Thanks to the technological advancements of the recent decades, w e are living in an age where current events are recorded for posterity in many types of media. The trials and tribulations of others can be forever recorded and maintained to teach future generations about the mistakes made by those in the past, in the hope those mistakes in that the future will not be repeated. Unfortunately even with these resources, there will be those who will forsake these lessons.
In my quest to learn from the past, I came upon the vast media reserves of Vanderbilt University. The university maintains an enormous archive of recordings from the major news networks and – to my surprise – has virtually all of the major network news broadcasts of the tragedy of November 1978. For a nominal fee, I was able to obtain extensive media coverage of Jonestown only two weeks after I made my request.
The past came alive in this footage. So did many of the people who survived that I have come to know and appreciate so well. Broadcasts of my friends Tim Carter, Grace (Stoen) Jones, Stephan Jones, Claire Janaro, Neva Sly and others share their stories in the early days of the tragedy. Nearly thirty years younger, they express their regrets, pain and sorrow as the events unfolded on a day-by-day broadcast, even before the handful of survivors had a clear picture that there were virtually no others besides themselves.
Why do we watch these broadcasts? Quite simply to learn from the past. The words of George Santayana – “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – used to be associated solely with the Holocaust, until they were found so prominently displayed in Jonestown. And now they echo again over the years. True, there will always be believers who join groups that will end in tragedy, but Peoples Temple did not start out as the paranoid armed camp which no one could leave. It was a mainstream church which progressively degenerated parallel with Jones’s degeneration. We watch scenes from the past to make decisions about our future, to make better educated decisions.
In conjunction with the manager of this website, I would like to make available to any interested party a copy of this vast archive of major news network segments dating from 1978 to 2006.