Extraordinary Stories from 5000 years of human history
Historical events have shaped all of us over the course of the centuries. The past influences our present and helps us to for-see the future. But stories from history are often far more than simply educational - many are more thrilling than anything the most imaginative author could invent. Some of the events in this book took place in ancient times, while others occurred as recently as the last generation.
We have chosen stories of murder and mayhem, of mighty struggles for power, of liars and devious deceptions, of mysterious disappearances and miraculous meetings, of magnificent women, outrageous rogues and brave adventurers. Find out how legends arose, the astonishing heritage left by our ancestors, how the fickle hand of fate can change the course of history and how brilliant inventions have transformed our lives.
In tales from ancient times, discover whether King Solomon lived up to his reputation for wisdom and the technological secret that made Viking raids so swift and deadly. Maet the Alpine countess who was reviled for her ugliness and learn why Russia's visionary tsar Peter the Great worked as a shipwright in Amsterdam. In the modern era, there are the lives of a chic Frenchwoman who was a deadly double agent during the Second World War and a low-born girl who led a bandit crew and became a democratically elected member of India's parliament.
Each tale is accompanied with quotes from contemporaries or commentators and most include supplementary fact boxes to enhance understanding.
Kings, queens, aristocrats, warriors, artists, inventors, adventurers, murderers, courtesans, spies, rogues and tycoons; their stories are all here, united by the impact they made on history.
Death in the jungle
Jim Jones and his sect, the People's Temple, settled far from civilisation in the Guyanese jungle. Few, except his former followers, had any inkling of the terror of the regime that he presided over.
[Did the followers of Jim Jones, leader of the People's Temple, really follow his example and take their own lives in the Guyanan jungle in a carefully orchestrated communal suicide? Or was 'Jonestown' the scene of the perfect mass murder]
November 18, 1978, Jim Jones, leader of the People's Temple, gathered the members of his sect in an assembly hall in the Guayanan jungle. He announced that they were not about to do another drill: this time it was the real thing. For a long time the inhabitants of 'Jonestown' had been regularly practising suicide by drinking Kool Aid together, knowing that one day the scarlet liquid would contain poison.
That day, the drink was lethal. Babies and small children, the first to be given the draft, died as their parents watched. Audio tapes made at the time indicate that there was little resistance; one or two women raised their voices in protest, but were shouted down by the crowd. The adults then followed their leader to their deaths, some by swallowing the drink and others with injections of potassium cyanide.
DRAMA AT THE AIRPORT
At around the same time, at the airstrip at Port Kaituma - in the northwest of Guyana not far from the border with Venezuela - a delegation of American politicians, reporters and other US citizens under the leadership of Congressman Leo J. Ryan was preparing to take a flight back to the capital, Georgetown. On November 17-18 they had visited the nearby commune of 'Jonestown', in its tropical jungle surroundings. They were there to get a first-hand impression of conditions at the settlement, where members of the sect known as the People's Temple had been living since the mid-1970s. Around a dozen of the estimated 1200 inhabitants, who were mainly Americans, had decided to return home and waited by the runway for the planes to arrive.
At about 5.10 pm, two aircraft, a single-engined Cessna and a Twin Otter, landed. The small Cessna boarded six passengers and taxied to the start of the runway ready for take-off. Suddenly, one of the occupants pulled a gun and fired at the other passengers. Almost simultaneously, a tractor with a trailer drove straight onto the airstrip and a group of men opened fire on the members of the delegation, who were about to board the Otter. The shooting went on for five minutes, until the unknown gunmen melted back into the jungle, leaving five people including Congressman Ryan dead and six seriously wounded.
Late that night, two men arrived in Port Kaituma and reported that 408 people had been killed at 'Jonestown'. Units of the Guyanese army who searched the commune on the morning of November 19 found the bodies. But the massacre had actually claimed the lives of more than twice as many victims as first reported: 913 people.
AN ALL-POWERFUL FATHER FIGURE
The chain of events that led to the death of Ryan and his companions had begun almost exactly a year before. On November 13, 1977, in San Francisco, Ryan read an article about
['He will be a Messiah.'
JIM JONES' MOTHER ON HER SON]
the mysterious death of a member of the People's Temple. The man decided to leave the sect but was crushed to death by a train the next day. Ryan questioned former members of the People's Temple and their relatives and found evidence of serious human-rights violations against a number of individuals. Time and again, the name 'Jonestown' cropping up. It was alleged that many were being held against their will at the commune in the Guyanese jungle. After months of research, Ryan was granted permission by the White House to visit the commune accompanied by an official delegation of politicians, press representatives and relatives of sect members. He planned to question the leader of the sect, a man named Jim Jones, about the allegations that had been made.
The People's Temple sect was founded by the James ('Jim') Warren Jones in the mid-western state of Indiana in the mid-1950s. His motives were initially honourable and even visionary. He aimed to create an ideal society in which all people were equal, everyone had enough to eat and no-one was discriminated against because of the colour of their skin. Although he was white, Jones attracted a large number of African-Americans to his sect. The numbers of his followers grew rapidly, and the People's Temple became known for finding jobs for the unemployed and helping people to kick drug dependency.
To his followers, Jones, barely 30 at the time, was a charismatic father figure. But, over the years, he began to reveal darker side to his character. He was unfaithful to his wife, took drugs and flew into fits of rage - he once shot at his best friend after a disagreement. Jones came to regard himself as a miracle faith healer and offered his services to cancer patients, often with apparently successful results. In 1965 he prophesied a 'nuclear holocaust' and from then on was constantly in search of a place where he thought he and his followers could survive the impending nuclear catastrophe. Jones first found such a haven in California; later he moved to Hawaii, then Brazil and finally to Guyana, where in 1974, the People's Temple acquired an estate of 120 hectares. At the end of 1977 Jones moved into the eponymous 'Jonestown' with several hundred of his followers.
HELL ON EARTH
The remote spot in the jungle was ideally suited to Jones' purpose. Here, in complete isolation, he could fully exploit techniques of indoctrination that he had developed over the previous decadeS. An excellent student of human nature, Jones was expert at sending people to his will without using physical violence and making them psychologically dependent. One of his principal methods was to exploit people's fears. Members of the People's Temple would sign over to the sect all their worldly possessions, including their pension entitlements. Accordingly,
[Ghostly relics of the massacre: syringes containing traces of potassium cyanide were found among the piles of bodies]
a couple escaped by the skin of their teeth - just days before they had managed to evade the surveillance system in operation at 'Jonestown.'
Anyone who left the sect could face financial oblivion. Yet an even stronger compulsion was the fear of failure. Jones encouraged the view that anyone who quit the People's Temple would be regarded as a traitor. On returning to bourgeois society, they would believe themselves to be a failure twice over.
Jones' regime of psychological terror also came to include physical violence. Even the children, 276 of whom were on the roll-call of the dead, were not spared. They were expected to work like slaves and might be punished with electric shocks for indulging in ordinary childish behaviour. It was not unknown for children to be savagely beaten in front of their parents or to be thrown into a well after first being told that there were poisonous snakes waiting for them.
Adults were prevented from making a bid for freedom by armed guards posted around the perimeter of the commune. According to Jones' teachings, the guards were there for the protection of the inhabitants of 'Jonestown', since enemies lurked everywhere. One day they would strike, and then the only way out for the People's Temple would be that which the garrison of the fortress at Masada in Israel had opted for almost 2000 years before: communal suicide.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?
53 members of the Order of the Solar Temple were found dead; 48 of them in Canada and five in Switzerland. The bodies showed signs of gunshot wounds and the marks of lethal injections.
Police uncovered the bodies of 39 members of the Heaven's Gate sect in a luxurious villa in California. They were thought to have drunk a deadly cocktail of vodka and sleeping pills.
200 followers of the Ugandan sect known as Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments apparently took their own lives in a ritual act of self-immolation.
Key questions about the event have never been satisfactorily answered. Was it a
mass suicide, a mass murder, or possibly even both? And there have been frequent rumours of CIA involvement. Several pieces of circumstantial evidence point to the murder theory. Many corpses had puncture marks on parts of the body that could not have been reached by people injecting themselves, for instance between the shoulder blades. Many victims including Jones himself had
gunshot or crossbow-bolt wounds. There was a huge difference between the number of dead originally reported and the final tally: 408 as opposed to 913. Did more than 500 people manage to flee into the jungle, before being hunted down and shot, their bodies dragged back to the compound? There was a discrepancy in the number of victims and the estimated number of residents of 'Jonestown': up to 1200. Did some of the cult members murder their fellows and escape into the jungle?
A later series of mysterious deaths were associated with the massacre. All the victims had a connection to the People's Temple. Nine days after 'Jonestown', San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated. Both had received financial support from Jones while he was in San Francisco and were involved in an investigation into their involvement in the disappearance of People's Temple funds. Jeanne and Alan Mills, cult members who had defected before the move to Guyana, were found murdered almost a year after the 'Jonestown' massacre. They had written a book about the People's Temple and believed that they would be killed.
The US Federal archives alone hold more than 8000 documents on the massacre at 'Jonestown', most of which I are still classified. They probably hold the key to what really happened in the isolated jungle compound.
THIS IS ONE EXAMPLE OF A RELIGIOUS LEADER STARTING OUT WELL, WITH GOOD INTENTIONS, AND FOR SOME YEARS DO DID "GOOD WORKS" BUT THE EXAMPLE HERE IS THAT VANITY, EGO, PRIDE, VAINNESS, AND POWER, WENT TO HIS HEAD. HE WENT INTO VAIN DARKNESS, AND SO MUCH CONTROL, HE BECAME A CULT LEADER, WITH PEOPLE WHO COULD NOT SEE THEY WERE NOW IN A CRAZY CULT, WITH TEACHINGS FAR FROM THE BIBLE, AND THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS CHRIST.
THE SAME TYPE OF THING TOOK PLACE WITH HERBERT W. ARMSTRONG. WHO BECAME SO FILLED WITH VAINNESS AND EGO AND PRIDE, WITH HIS WORLDWIDE CHURCH OF GOD, THAT HE ALSO DEPARTED INTO MANY FALSE TEACHINGS, AND COMPLETE CONTROLLING POWER. PEOPLE WERE MARKED AND OPENLY DISFELLOWSHIPPED IF THEY VOICED ANY OPPOSITION TO HIS TEACHINGS AND LEADERSHIP. HE GOVERNED BY A HARD DICTATORIAL POWER, THAT HE ONCE PUT UP A CHART ON WORLDWIDE TV, SHOWING GOD THE FATHER, THEN JESUS CHRIST, THEN HERBERT ARMSTRONG. HIS FOLLOWERS AND MANY, MOST OF HIS MINISTERS FOLLOWED HIM BLINDLY UNTIL HIS DEATH IN 1986. MANY OF HIS "DUMB SHEEP" AS HE OFTEN CALLED THEM, BELIEVED HE WAS THE END TIME ELIJAH TO COME. TIME AND THE TRUTHS OF THE BIBLE PROVED IT WAS ONE OF THE MANY FALSE DOCTRINES THEY GOT THEMSELVES INTO.
MOST OF THE OFF-SHOOTS FROM THE ARMSTRONG WCG, LIKE UCG, LCG, PCG, DAVE PACK, JERALD FLURRY, AND OTHERS, HAVE CONTINUED TO HONOR THIS MAN, AND FOLLOW IN THE MANY ERRORS HE TAUGHT IN HIS LAST 20 YEARS OR SO OF HIS LIFE.
CULTS COME IN MANY FORMS, FROM STUBBORN FOLLOWERS OF FALSE TEACHING, TO EVEN IN JIM JONES CASE, EITHER KILLING THEMSELVES AND THEIR CHILDREN, OR BEING KILLED BY OTHER CHURCH MEMBERS.
THE LESSON: STUDY THE BIBLE FROM COVER TO COVER, SEARCH, HUNGER FOR TRUTH AND THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD; DO NOT TURN YOUR MIND OVER TO A MAN. HAVE AN OPEN MIND TO RECEIVE TRUTH, BUT NOT SO OPEN THAT YOUR BRAINS FALL OUT.