During the early years of the Cold War – which itself encompassed the entire history of Peoples Temple – the political and economic descriptions of the world’s nations were represented as being in one of Three Worlds. The First World was the U.S. and her allies, including the countries of NATO, SEATO, and other military and economic coalitions. The Second World was the Communist world of the USSR, China, and their various allies. The Third World constituted the remaining countries, mostly non-aligned, and mostly developing or under-developed in economic structure.
In 1974, the government of China led by Mao Zedong recast the theory into what Jim Jones later referred to as the Doctrine of Three Worlds. As he articulates in numerous tapes from Jonestown – mainly during reading of and commenting on the daily news – the First World consists of the world’s two superpowers: the USSR and the USA. The Second World is made up of the world’s major capitalist industrial nations, including Western Europe, Canada, and Japan. The world’s remaining nations, comprising the countries of Africa, Latin America, and continental Asia, belong to the Third World. As Jones notes, “[China] says it is the leader, and [its role is to] draw all of the Second into the Third World to stop the two major superpowers from dividing the world.”
Jones then added a feature to the concept which did not exist in Mao’s description of it. China is “insanely … obsessed” with the idea that nuclear war is inevitable, Jones repeatedly said, that it was only a question of when it would start. Given that inevitability, China was trying its best to trigger that war, to get it over with sooner rather than later, before increased proliferation of nuclear weapons made the devastation even more complete. Because China also had a number of underground cities, it would be the nation most likely to emerge from the war with the least damage – “in the United States alone, [the war] would bring 210 million deaths in less than seven minutes” – and would therefore be most able to rebuild the world on its own terms. Other nations would also survive, especially those in the southern hemisphere, and Guyana itself is in an internationally-recognized “Zone of Peace,” but the places familiar to the members of Peoples Temple will be gone.
Jones’ mention of China’s Doctrine of Three Worlds appears on no fewer than 40 tapes recorded during Jonestown’s final year. While he doesn’t go into a full-scale description of it on every occasion, the message is clear for his Jonestown audience: nuclear war is coming, and it is not only foolish to think about returning to the U.S., but it is our responsibility to get as many of our members here to safety as we can before it happens.