The oil baron is one slippery businessman.
The Nation has been running a series of articles called Americans We Like in distinction to the equally accessible list of Americans We Detest. If it ever gets around to the more complex group of Americans Who Disappoint &mdash being a cross between the other two &mdash I wish to nominate John D. Rockefeller, Jr. During the past month when opportunity arose he twice failed to earn the Distinguished Service Medal &mdash an award for service outside of the realm of duty. His wealth and his control of industries segregate him from the ordinary run of men. In consequence his duties to society commence at those zones which describe the bounds of other men’s obligations.
As a human he must be likable and kindly. I speak from no personal knowledge. Acquaintance with some of his more liberal advisers, the simplicity of his bequests, and his sincere recognition of a social responsibility form the basis of this guess. He gives money with finesse. He cannot give in the sense of making a personal sacrifice, but measured against others who own the earth &mdash George Baker, Morgan, Ford &mdash his benefactions make them appear misers.
And yet what a disappointing score he has made during this past month. As to failure number one, I submit the following: He is reputed to be the leading factor in the American oil business. His resources, financial and spiritual, could be a dominant factor in the business out of which he and his father made that money which, via foundations, is being contributed by American gasoline users to medical patients in Palestine or typhus sufferers in Poland. Sinclair and Doheny have been stamped by the Supreme Court of the United States as corrupt. They tried to cheat the government. I assume that Mr. Rockefeller, Junior, read the scorching words of the highest court. I assume that he knows that the Petroleum Institute is the trade association of the oil industry created for the benefit of the industry but not necessarily organized to work against the best interests of this nation. Doheny and Sinclair came up for re-election as directors and were in fact elected. John D., Jr. remained mute. He was not at the meeting &mdash the representatives of his companies answered the roll instead. In his defense it is said that he doubtless urged the defeat of Sinclair and Doheny at the directors’ meetings of the companies in which he owns large interests. That may be enough for an ordinary man; it is not for a man with his vast stockholdings &mdash and vast responsibilities. And even if he cannot speak officially, why not as the churchman and the giver? Must his income outstrip his courage?
The second regret of lost opportunity arises over Colorado. In that State habeas corpus is dead. Civil liberty in wide areas has been destroyed. The merits of the workers’ demands are small issues as compared to the lawlessness of mine owners and public officials. I do not share in the common belief that the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company union plan is the sole cause of this unhealthy mess. The experiment known as the Rockefeller plan indicated at least a desire to try to work out the industrial problems of the Rockefeller mines. That I judge it a weak and hasty makeshift is aside from the point. The only important fact is that the present warfare started at or near the Rockefeller mine and spread to the areas where murder and the military still ride. And Mr. Rockefeller makes no statement.
Friends of Mr. Rockefeller explain that the Rockefeller mines are separate from the present areas of un-American distress. This is not a satisfactory alibi. Mr. Rockefeller is the leader in the Colorado mining area. No longer can any member of an industry claim an isolation from trade responsibility. Much less can Rockefeller, the richest, desert his crowd &mdash he must mix and share with them and he can gain distinction by leadership in front rather than silence on the side. The workers march with song and spirit, starting at the Rockefeller gate. Their feet may take them far away but even from a distance they will picket him. He cannot avoid them by silence.
No American has as many opportunities for Distinguished Service Orders as Mr. Rockefeller. No one has disappointed more often. Baker, Morgan, Ford have tied out no wordy hopes for ethical and moral leadership. Their rule is only in the counting house. Mr. Rockefeller, with one eye on the altar, raises hopes of moral courage and spiritual leadership. One sentence of moral indignation from him directed against Sinclair and Doheny or against the impairment of oldfashioned American civil liberty in Colorado would be equal to a lengthy speech by silent Cal.