professor of his appointment did not identify himself or his agency. Doe,
however, entertained no serious doubts of the authenticity of the project because he had previous
experience with the excessive secrecy that surrounds quasi-government activities. The caller
demonstrated an impressively complete and detailed knowledge of Doe's work and personal life.
The others mentioned as being on the commission were known to Doe by reputation. There were
fifteen members in all.
Doe agreed to take the assignment and to appear at Iron Mountain, New York. Iron Mountain is an
underground nuclear hideout for hundreds of large American corporations, containing emergency storage
vaults for important documents. At this site, corporations (Standard Oil of New Jersey, Manufacturers
Hanover Trust, Shell) maintain substitute corporate headquarters as well, where essential personnel
could presumably survive and continue to work after a nuclear
The commission worked regularly for over two and a half years and produced a report. Doe said
the report had been suppressed - both by the Special Study Group itself and by the government
interagency committee to which it had been submitted in 1966. Doe felt that the report should be
made public. He disagreed only on that one point.
Commission Conclusions and Assumptions:
Lasting peace, while not theoretically impossible, is probably unattainable. Even if it could be
achieved it would almost certainly not be in the best interests of a stable society to achieve it.
War fulfills certain functions essential to the stability of our society. Until other systems
of filling them are developed, the war system must be maintained.
Poverty is necessary and desirable.
Standing armies are, among other things, social-welfare institutions in exactly the same
sense as are old-people's homes and mental hospitals.
The space program and the anti-missile missile and fallout shelter programs are understood
to have the spending of vast sums of money as their principal goals, not the advancemmt of science
or national defense.
Military draft policies are only remotely concerned with defense.
Some proposals that were seriously considered:
Organized repression of minority groups
Reestablishment of slavery
Deliberate intensification of air and water pollution (part of a program leading to
The idea of a real peace in the world, general disarnment and so on, was looked on as utopian.
Or even crackpot.
"What they wanted from us was a different kind of thinking. It was a matter of approach.
Herman Kahn calls it 'Byzantine' - no agonizing over cultural and religious values. No moral posing.
It's the kind of thinking that Rand and the Hudson Institute and I.D.A. [Institute for Defense Analysis]
brought into war planning. To give the same kind of treatment
to the hypothetical problems of peace as they give to a hypothetical nuclear war."
"The report which follows summarizes the results of a two-and-a-half-year study of the broad problem
to be anticipated in the event of a general transformation of American society to a condition lacking its
most critical current characteristics: its capability and readiness to wage war when doing so is judged
necessary or desirable by its political leadership."
"It is surely no exaggeration to say that a condition of general world peace would lead to
changes in the social structures of the nations of the world of unparalleled and revolutionary magnitude.
...The world is totally unprepared to meet the demands of such a situation."
The "world war industry" accounts for approximately a tenth of the output of the world's total economy.
"A national economy can absorb almost any mnber of subsidiary reorganizations within its total
limits, providing there is no basic change in its own structure." [Evidently the possibility of changing
the basic economic structure is ruled out at the outset.]
"Given genuine agreement of intent among the great powers, the scheduling of arms control
and elimination present no inherently insurmountable procedural problems."
"No major power can proceed with such a program, however, until it has developed an econonic
conversion plan fully integrated with each phase of disarmament. No such plan has yet been develped
in the United States."
"Furthermore, disarmament scenarios, like proposals for economic conversion, make no allowance
for the non-military functions of war in modern societies, and offer no surrogate for these necessary
" It is the incorrect assumption that war, as an institution, is subordinate to the social system
it is believed to serve. "
"This misconception, although profound and far-reaching, is entirely comprehensible. Few social
cliches are so unquestioningly accepted as the notion that war is an extension of diplomacy (or of
politics, or of the pursuit of economic objectives)."
"The point is that the cliche is not true, and the problems of transition are indeed substantive
rather than merely procedural. Although war is 'used' as an instrument of national and social policy,
the fact that a society is organized for any degree of readiness for war supersedes its political and
economic structure. War itself is the basic social system, within which other secondary modes of
social organization conflict or conspire. It is the system which has governed most human societies
of record, as it is today." [emphasis added]
"It must be emphasized that the precedence of a society's war-making potential over its other
characteristics is not the result of the the 'threat' presumed to exist at any one time from other societies.
This is the reverse of the basic situation; 'threats' against the national interest' are usually created or
accelerated to meet the changing needs of the war system. Only in comparatively recent times has
it been considered politically expedient to euphemize war budgets as 'defense' requirements. The
necessity for governments to distinguish between 'aggression' (bad) and "defense' (good) has been
a by-product of rising literacy and rapid communication. The distinction is tactical only, a concession
to the growing inadequacy of ancient war-organizing political rationales.
"Wars are not 'caused' by international conflicts of interest. Proper logical sequence would
make it more often accurate to say that war-making societies require - and thus bring about.- such
conflicts. The capacity of a nation to make war expresses the greatest social power it can exercise;
war-making, active or contemplated, is a matter of life and death on the greatest scale subject to
social control. It should therefore hardly be surprising that the military institutions in each society
claim its highest priorities."
"...The 'wastefulness' of war production is exercised entirely outside the framework of the economy
of supply and demand. As such, it provides the only critically large segment of the total economy that
is subject to complete and arbitrary central control. If modern industrial societies can be defined as
those which have developed the capacity to produce more than is required for their economic survival
(regardless of the equities of distribution of goods within them), military spending can be said to furnish
the only balance wheel with sufficient inertia to stabilize the advance of their economies. The fact that
war is 'wasteful' is what enables it to serve this function. And the faster the economy advances,
the heavier this balance wheel must be."
"...A nation's foreign policy can have no substance if it lacks the means of enforcing
its attitude toward other nations. It can do this in a credible manner only if it implies the threat of
political organization for this purpose - which is to say that it is organized to some degree for war.
War, then, as we have defined it to include all national activities that recognize the possibility of
armed conflict, is itself the defining element of any nation's existence vis-a-vis any other nation.
Since it is historically axiomatic that the existence of any form of weaponry insures its use, we have
used the word 'peace' as virutally synonymous with disarmament. By the same token, 'war' is virtually
synonymous with nationhood. The elimination of war implies the inevitable elimination of national
sovereignty and the traditional nation-state."
"The war system not only has been essential to the existence of nations as independent political
entities, but has been equally indispensable to their stable internal political structure. Without it, no
government has ever been able to obtain acquiescence in its 'legitimacy,' or right to rule its society.
The possibility of war provides the sense of external necessity without which no government can long
remain in power. The historical record reveals one instance after another where the failure of a regime
to maintain the credibility of a war threat led to its dissolution, by the forces of private interest, of
reactions to social injustice, or of other disintegrative elements."
"In advanced modern democratic societies, the war system has provided political leaders with
another political-economic function of increasing importance: it has served as the last great safeguard
against the elimination of necessary social classes. As economic productivity increases to a level
further and further above that of mininun subsistence, it becomes more and more difficult for a society
to maintain distribution patterns insuring the existence of 'hewers of wood and drawers of water.' ...
Until it is developed, the continuance of the war system must be assured, if for no other reason, among
others, than to preserve whatever quality and degree of poverty a society requires as an incentive, as
well as to maintain the stability of its internal organization of power."
"The most obvious of these [sociological] functions is the time-honored use of military institutions
to provide antisocial elements with an acceptable role in the social structure. ... The younger, and more
dangerous, of these hostile social groupings have been kept under control by the Selective Service System."
"Informed persons in this country have never accepted the official rationale for a peacetime draft -
military necessity, preparedness, etc.- as worthy of serious consideration. ...The arrmed forces in every
civilization have provided the principal state-supported haven for what we now call the 'unemployable.'
The typical European standing army (of fifty years ago) consisted of '...troops unfit for employment in
commerce, industry, or agriculture, led by officers unfit to practice any legitimate profession or to
conduct a business enterprise.'"
"In general, the war system provides the basic motivation for primary social organization. In so doing,
it reflects on the societal level the incentives of individual human behavior. The most important of these,
for social purposes, is the individual psychological rationale for allegiance to a society and its values.
Allegiance requires a cause; a cause requires an enemy. This much is obvious; the critical point is
that the enemy that defines the cause must seem genuinely formidable. Roughly speaking, the
presumed power of the 'enemy' sufficient to warrant an individual sense of allegiance to a society must
be proportionate to the size and complexity of the society. Today, of course, that power must be
one of unprecedented magnitude and frightfulness."
"War provides for the periodic necessary readjustment of standards of social behavior (the 'moral
climate') and for the dissipation of general boredom, one of the most consistently undervalued and
unrecognized of social phenomena."
"War as an ideological clarifier. ... Except for secondary considerations, there cannot be, to put it
as simply as possible, more than two sides to a question because there cannot be more than
two sides to a war."
"Experiments have been proposed to test the credibility of an out-of-our-world invasion threat;
it is possible that a few of the more difficult-to-explain 'flying saucer' incidents of recent years were
in fact early experiments of this kind."
"Anotber possible surrogate for the control of potential enemies of society is the reintroduction,
in some form consistent with modern technology and political processes, of slavery. ... The traditional
association of slavery with ancient preindustrial cultures should not blind us to its adaptability to
advanced forms of social organization, nor should its equally traditional incompatibility with Western
moral and economic values. It is entirely possible that the development of a sophisticated form
of slavery [slave labor camps, ideological robothood?] may be an absolute prerequisite for social control in a world at peace.
As a practical matter, conversion of the code of military discipline to a euphemized form of enslavement
would entail surpirisingly little revision; the logical first step would be the adoption of some form of
'universal' military service."