Two noteworthy events happened on the 18th November 1978. Not only was it the day of my birth, but it is also infamous for the events that surrounded the Jonestown Massacre. I've included a youtube video which contains some graphic images and be warned, the story of the Jonestown massacre is a sad and disturbing tale. From the BBC's 'On This Day':
18 Nov 1978: Mass suicide leaves 900 dead. The bodies of 914 people, including 276 children, have been found in Guyana in South America. Most of the dead - members of the People's Temple Christian Church - had consumed a soft drink laced with cyanide and sedatives. However, the body of the People's Temple charismatic leader, Jim Jones, was said to have a bullet wound in the right temple, believed to be self-inflicted.
Obviously then, something tragic happened to the people of Jonestown. I remember teaching this particular case in a social psychology class a few years ago and it is often used as a real life example of extreme obedience. From a CNN article:
Only two years before, Jones -- the charismatic leader of the Peoples Temple, an interracial organization that helped the desperate -- was the toast of San Francisco's political circles. But after an August 1977 magazine article detailed ex-members' stories of beatings and forced donations, Jones abruptly moved his flock to Jonestown, a settlement in the jungle of Guyana, an Idaho-sized country on South America's northern coast. The plan was to create an egalitarian agricultural community. But Peoples Temple members who worked the fields and subsisted mostly on rice soon learned it was more like a prison, recalls Jonestown defector Deborah Layton. Dissent was unthinkable, she says. Offenders sweltered in "The Box," a 6-by-4-foot (1.8-by-1.2-meter) underground enclosure. Misbehaving children were dangled head-first into the well late at night. Loudspeakers broadcast Jones' voice at all hours.
So the official picture is of a religious work camp, like something out of 1984 or The Island of Dr Moreau. Jones was the god figure, who seemingly ruled to corrupt and abuse, rather than help people as he had claimed. Horrible as the story is, I recently found via StumbleUpon, an alternative theory about what happened at the camp. Right away though, I would like to say that I am presenting this merely as an item of interest, rather than endorsing any particular interpretation of the events. Firstly, more from the CNN article:
Over the years, there have been rumors of CIA involvement. Some people believe CIA agents were posing as members of the Peoples Temple cult to gather information; others suggest the agency was conducting a mind-control experiment. In 1980, the House Select Committee on Intelligence determined that the CIA had no advance knowledge of the mass murder-suicide. The year before, the House Foreign Affairs Committee had concluded that cult leader Jim Jones "suffered extreme paranoia." The committee -- now known as international relations -- released a 782-page report, but kept more than 5,000 other pages secret.
This site goes into more detail behind the CIA conspiracy. An extract:
The story of Jonestown is that of a gruesome experiment, not a religious Utopian society. One Temple director, Joyce Shaw, described the Jonestown massacre as, "some kind of horrible government experiments, or some sort of sick racial thing, a plan like that of the Germans to exterminate Blacks." If we refuse to look further into this nightmarish event, there will be more Jonestowns to come. They will move from Guyana to our own back yard.
While there are still classified files and vested interests, it is difficult to assess what the truth of the story actually is. Jonestown is proof though, that joining any religious cult (and that includes the so-called established religions) requires that you defer responsibility for your life to other people. In some cases that can mean deferring to religious authorities on trivial matters, but in other cases, ignorant religious opinion can be used to severely hurt people.
To be born on the day when these people died because of their involvement with Jim Jones (who promised much and delivered death), is an ever present reminder of the dangers of religion. If you can think and act for yourself, then do so. Because the others who say that they just want to help you, may just be manipulating you. Again, you have been warned.Go Top