Precis on Report from Iron Mountain
The general argument in the Report from Iron Mountain is two fold- first that war is the “basis of organization on which all modern societies are constructed” (p. 93), and second that society will not be able to achieve world peace unless legitimate substitutions for the functions of war are put into effect. This argument in and of itself is not exceedingly polemical; in fact it is quite basic. War affects more parts of society than we realize, so we need to have replacement institutions to replicate the effects of war in order to truly eliminate the social need for it. How then does such a seemingly reasonable starting point develop into such a terrifying end result and what is Lewin’s purpose in emotionally arousing the audience?
Before I address these questions, I would first like to elaborate on the main techniques Lewin uses to develop his argument. Lewin uses three main rhetorical strategies throughout “the report” that result in the horrifying examples causing this dramatic emotional reaction to the text. The rhetorical strategies he uses throughout the report include- initially building the credibility of the producers of the report through demonstrating their unfailing objectivity, then invalidating the existing theories of peacemaking by proving them to be incomplete, and finally using a strict logical deductive pattern to coerce the audience to be compelled by the radical propositions on how to create world peace.
The combination of these three techniques operates on the audience by deeply convincing them that the only alternatives to war may be even more immoral than war itself. This causes the audience to become emotionally distraught and horrified. These techniques initially function so effectively together because the readers initially buy his hoax. These techniques operate even more effectively together, however, because by being so emotionally aroused, the reader is motivated to analyze the polemical arguments presented and truly interact with the issues. Lewin uses polemics to light a fire in American hearts to get people talking. In order to develop this function of the text and explain further my belief that Lewin is attempting to simply ignite debate on these issues, I will first examine the progression of the argument that slavery is a valid institution to bring back in order to replace the sociological effects of war, and then unravel the multitude of assumptions in the argument that leave room for debate.
In order to begin this analysis, I will first discuss “John Doe’s” description of the type of objectivity the group employed in their discussions. Doe stated, “there is such a thing as objectivity, and I think our group had it…I don’t say no one had any emotional reaction to what we were doing…As a matter of fact, two members had heart attacks after we were finished, and I’ll be the first to admit it probably wasn’t a coincidence” (p.16-17). Then, in an effort to discount other studies credibility and effectively enhance his own solutions, Doe claims that previous studies operated under simply an “intention to avoid preconceived value judgments” and that intention is “if anything even more productive of self-delusion” (p. 32-33). This delusion caused previous studies to “have taken desirability of peace, the importance of human life” as “axiomatic values” (p. 33) for their study causing them to fail to truly be objective. This failure effectively led to their failure to develop a complete solution to creating world peace.
With this pervasive discrediting of previous attempts at world peace, the report proceeds to its deductive logic strategy. The deductive logic that leads to the presentation of a reintroduction of slavery proceeds as follows: war/military serves the function of providing a social control for social protest against official policy, without war we need an institution that would control elements of society that are destructive to policy, a substitute institution to control this destruction would be the development of modern slavery. This synopsis is obviously a condensed version of the deductive argument developed in the report, however, it does outline the progression of thought that led to the viscerally negative reaction of the audience. Is slavery really the only solution to the sociological implications of world peace?
Although after a first read, the above argument is violently polemical and difficult to stomach, with a closer look, it is clear that Lewin aggravates the audience intentionally to get them to take a second look at what they are reading. If you analyze his argument, there are many assumptions the report operates on that are not addressed. For example, why is the reports version of objectivism correct? Does objectivity mutually exclude morality? How did they really accomplish objectivity if they had emotional reactions? Why would an artificial and dangerous level of objectivity create optimal circumstances to generate solutions to the war problem- an issue very tied to emotion? Why is slavery the only solution to social control? What is “modern slavery”? Is social control an issue only controlled by military forces?
These questions are just some of many that arise when deeply studying the reports logic. Questions targeting the major assumptions this argument depends on rocks the foundation of the claims in the report. Therefore, by closely examining the reports seemingly logical progressions and unraveling them for their insufficient explanations, Lewin is not actually trying to make an argument to the solutions to world peace, but instead is trying to simply get the reader thinking about the issues at hand. The Report from Iron Mountain is intended to emotionally incite discussion in order to involve Americans in political discussion. The content of Lewin’s hoax is not the important part, in fact I wonder if Lewin himself believes in any of his deductions or even sees them as logically sound. Any rhetorician can poke holes in his claims; therefore, his main incentive is to create discussion on a mass scale among American citizens.