What happened when a wealthy industrialist and a visionary evangelist unleashed forces that joined to subjugate an entire continent? Historians Gerard Colby and Charlotte Dennett tell the story of the forty-year campaign led by Standard Oil scion Nelson Rockefeller and Wycliffe Bible Translators founder William Cameron Townsend to establish a US imperial beachhead in Central and South America.
Beginning in the 1940s, future Vice President Rockefeller worked with the CIA and allies in the banking industry to prop up repressive governments, devastate the Amazon rain forest, and destabilize local economies—all in the name of anti-Communism. Meanwhile, Townsend and his army of missionaries sought to undermine the belief systems of the region’s indigenous peoples and convert them to Christianity. Their combined efforts would have tragic and long-lasting repercussions, argue the authors of this “well-documented” (Los Angeles Times) book—the product of eighteen years of research—which legendary progressive historian Howard Zinn called “an extraordinary piece of investigative history. Its message is powerful, its data overwhelming and impressive.”
About the Author
Colby is a cofounder of the Henry Demarest Lloyd Investigative Fund and former president of the National Writers Union. He is the author of DuPont Dynasty: Behind the Nylon Curtain, coauthor with Charlotte Dennett of Thy Will Be Done: The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil, and a contributor to Into the Buzzsaw: Leading Journalists Expose the Myth of a Free Press, edited by Kristina Borjesson.
Charlotte Dennett is an investigative journalist, author, and attorney. Her journalism career started in Beirut, Lebanon, at the weekly English language feature magazine, The Middle East Sketch, and at the Beirut Daily Star, where she was a reporter. Her journalistic work took her throughout the Middle East and later, while researching Thy Will Be Done, Latin America. Dennett is also the author of The People v. Bush: One Lawyer’s Campaign to Bring the President to Justice. Her articles have appeared in the Huffington Post, the Nation, the Los Angeles Times, and the Philadelphia Inquirer, among others.
Read an Excerpt
THE BAPTIST BURDEN
On the first day of July 1924, as the sun neared the end of its long span over the New Mexico desert, the Indians of Taos Pueblo awaited an important visitor. Most, like their war chief, Antonio Romero, hoped the man would become their ally.
The Pueblos were in desperate need of allies. Some of their best irrigated lands, occupied by Anglos and Mexican Americans, were on the verge of being lost forever without compensation. Their traditional religion was under attack by Christian Fundamentalist missionaries and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Federal marshals could appear at any moment to end their defiance of the BIA's ban on their "pagan" ceremonies. Their children were undernourished and sick, some dying of tuberculosis, others blinded by trachoma. Now, the Pueblo way of life was threatened with extinction. The Pueblos needed friends in the powerful white world. And this man was very powerful.
As dusk neared, Indians on the roofs of their adobe homes noticed three twisting billows approaching from the distance. When they could see that these billows were unusually large automobiles, the pueblo exploded with excitement. By the time the expensive touring cars pulled up in a whirl of dust, a crowd had gathered.
Out stepped a small middle-aged man. He smiled shyly at the Indians. If they had not been apprised earlier of who he was, they would never have guessed that here was the richest man in the world.
John D. Rockefeller, Jr., gestured, and three adolescent boys joined him from the other cars. The eldest, tall and lean, seemed as shy as his father. Eighteen-year-old John carried his grandfather's name into the third generation and already seemed bent under the burden. The smallest boy, fourteen-year-old Laurance, held a promising glint of mischief in his eyes, but had a habit of looking toward an older boy standing next to him for what to do next. This middle brother, a husky sixteen-year-old, beaming with animal confidence, was clearly the leader. His eyes quickly took in the crowd, one eye strangely bluer than the other. But what really set him apart was the square-jawed grin that flashed a fearless geniality. His father introduced him as Nelson. Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller, named after the maternal grandfather who had been the most powerful man in the United States Senate, already commanded attention.
Nelson's need for attention was precisely what made his father uncomfortable. It had been a source of strain for the father ever since the boy's early childhood, when Nelson's rebelliousness surfaced. This trip, far from their Manhattan home and the special relationship Nelson enjoyed with his mother, had been the father's attempt to gain a closer relationship with his elder boys, particularly this most troublesome second son. Yet the very fact that the Rockefeller males had arrived in different cars — the father riding with officials of a mining company, the boys following in tow — underscored how hard it was for the father to break with the corporate responsibility of being John D. Rockefeller's only son, even during a vacation. Try as he might, Rockefeller, Junior, seemed incapable of moving out of the shadow of his father, the founder of the family fortune. Even in the family office, he was referred to as "Mr. Junior"; as Junior himself once explained, there could be only one John D. Rockefeller. If Junior was hurt that Nelson looked up to his grandfather, not to him, as the family's role model, he had only himself to blame.
This western trip did not bring the father and son closer. On the contrary, it only strengthened the boy's identification with Rockefeller, Senior. All that Nelson had seen so far — and would see — that was symbolic of Rockefeller power, including the mining company that had furnished the cars and drivers for this visit to the Indians, was really a testament to his grandfather. Even the Indians who had gathered to meet them were attracted not to the little man who was his father, but to the magic of Grandfather's name.
The day had been long, and Nelson, as usual, was hungry. Beneath large cottonwoods deep rooted in the Indian soil, the Rockefellers dined, watching the sky over the pueblo fade from crimson to deep violet.
Then, as stars sprayed over the Pueblo canyon, the fun began for the boys. Around a crackling campfire in the woods, Indians performed ceremonial dances in their traditional garb. Nelson was entranced. The bright colors of their costumes dazzled in the firelight as the Indians moved with the ancient rhythms, the music echoing off the canyon walls like spirit voices. When the dancing ceased, Romero stepped forward and presented his own warbonnet to Nelson's father, a rare honor. The man received the headdress with proper grace. He was impressed.
"No government official has ever been presented with a present that is valued as highly by the Indians," Junior was later told by a proud executive of Colorado Fuel and Iron Company. The Rockefeller-owned CF&I, which ran mining operations in the Colorado mountains to the north, was a power in the region. Unknown to Nelson or his brothers, the company had secretly contracted through the BIA for the dances, paying the Indians thirty dollars.
It was a pittance for what a BIA official called the most elaborate entertainment that Taos Pueblo had ever put on for visitors. Warned by a CF&I official against jeopardizing "future courtesies" the Indians might extend to the Rockefellers, Junior showed his appreciation. The next day he returned with the boys. In true GI fashion he distributed seventy pounds of candy to squealing crowds of children.
If the Indian children's parents had hoped for something more substantial, they would be disappointed. Junior would not assist them in their struggle against the Baptist missionaries and the BIA. In fact, he was secretly funding the missionaries.
The Religious Rockefellers
Nelson's father had been raised within the moral confines of the northern Baptist church. Everything in life was severely measured, everything reduced to its place within the safe clockwork universe of a Newtonian God. Pocantico, Grandfather's 3,600-acre estate overlooking the Hudson River, symbolized this passion for order. Surrounded by tall fences and guarded gates, Pocantico was a world apart, isolated from the chaos of nature. Formal gardens, acres of flower beds and carefully manicured lawns, and shrubs and transplanted trees positioned at strategic points along paved roads all spoke of the steely will of the Calvinist ex-bookkeeper who had founded Standard Oil. On top of the tallest hill stood the huge stone chateau Junior had built for his father in atonement for the wooden mansion that had accidentally burned down during one of his summer stays there. Beneath Grandfather's mansion, cradled in the valley below, Junior built his own home, its modest size appropriate to his station in the family's patriarchy.
Here, under the long shadow of their grandparents' frill-less religion, Nelson and his brothers and sister were raised. Each morning, precisely at 7:45 A.M., Junior would lead them in prayer and Bible readings around the breakfast table; each evening before dinner, they would pray again. Between Junior's exhortations on the importance of keeping accurate accounts of their allowances and the occasional reward for killing flies at a penny apiece, the children were drilled in Bible verses written on cardboard file cards. Sunday evenings, after the obligatory state dinner with Grandfather on the hill, were often given over to singing hymns. Nelson, the most effusive of the children, suffered terribly. "We sang hymns tonight," he once wrote his mother, Abby Rockefeller, after one such night when she could not attend, "but luckily Pa had to go to church so we stopped at a quarter of eight."
Junior was not simply a churchgoer; he was a church leader. For years, he ran a Bible class for aspiring young men at the Fifth Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. He was a heavy contributor to the Northern Baptist Convention and its missions. He also gave millions to the Young Men's Christian Association. It was at a YMCA meeting at Brown University, in fact, that Junior delivered a famous address comparing the elimination of small-business competitors to the pruning that made the American Beauty rose possible.
Yet, because of his liberal education at Brown University, Junior also developed a keen appreciation of the modern sciences. He had, with his father, become more sympathetic to the "higher criticism" of the Bible that rejected the literal, ahistorical interpretation of the Scriptures favored by Fundamentalist preachers. By the time Nelson had reached his teens, the Baptist ministers and ministers' sons who had guided most of the Rockefeller family's business investments and philanthropic affairs had been replaced by younger men, such as lawyer Raymond Fosdick and his brother Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick, the liberal theologian.
This did not sit well with the Baptist elders, especially when Ray Fosdick advised Junior to give $1,000 to the liberal and often controversial American Indian Defense Association. Rockefeller support for any Indian civil rights movement could do great damage to the missionaries' hold over the reservations. Missionaries, through their schools, already controlled the education of Indian children; now they sought to break the back of Indian culture by prohibiting traditional Indian religions.
Six months before Nelson and his brothers arrived with Junior at Taos Pueblo, a pitched battle had broken out between liberals and conservatives over the mind of the only son of the founder of Standard Oil. The stakes were high: control over a fortune approaching $1 billion. Junior needed a bevy of advisers to guide him through the mounting tangle of financial and social responsibilities that accompanied the family's transition from provincialism to world power. The summer of 1924 found Junior torn between safety in the traditions of his Baptist past and the exigencies of stewarding his family's wealth through a tumultuous, technology-driven decade.
Feeling the looming presence of Senior over his shoulder, Junior was terrified of controversy. Decisions did not come easily to the Rockefeller heir. In the previous decade he had committed a series of blunders. On the advice of the Baptist minister who ran the family office, he had fought a union drive and triggered a massacre of miners and their families at CF&I. On the advice of John Mott, evangelical leader of YMCA, he had tried to launch a Christian missionary crusade to save the world from communism, only to see it collapse in debt and scandal. Now he was worried that he had gone too far in the opposite direction and gotten his name involved with an extreme liberal — John Collier, the founder of the American Indian Defense Association. Junior's Baptist friends were warning him that Collier's unbridled defense of the Pueblo Indians was threatening to explode in scandal.
Conservative Baptist missionaries had recently joined the U.S. Department of the Interior in publicly accusing Collier's beloved Pueblo of performing acts of "pornography" and "obscenity" in their ceremonial dances. Worse, the Indians' white allies were being accused of "communism." The country was still reeling from the government's massive nationwide raids during the post-World War I red scares, and those who participated in the smears carried a wide brush. Rumors had begun circulating about Collier, and Junior's anxiety about his own respectability was mounting. Junior could prevent his sons from knowing, but how long could he hide the truth from someone like his father? He decided to deny future funding to Collier and his Indian Defense Association. At this stage in his life, when Senior was finally turning over his private fortune to Junior, fear of controversy was a guiding light.
So were old family habits. John D.'s family had traveled a long way within Baptist traditions. They relied on the advice of church elders when it came to Indian missions and the promotion of the "uplifting" Protestant work ethic. Ever watchful of the evils that paganism and drink did to the work ethic, Junior's temperance-obsessed mother, Laura Spelman Rockefeller, had been the catalyst for many of the Rockefeller contributions to Baptist missions in the West.
The location of the Indian missions, however, indicated that she was not the sole inspiration. The missions were in areas where her husband had been quietly planning investments.
The Secular Rockefellers
In the nineteenth century, when white America galloped mercilessly through what Helen Hunt Jackson called its "Century of Dishonor" with Native Americans, the Rockefeller family's investments were at the forefront of the commercial conquest of the West. While his brothers William and Frank speculated in the commercial beef ranches that were replacing the Indians' buffalo-hunting lands, John D. Rockefeller focused on iron, coal, and lead mines and the railroads that serviced them, along with the new oil fields being found in Kansas and Oklahoma.
During those years, the elder Rockefellers had used missionaries to gather intelligence about insurgences in the West or to discourage them. As far back as 1883, after word reached Cleveland, Ohio, of a rebellion on the Creek reservation in Oklahoma Territory coinciding with Geronimo's headline-making war against encroaching silver miners in Arizona, Rockefeller took a sudden interest in one of his wife's missionary friends. He wrote Rev. Almon A. Bacone, who ran an Indian school not far from the rebellion in Oklahoma, asking for information. Bacone replied with details on the rebellion's exact location and the impact it had on the region. Bacone's years of fruitless entreaties to the oil tycoon were over; the next thing he knew, Rockefeller's check for $5,000 had arrived on his desk. Rockefeller's contributions mostly were channeled through the American Baptist Home Mission Society, inspiring Bacone to name his school's first major building after Rockefeller. Rockefeller philanthropies would continue donations to Bacone College, but by 1890, as the site of insurgency moved north to Chicago's factories, Rockefeller shifted his attention to Dwight L. Moody, a forerunner of Billy Graham. The fiery Chicago evangelist exhorted workers "to higher thoughts than labor agitation." Delighted with this otherworldliness, Rockefeller funded Moody until the orator died in 1899. In the same period, Rockefeller money went to Baptist missionaries working among the restless miners, loggers, and Chippewa Indians in the Lake Superior region, where Rockefeller's newly acquired Mesabi iron mines were located. Bacone's school, meanwhile, prospered under the BIA's aegis beside the Kansas-Texas Railroad, in which Rockefeller had a sizable investment. Bacone had tried to ingratiate himself with Senior by giving him hot tips on Indian land speculation. Cherokee land, he advised Rockefeller, was selling for $6,000, and "government warrants will rise" once the "Cherokees sell their strip." Rockefeller declined. Trading in real estate did not interest him. Oil did.
By 1924, when Nelson and his brothers arrived in the Southwest, a forest of Grandfather's derricks covered Indian reservation lands in Oklahoma. Standard Oil's drills were also boring into the Navajo reservation in New Mexico that Junior and the boys visited before coming to Taos. Just the previous October, BIA Commissioner Charles Burke had auctioned off twenty-two Navajo oil tracts. One oil structure, called Rattlesnake Dome, near Shiprock, New Mexico, was sold for $1,000 to friends of the BIA's new commissioner for the Navajo, only to be resold for $4 million to Continental Oil, a spinoff of the old Standard Oil Trust, in which the Rockefellers had a substantial holding. In 1926, when Continental Oil completed a pipeline from Shiprock south to the railroad junction at Gallup for shipments of oil to Standard Oil's refineries in New Jersey, Junior would drive along its route with Abby and the younger children, having incorporated Shiprock into his tour of the Navajo Reservation. To keep his vacation as productive as possible, he would also include Bartlett Ranch north of Taos Pueblo, a coal-rich miniempire that had been proposed as an investment.
As the Rockefeller caravan sped away from Taos, Nelson only vaguely comprehended his elders' capacity to turn a profit on the Indians' desperation. He did witness his father purchasing old Navajo blankets, a rug, and silver objets d'art as well as Yaqui blanket-rugs and 100-year-old Chimayó blankets at BIA-sponsored shops in Santa Fe and Grand Canyon National Park, but he had no notion of the BIA-sponsored oppression that was behind these shops. Instead, "primitive art" caught his fancy. And just as Nelson at an impressionable age had watched his father finger the Indian artifacts with more than casual intent, so his own future son, Michael, would also embrace the trade. In Michael's case, however, his hunger for primitive art would consume not just his interest, but his life.
Excerpted from "Thy Will Be Done"
Copyright © 1995 Gerard Colby with by Charlotte Dennett.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
- Series Introduction
- The End of an Era: An Introduction and Brief Update for the 2017 Edition
- I: The Legacy
- 1 The Baptist Burden
- 2 The Fundamentalist Controversy
- 3 Rethinking Missions
- 4 The Apostolic Vision
- 5 The Rites of Political Passage
- 6 Good Neighbors Make Good Allies
- 7 The Mexican Tightrope
- II: World War II: The Crucible
- 8 The Coordinator
- 9 The Sword of the Spirit
- 10 The Shining Dream
- 11 The Dancer
- 12 Preempting the Cold War
- 13 Latin America’s First Cold War Coup
- III: Architects of Empire
- 14 American Wings over the Amazon
- 15 The Pretender at Bay
- 16 The Latin Road to Power
- 17 In the Wake of War—and the CIA
- IV: Prophets of Armageddon
- 18 Ike’s Cold War General
- 19 Disarming Disarmament
- 20 Messengers of the Sun
- 21 The Hidden Persuaders
- 22 The Brotherhood
- 23 Ascent of the Hawk
- V: The Day of the Watchman
- 24 Deadly Inheritance
- 25 Building the Warfare State
- 26 Miracles Déjà Vu
- 27 Camelot Versus Pocantico: The Decline and Fall of John F. Kennedy
- VI: The Slaughter of the Innocents
- 28 To Turn a Continent
- 29 Operation Brother Sam
- 30 Beneath the Eyebrows of the Jungle
- 31 Mistaken Identities
- 32 Poisons of the Amazon
- 33 Death of a Continental Revolution
- 34 The Enemy Within
- 35 Apocalypse Now: The Tribes of Indochina
- 36 “Nation-Building” Through War
- 37 Tet: The Year of the Monkey
- 38 Nelson’s Last Charge
- VII: A New World Order
- 39 Invasion of the Amazon
- 40 Rocky Horror Road Show
- 41 Forging the Dollar Zone
- 42 In the Age of Genocide
- 43 Critical Choices
- 44 Hiding the Family Jewels
- VIII: Days of Judgment
- 45 SIL Under Siege
- 46 The Betrayal
- 47 The Great Tribulation
- 48 Thy Will Be Done
- Appendix A: The Rockefeller Mission to the Americas (1969)
- Appendix B: Members of the Rockefeller Commission on CIA Abuses (1975)
- Selected Bibliography
- Image Gallery
- About the Authors