PBS Series on "Guns, Germs and Steel": part two
I am all caught up on the PBS "Guns, Germs and Steel" series. This post will deal with part 2 and I will get around to saying something about part 3, the conclusion, when time permits.
Part 2 tries to explain why it was so easy for Pizarro and the
conquistadores to subdue the Incas. For Diamond, this is a function of
geography mainly. Because the Eurasian landmass was more horizontal than
vertical, it was possible for advances in agriculture to fuel subsequent
breakthroughs such as the production of guns and steel. When societies operate
on the same basic climactic and seasonal basis, farming innovations can be
transmitted along the same axis. For example, when wheat growing and sheep
rearing were introduced in the
In addition, the Europeans had developed guns and steel, which they used for rapiers. With such weapons at their disposal, and with the added advantage that riding horseback would give them, it was no wonder that several hundred of Pizarro's men could vanquish thousands of Incan warriors.
There is not much to quibble with in Diamond's analysis such as it is. By stressing the contingencies that allowed the Europeans to enjoy a vast military superiority, Diamond can drive home the point that racial superiority had nothing to do with the Spanish victories. Of course, what is missing from Diamond's narrative is any understanding of what it will take to redeem these historic crimes against humanity.
I would only add a couple of observations that help us make better sense of what took place in the 16th and 17th centuries.
To start with, we should be cognizant that there is a
temporal as well as a spatial distinction between the
If anything, Blaut is even more emphatic than Diamond in emphasizing the role of germs. He believes that the Spanish military superiority would have evaporated eventually as the new technology of horses, steel and guns diffused into the native population, just as it always does. Just look at how the Iraqis are figuring out new ways to blow up HUMV's using lasers presumably ordered over the Internet.
Finally, Henry Kamen has some interesting things to say
about the much-vaunted conquistadores in his recently published and highly acclaimed
"Empire: How Spain Became a World Power: 1492-1763" that were viewed
as sacrilege in
In a nutshell, Kamen argues that "Spanish military success was made possible only by the help of the native Americans." The assistance came in two varieties, one humble and one less so, but both were essential. Indians carried out such duties as carrying baggage, searching for food and water, tending animals, delivering messages, etc. In Diamond's dramatization of the march of Pizarro on the seat of the Incan monarchy, this was left out entirely. The Spaniards are depicted as totally on their own.
Additionally, the Incas fought amongst themselves, with the Inca Huascar aligning himself with Pizarro. A witness to the successful battle depicted in the PBS episode stated, "If the Incas had not favoured the Spaniards, it would have been impossible to win this kingdom."
As proof of what would happen when the Incas learned to
stiffen their resolve and compensate for Spanish superiority in arms and
technology, Huascar's brother Manco
raised an army of 50,000 that surrounded Cusco, where
two hundred Spaniards were holed up. In other words, you had the same
relationship of forces that obtained in the initial Spanish victory. This time
things did not go so well for the conquistadores. The siege of
Ultimately, it was germs rather than guns or steel that led to the fall of the Aztecs and the Inca.