By JOHN KIFNER
January 30, 1999
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Leonard C. Lewin, whose Vietnam-era satire of a supposed secret Government study on the dangers of peace, ''Report From Iron Mountain,'' resurfaced nearly 30 years later as proof of Government conspiracies for right-wing paramilitary groups, died on Thursday at Yale-New Haven Hospital. He was 82 lived in Guilford, Conn.
''Report From Iron Mountain,'' supposedly the work of a topsecret 15-member study group that concluded that even if lasting peace ''could be achieved, it would almost certainly not be in the best interests of society to achieve it,'' caused a sensation when it was published in the fall of 1967. By the next year, it was on the best-seller list of The New York Times.
Peace would be catastrophic, the report said in deadpan bureaucratese, unless there was extensive planning to replace the many benefits of war. It was possible that a ''sophisticated form of slavery,'' together with ''blood games'' might have to be introduced.
Deliberately poisoning the atmosphere, the parody went on, ''in a politically acceptable manner'' or inventing enemies from another planet might be necessary to maintain social cohesion. The end of war would require some other form of wasteful spending to support the economy, possibly an unlimited space program aimed at reaching unreachable points in space.
The hoax that would not die began one day in 1967 when Victor Navasky and a few other editors of Monocle, a humor magazine that is now defunct, noticed a short newspaper report describing how the stock market had tumbled because of a ''peace scare.''
It was the height of the Vietnam War. Savoring the Swiftian implications, Mr. Navasky, now the editor of The Nation, and the others began tossing around the idea that Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara and the other famously hard-nosed intellectuals brought into Government by President John F. Kennedy had commissioned one of their studies -- research organizations like the Rand Corporation and the Hudson Institute were all the vogue then -- on the threat of peace.
Mr. Lewin, an accomplished political satirist, produced the supposed report, complete with footnotes, most of them from other reports by the Government or research organizations, and a tribute to the ''methods'' of Herman Kahn of the Hudson Institute that allowed thinking about war without ''getting bogged down in questions of morality.''
Other plotters included E. L. Doctorow, then an editor at Dial Press, later the author of ''Ragtime'' and other novels, and the publishing house's president, Richard Baron, who listed the 109 page work as nonfiction and was to turn aside questions about its authenticity by citing the footnotes.
Debate immediately raged about whether the ''Report From Iron Mountain'' was real.
''One informed source confirmed,'' U.S. News and World Report said in its Nov. 20, 1967, issue, ''that the 'Special Study Group,' '' as the book called it, was set up by a top official in the Kennedy Administration. The source added that the report was drafted and eventually submitted to President Lyndon B. Johnson, who was said to have 'hit the roof' -- and then ordered that the report be bottled up for all time.''
Trans-Action, an influential journal of the period, devoted an entire issue to the debate over the book. Esquire published a 28,000-word excerpt. John Kenneth Galbraith got into the act with a book review in The Washington Post under a pseudonym vouching for the book's authenticity and the validity of its conclusions but expressing reservations about releasing it ''to an obviously unconditioned public.''
But in 1972, Mr. Lewin finally confessed that he had made up the report. The ''Pentagon Papers,'' the secret history of the Vietnam War, had been published, Mr. Lewin wrote in The New York Times Book Review, and were ''as outrageous, morally and intellectually'' as his own invention.
''The charade is over,'' he wrote. ''Some of the documents read like parodies of Iron Mountain, rather than the reverse.''
Mr. Lewin, a graduate of Harvard University, came to writing after stints as a labor organizer in New England and work in his father's sugar refinery in Indianapolis.
His marriages to Iris Zinn Lewin and Eve Merriam, a poet, playwright and children's book author, ended in divorce. He is survived by his daughter, Julie Lewin of West Hartford, Conn., a son, Michael Z. Lewin of Frome, England, and his longtime companion, Lorraine Davis of Manhattan.
''Report from Iron Mountain'' went out of print in 1980, but a few years ago Mr. Lewin was startled to get a request from a white supremacist group in Arkansas wanting to buy any old copies. Then he discovered that the Liberty Lobby, a far-right group, was offering copies of the book as a genuine Government report. His insistence that he had written the book only reinforced the belief among the paramilitary groups that it was a real secret document.
Mr. Lewin successfully sued the Liberty Lobby, which asserted that that there was no copyright for the book because it was a Government document. Neither side would reveal the full terms of the settlement, but Mr. Lewin received more than a thousand copies of the bootlegged version.
Pirated copies -- some of a new edition published by Simon & Schuster's imprint, Free Press -- are still in circulation, along with a six-hour videotape version. Simon & Schuster has been trying to stop right-wing groups from posting versions of the book on their Internet sites under the guise of a Government document.
Photo: Leonard C. Lewin (Lorraine Davis, 1981)