SHE SAT, SAYING NOTHING, listening to our foolishness. She sat, sometimes, smoking, sometimes drinking her scotch with no ice and no mixer, and when we talked about it, about the murders and the suicides and how they could have happened, she said nothing. She did not want us to feel guilty, she later said, but she knew all along. Zet had seen it before.
She had come down from Boston with my sister and my niece. They had come down and my parents had joined them and the children were there and we built a fire and sipped our drinks and had the sort of Thanksgiving weekend Norman Rockwell painted and people said did not exist. Zet laughed with us and joked with us, but when we discussed the suicides, she had very little to say. She does not like to talk of such things.
It was me, of course, who kept bringing it up. I had been going to my study all weekend to write about Jonestown, to write something on how it happened and why it happened, and I would reemerge from time to time, frustrated, unable to hit the proper typewriter keys to make the proper words.It is difficult to write about evil so gross, and so I tried many themes and when they did not work I went out to the fire and I started more debates. Sometimes Zet would join in and sometimes she would not, but even when she did she did not say what she knew.
Once, Zet had seen the bodies piled high herself. She had been in Auschwitz. She is Dutch-Belgian-French, but all of that is academic now. She knew Anne Frank in Holland and like Anne Frank she had been captured and taken with her parents to Auschwitz. Her parents died there, but Zet survived. She walked away from a line of march toward the end and met an American G.I. She remembers he was black and she remembers he gave her some bread and she remembers nothing more. She fainted.
She does not talk easily of the past and for a time she would not talk about it at all. She is dark-haired, handsome, French in some indefinable way. When she talks of the past, she feels she must choose her moments, that it makes some people uncomfortable, others guilty. It is the ultimate trump, this past of hers. She uses it sparingly.
Anyway, she was over for the weekend and I was writing about Guyana. I had this theme for a while and it was that what happened in the jungle was not all that different from what had happened in the past. I thought of Masada and then I referred to something I had just read in Barbara Tuchman's new book on the 14th Century - "A Distant Mirror." She told how in 1349, some 2,000 Jews of Strasbourg died at the stake rather than accept conversion. They died because they chose to, because to them the choice they were given was no choice at all. This is what makes a martyr - this matter of choice.
It could have been the same in the jungle - not precisely the same, of course, but similar. You can appreciate how Jim Jones and his adherents might think that the botched assasination attempt would mean the end of their jungle commune, their jungle civilization, that soldiers would come and with them more newsmen. It would be the end. It would be like forced conversion to the very religion - a fate worse than death. There are times when those words have meaning. They died because they thought they had no choice and the point of all this was, I guess, that it would be dangerous to start evaluating religious belief on some sort of logical basis.
To this, Zet nodded her head. Yes, she could see where I was heading, but she did not say what was on her mind. We talked about the suicides all weekend long. The papers came, little mountains of them, and we devoured it all. We read everything and then watched it all on the news and then, with the newspapers, read it all again.Always it was with us - always, always, always. And always Zet said nothing.
Friends came over and the discussion continued. We talked about the State Department and its obligation and the problems created by the First Amendment - that sort of thing. We were wonderful and articulate and logical and then Zet said in a low voice that she could not take it anymore. She looked around at everyone and seemed uncomfortable and then she said what she alone seemed to know.
It happened, she said, because no one cared. It happened because once again there were people that no one cared about. They were the refuse of society - blacks, mostly, but cultists all. Kooks. What they did they did among themselves and to themselves and so no one cared. Everyone dismissed reports of brutality and beatings and forced labor and weird sex and drugs and rehearsals for mass suicide. Leo Ryan cared and some others cared but it was hard for Leo Ryan to get others to care. In the end, it killed him.
When she finished everyone said she was right and everyone said it was so apparent all along and then someone said something about businessmen - if they had been held against their will in the jungle the Marines would have been sent in. Later, I wrote this and later I called Zet and told her what I was going to write and she said she was sorry for having brought it up again and making people feel uncomfortable. But she just had to say something.
She knows what it's like when no one cares.