Quick quiz. What’s wrong with this Monday’s Doonesbury?
[Mike Doonesbury and Kim are watching the news on television.]
Announcer: Today, the White House moved to further shore up its deeply unpopular war policy…
Announcer: In what is being termedsurge protection,leading GOP lawmakers were invited to a private reception.
Announcer: Light refreshments were served.
[Dialogue coming from the White House.]
Bush: Another glass of Kool-Aid, Senator?
Senator: Sure, why not?
I’ve commented on this before, briefly, elsewhere. But I’ll repeat myself, because I think it’s important.
I don’t know how clearly many people remember this anymore, but the phrase
drinking the Kool-Aid entered our pop culture as a reference to the massacre at Jonestown, Guyana on November 18, 1978. Jonestown was a communal farm established in the jungle in Guyana by a preacher named Jim Jones and about 1,000 members of his People’s Temple—an interracial, evangelical church which had become a major presence in the politics and culture of the San Fransisco Bay Area after Jones and many of his followers relocated to northern California in the mid-1960s. The church’s doctrines combined charismatic religion with a radical form of socialist liberation theology, and in San Francisco Jones won praise from the city press and Leftist politicians. But within the church, Jones had grown increasingly authoritarian and paranoid as he became more powerful in the outer world, and in the late 1970s reports began to reach the press of harassment and violence against former members. After Jones and his followers relocated to Guyana, the utopian community in Jonestown soon descended into little more than a prison farm, with beatings, confinement, and torture used to keep members from leaving the community.
In November 1978, California Representative Leo Ryan traveled to Guyana with a group of reporters and concerned family members to investigate the situation at Jonestown. Several residents at Jonestown approached Ryan to beg him to take them back to the United States. On Jones’s orders, Ryan and four others were murdered at the airstrip on before they could leave, and after the murders he and his lieutenants decided to order a ritual mass suicide for everyone at Jonestown.
Jones’s lieutenants killed several of the elderly members of the congregation by injecting them with poison in their sleep. (About two-thirds of the population at Jonestown were children or senior-citizens.) After they were killed, two buckets of grape Flavor-Aid were prepared and laced with Valium and cyanide. The drink was brought into the assembly hall and passed around in paper cups. Babies and children were the first to drink, with the mixture squirted into the throats of the youngest children with a syringe. The poisoned drink caused convulsions, unconsciousness, and death within about 5 minutes. After the children died, some of the adults began to commit suicide by drinking the Flavor-Aid themselves. It is not known how many of the parents knew that the drink was poisoned before they gave it to their children; some may have killed themselves partly out of guilt after realizing that they had killed their own children. In any case, those who refused were forced to drink the poison or shot to death by armed guards.
The Guyanese authorities learned about the massacre from Jones’s legal advisers, who were not members of the Temple and did not participate. Relief workers discovered the bodies of 913 of the inhabitants lying dead in the jungle. Among the dead were 276 infants and children. The ghastly massacre is still often misleadingly referred to as a
mass suicide in the press and reference sources.
Please remember that all those punchlines and snarky little throw-away epithets about how the devotees of some cause you dislike are
drinking the Kool-Aid are actually jokes with the senseless deaths of nearly 1,000 people less than 30 years ago, for their punch-line.
Jokes like that suck.