ELL: And here we have it.

Matthew McDaniel akha at LOXINFO.CO.TH
Sun Mar 25 15:20:05 UTC 2001

Thy Will Be Done, The Conquest of the Amazon:


NELSON ROCKEFELLER and Evangelism in the Age of Oil
by Gerard Colby with Charlotte Dennett
Harper Collins, 1995. 960 pages

reviewed by Carmelo Ruiz

Carmelo Ruiz is a Puerto Rican journalist and research associate at the
institute for Social Ecology, email ise@ igc.apc.org at Goddard College,

Connect: ernail: carrneloruiz at hotmailcom

In 1976, reporters Gerard Colby and Charlotte Dennett traveled to Brazil as
part of a journalistic team to write stories about the work of Christian
missionaries in the Amazon basin. High on Colby and Dennett's list of
priorities was to learn about a mysterious missionary organization called
the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL). This outfit, also known as the
Wycliffe Bible Translators, had gotten kudos from both conservatives and
liberals for translating the Bible into hundreds of indigenous languages in
Central and South America and helping native peoples cope with the
intrusion of Western civilization into their lives.

However, Colby and Dennett had heard of a darker side to SIL. Numerous
critics had alleged that SIL was the vanguard of the destruction of both
the rainforests and their native inhabitants. They had heard from Latin
American acquaintances that SIL was, in military fashion, a scouting party
that surveyed the Amazonian hinterlands for potential sources of opposition
to natural resource exploitation (read cattle ranching, clearcutting and
strip mining) among native peoples and that it employed a virulent brand of
Christian fundamentalism that relied on linguistics to undermine the social
cohesion of aboriginal communities and accelerate their assimilation into
Western culture. In addition to all this, numerous articles in the Latin
American press accused 511. of being funded by the American intelligence

That last charge sounded particularly believable, since the authors' trip
took place in the wake of recent revelations by the Church Committee of the
US Senate, which investigated the activities of US intelligence agencies.
It bears mentioning that Colby was by then no stranger to corporate and
political intrigue. In 19 74, writing as Gerard Colby Zilg, he published
Dupont: Behind the Nylon Curtain, a 600+ page tome that narrated the Dupont
family's corrupt history, from its profiteering on gunpowder sales to its
manufacture of ozone-depleting gases. However, don't expect to see it in
bookstores. When a Dupont PR representative said the book was scurrilous
and actionable, publisher Prentice Hall was intimidated into letting Dupont
go out of print. (In 1984, an expanded and updated 900 page-long edition of
the book was published, which included, among other things, the Dupont's
little-known connection to the Nicaraguan contras. Unfortunately, it met
the same fate as the previous edition.)

Dennett was also a veteran journalist, having recently been stationed in
Beirut, where she covered the civil war then raging in Lebanon. The authors
found SIL a veritable empire whose missionary activities spanned every
country in the Amazon basin, with a network of bases that look more like
picket-fenced American suburbia than the frontier outposts for the global
economy that they actually are. SIL even has its own air force and
communications system, the Jungle Aviation and Radio Service (JAARS), which
permits it to act virtually independently from the governments of the
countries where it operates. After years of research, Colby and Dennett
found a number of irrefutable links between SIL and US counterinsurgency
operations. Among these, SIL agressively denied that the native peoples of
Brazil and Guatemala were being slaughtered by the military regimes of
their countries; it allowed its base in the Ecuadoran Amazon to be used by
Green Berets who were combing the Western Amazon for signs of armed
insurgency; and it assisted the Peruvian air force, which had napalmed the
Mayoruna and Campa Indians.

If Colby and Dennett had limited themselves to just exposing SIL, Thy Will
be Done would still have been a formidable journalistic achievement. But
the authors went on to research the American institutions, private and
governmental, that provided support for SIL's mission. These included
Standard Oil of New Jersey; the Pew family, creators of the Sun Oil Company
(Sunoco) and the Pew Charitable Trusts, the US Agency for International
Development, and the US military through its donations of surplus military
equipment. Although they could find no smoking gun directly linking the CIA
to SIL, they did find several circumstantial and indirect links, such as
financial support from a foundation that was later exposed as a CIA front
and the fact that JAARS's top pilot, Lawrence Montgomery, was on the
Agency's payroll.

In the course of their investigation, the authors learned that SIL had a
big debt to institutions and individuals associated with the Rockefeller
family. SIL founder William Cameron (Cam) Townsend was inspired by the
antihookworm and antimalaria campaigns of the Rockefeller Foundation and
the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission, and his linguistics methods owed much
to the work of linguist Edward Sapir of the University of Chicago, an
institution that was also supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. Another
influence on Townsend was Mexican anthropologist Manuel Gameo, whose
interdisciplinary studies on native peoples were sponsored by the
University of Chicago, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Fund and the
Social Science Research Council. The last two were run by Beardsley
Ruml, a
member of the inner circle of the Rockefeller family. One thinker who
had a
great influence on Townsend's approach to native cultures was John Mott,
one of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.'s most trusted envoys. Mott was a
millenarian who hoped to evangelize the world in his generation, but rather
than embracing fundamentalism, he rejected it in favor of a broad-minded
science-based approach. In a report he co-authored in 1932 called
Rethinking Missions, Mott called for more cultural tolerance and social
concern on the part of missionaries working abroad and less reliance on
vociferous evangelical proselytizing. Such an approach, he argued, would
win more converts in the long run and neutralize the nationalistic and
communist revolts then brewing in what years later would come to be called
the Third World.

The authors follow Nelson Rockefeller's consuming interest in Latin
America: his days in Venezuela working for Standard Oil subsidiary Creole
Petroleum, where he developed his concepts of corporate social
responsibility; his tenure as coordinator of the CIAA; his brief stint as
Assistant Secretary of State, in which he was a key behind-the-scenes
player in the international negotiations that led to the founding of the
United Nations and the Organization of American States; his formation of
IBEC, his service to the Eisenhower administration as special assistant for
cold war strategy, a position in which he was briefed on top secret CIA
operations, including coup d'etats and the infamous MKULTRA mind control
experiments, his membership in president Nixon's Foreign Intelligence
Advisory Board at a time when the CIA was destabilizing Salvador Allende's
democratic socialist government in Chile, and much more.

Of special interest to Colby and Dennett were a series of
by-invitation-only seminars hosted by Nelson under the sponsorship of the
Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) in Quantico naval base during the
Eisenhower administration. The Quantico seminars, known officially as the
RBF Special Studies Project, advocated increased military spending and a
more confrontational policy towards the Soviet Union. The participants
included men who would later become instrumental in developing the Kennedy
administration's counterinsurgency doctrine, such as Eugene Rostow, Edward
Lansdale, Paul Nitze, Adolf Berle, McGeorge Bundy, Walt Rostow, Henry
Kissinger and Dean Rusk (who was then president of the Rockefeller
Foundation and would become Kennedy's Secretary of State).

The book only skims through Nelson's deeds as governor of New York,
although it does mention his ignominious performance during the Attica
prison uprising. Colby and Dennett focus instead on his presidential
ambitions, which came to a climax with his botched attempt to beat Barry
Goldwater to the 1964 Republican presidential nomination, and his
international activities, such as his disastrous 1969 tour of the Americas.
Nelson's crowning political achievement was getting appointed to the vice
presidency of the United States in 1974. Unelected Vice President
Rockefeller was then called on by unelected President Ford to chair a
commission to investigate CIA abuses. As the authors point out, no one
could have been less qualified for that last job.

Those who may feel tempted to dismiss Thy Will be Done's conclusions as
conspiracy theory will have a hell of a time trying to refute the book's
arguments and conclusions. The 830 pages of text, 92 pages of footnotes and
bibliography and dozens of charts, graphs, photographs and maps eloquently
document and support every single charge made by the authors. It is
precisely in order to placate the skeptics that Colby and Dennett adopted
this mindbogglingly exhaustive approach. In spite of this, the book is
amazingly readable and does not come across as stuffy and academic.

Those who read books on American foreign policy in search of titillating
revelations of sensational CIA covert operations while neglecting to study
the social, political and historical context in which they are embedded
will find this book a difficult, even annoying, read. Conspiracy buffs may
have an encyclopedic knowledge of CIA intrigues and scandals, but they're
not interested at all in doing the hard intellectual work of learning about
the nature of the system of corporate profit and exploitation which
intelligence agencies were created to serve. They will undoubtedly be
frustrated by the book's scholarly dose of anthropology, linguistics and
history, and will probably skim through the pages in search of startling
revelations of covert intrigue and secret wars. The authors' implicit
message to the self-proclaimed conspiracy researchers is clear: that all
the muckraking investigative journalism in the world will not bring about
social change if it is not accompanied by a critical analysis of the
economic, political and historical context of the times we're living.

Upon a superficial examination, one would tend to think that the book will
appeal to the Bible-thumping, right-wing populists of the John Birch fringe
who despise the Rockefellers. This band of the American political spectrum,
which has been known to publicize bizarre allegations of a
Rockefeller--orchestrated plot to create a socialist world government, will
be baffled and perplexed by one of Thy Will be Done's chief conclusions:
that they've been had. According to Colby and Dennett, far from being a
threat to the Machiavellian power of the Rockefellers, the Christian
fundamentalists were extremely useful in furthering the global designs of
the heirs of the Standard Oil fortune.

On the other hand, left-leaning liberals will find the book's conclusions
even harder to swallow, since the Rockefeller philanthropies (which include
the Rockefeller Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the
Rockefeller Family Fund) are among the main funding sources of liberal
political activism in the US, including civil liberties, feminism and the
environmental movement. Beneficiaries of Rockefeller charitable giving in
recent years have included groups like Essential Information, the ACLU, the
Ms. Foundation, the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, Environmental
Action, the Student Environmental Action Coalition, the Center for
Responsive Politics, the NAACP who are much more likely to say, "Wait,
you're being a little unbalanced. Sure, they've done terrible things in the
past, but they're funding some really terrific stuff nowadays." As much as
one may try to rationalize the embarassing predicament of taking money from
the ultra-rich to finance social change, the question remains: What are the
prospects for an American progressive agenda when it is heavily dependent
on funding from a philanthropic system that owes its fortune to commercial
activities that destroy ecosystems worldwide, erode biological diversity
and create a holocaust for indigenous peoples? Colby and Dennett do not
pose that question to readers, but it will certainly hover ominously over
the mind of any American reader whose political beliefs are at least five
degrees to the left of National Public Radio or The New Republic.

Thy Will be Done is a very challenging and deeply disturbing book. Although
much lip service has been paid to the concept of holistic thinking, Colby
and Dennett do actually put together the pieces of the macabre puzzle of
the destruction of the Amazon rain-forest and the genocide of its
indigenous dwellers and reach conclusions that are unsettling for
conservatives and liberals alike. All or most environmentalists agree that
the destruction of the Amazon rainforest can't be seen as separate from a
host of social, political and economic factors in South America as well as
in industrialized countries like the US, but it takes nothing less than a
book like Thy Will be Done to show what this actually means.
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