Guns, Germs and Steel: a short history of everybody for the last 13,000 Years,” is a Pulitzer prized winning book written by the author Jared Diamond a professor of Geography and Physiology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Diamond’s thesis attempts to explain why the European and North African has endured and subjugated people of Sub-Saharan African, Indigenous Americas or a non-white breed. This is a difficult topic because some of the answers raise the scientific but bigoted question that European supremacy is an inherent genetic trait known only to Caucasian people as opposed to the environmental and geographic location of the land. Nonetheless, professor Diamond, argument is tasteful, insightful and far from bigoted because he never mentions that Caucasians have a superior intellect over darker skinned people.
This Summary and critique analyzes chapter three- titled Collision at Cajamarca. In the chapter Diamond argues that Spanish and Eurasian civilization expanded because of chain developments, each made possible by certain precondition not controlled or foreseen by humanity. A primary example of this theory is the discovery of the Americas by the Europeans who were looking for a trade route to the Far East. Instead of China and the Far East, the Spanish found the Americas and its abundance of precious metals.
Diamond believes that the Spanish had a distinct advantage over the Indigenous people originating in natural preconditions such as the decline of the Ice Age. With the decline of the Ice Age European people upgraded to an Agrarian society domesticating plains animals and crops. An agrarian society provided a clearer sense of property, both of the individual household and of the village as a whole. These agrarian villages developed into stratified communities that were more complex than wandering groups of people. Agrarian communities developed into powerful city-states and kingdom that showed an interest in exploring the world for trade and conquest. Therefore, the change from hunter-gatherer to an agrarian system is a reason to trace the cause and effect of European migration to the Americas.
Upon the meeting between Pizarro and Atahuallpa at Cajamarca, Diamond asks a variety of questions in the chapter but two questions stand out in importance. “The first question is why did Pizarro capture Atahuallpa and kill so many followers instead of Atahuallpa’s vastly more numerous forces capturing and killing Pizarro?” Secoundly, why could not the Indigenous people discover Europe? Professor Diamond argues that military advantages like the horse, gun, and steel proved advantageous for the Spaniards. Furthermore, with population growth, less land and superior technology there was a need for Europeans to discover new territories for trade and expansion.
There is good reason to believe that the Europeans had superior technology because at the, battle of Cajamarca, “historians recounted 168 Spaniards crushing a Native American army 500 times more numerous, killing thousands of natives while not losing a single Spaniard.” The
Spanish were able to defeat the Incas because the horses, steel weapons, astounded the Incas and guns surprised the Indigenous at Cajamarca. However, the Incas organized a resistance force after their defeat by the Conquistadors on horseback, using advanced weapons and chainmail. “Within a dozen years of the conquest, the Incas mounted two well-prepared rebellions against the Spanish.” Professor Diamond believes it was superior equipment as opposed to the indigenous people revering the Spanish as Gods. I agree that superior weapons and instruments would be to an advantage but in respect to the indigenous group. If you were in fact Gods or sent by the God’s presumably, you would have had superior weapons to submit humankind. I could understand the Indians having a difficult decision to attack or face certain destruction of humankind, by the hand of God. Therefore, the God theory supported more by scholars like me as opposed Professor Jared Diamond.
The writing is a brilliant mixture of primary sources and assumptions. More important, Professor Diamond uses simple sentences to prove his point. Simplicity is important for a reader not versed in the subject of history because history is more complex than the study of the monarchy. History embodies the study of science, disease, social thoughts, and migration of animals, religion, and everything present in the world. Therefore, it is not surprising for a physiological scientist like Jared Diamond to be analyzing the history of the Americas.
Another fascinating historical analysis is the history of guns and the lack of importance of muskets to the conquistadors in the 16th century conquest of the Indians. “The guns of those times (so-called harquebuses) were difficult to load and fire, and Pizarro had only a dozen of them. Nonetheless, they did produce a psychological effect on those occasions when they
managed to fire.” It is hard to believe that less than 200 men could kill thousands of natives while not losing a single Spaniard. Diamond argues that muskets did not do the damage. His primary sources reveal that the four battles involved “a mere 80, 30, 110, and 40 Spanish horsemen, respectively, in each case ranged against thousands or tens of thousands of Indians.” The author credits the steel armour horses and swords as a deciding factor to the defeat of the native armies.
In addition to guns and steel as a vital factor in the conquest of the Inca’s professor Diamond introduces the theory of germs having some factor to the decisive victory of Pizarro and his conquistadors. The question of why Atahuallpa was at Cajamarca? This is an important question in proving Diamonds thesis and linking the deciding factor in the battle to disease. For example, he talks of a civil war that left the Incas divided and vulnerable. Diamond believes that Pizarro took advantage of those divisions and exploited them. The virus known as small pox was an indirect cause of the Indigenous civil war. The virus spread quickly from Spanish settlers in Panama and Columbia, “killing the Inca emperor Huayna Capac and most of his court around 1526, and then immediately killing his designated heir, Ninan Cayuchi.” These events opened a contest for the throne between Atahuallpa and his half- brother Huascar. History accounts for smallpox, bubonic plague and other diseases being widespread in the devastation of the indigenous population.
How did the Europeans get to the Americas? Why did the Indigenous people instead not sail to Europe? The author speaks of the advanced European technology and the centralized political organization that enabled Spain to finance, build, staff, and equip the ships. The Inca has also a
centralized political organization. However, their system of government worked to their disadvantage, because the Spanish killed their leader and his chief ministers, placing the Inca state in disorganization. On the other hand, Europe had already created a monastic teaching institute since the time of Charlemagne and history shows that the oldest university founded in 1088 in the city of Bologna trained lawyers and other administrative councillors. “Whereas the ability to write was confined to small elites among some peoples of modern Mexico and neighbouring areas far to the north of the Inca Empire.”
To continue, Diamond argues that with no perception or understanding of Pizarro and his Conquistadors ambitions to subjugate the Indians. It was easy to enslave and ultimately destroy the Inca nations. As a result, the author still leaves us with the fundamental question why all those immediate advantages came to lie more with Europe than with the indigenous people to the Americas. The questions posed by the author and not answered give this chapter summary a low grade. This chapter does not get high marks because Professor Diamond fails to touch on the importance of disease not only being harmful to the population but to the environment.
Domestic animals posed problems to the ecological environment of the Americas. The Europeans also brought over rodents, which were the carriers of various diseases harmful to people who had not built up the immunity to the germ. Domestic animals such as the goats and pigs eat everything. In fact, the domestic pig is the ancestor of the wild boars of the Americas. It is not only the destruction these animals caused but also the psychological and changing effect it had on the indigenous people. The indigenous people had a connection to nature and environment through their religion and everyday life. When the Spanish conquered the
Americas, they stopped the Indians from writing and speaking their own tongue. Immediately the language of the Indian people became secoundary to the language of the various conquerors. In addition, professor Diamond fails to identify the degrading practice of forcing Indigenous women into prostitution and concubine marriages. By placing the offspring’s of Indian women higher in the pecking order to the full blooded Indian but lower in respect to the full blooded white European, the Spanish established a social barrier that placed the importance of Catholicism and European culture over native indigenous superstition. This was a common practice also noted with the African slaves imported to work the plantations due to the genocide death of indigenous people caused by disease and war.
Diamond tries not to be racist but his weak argument and questions endear him to the defenders of Imperialism and indirectly to white supremacy. Imperialism denotes the stronger group usurping the weaker group in order for the stronger and weaker groups to survive and society on a whole to develop and expand. Imperialism and similar studies serves to present a positive reason for racial segregation, war and the survival of white supremacy and protection of the Anglo-Saxon and white European race. Diamond avoids the argument of racism but by regarding, that history denotes agricultural society as superior is clearly a weak argument based on loose assumptions. Many of the indigenous tribes of North America were agrarian none of these tribes developed societies capable of venturing across the Ocean to conquer. The reason for the conquest is well versed and Diamond with all his intelligence does a poor job of proving his thesis, because the answer his already known to scholars. Moreover, his use of the word Eurasian
and Indian clearly defines his weakness in the area of history. A bettor term would have been indigenous and Eurasian implies that European is of Asian and Caucasian bloodline. Maybe this distinction is to identify with the Arians of North Africa who were a barbarian people from Germanic Europe, Eastern Europe and an Asian-Mongolian mixture of Caucasian from the eastern steppes of the continent.
The indigenous people come from a culture that produced architectural structures that compare with the Ancient buildings of Rome, Greece and the pyramids of Egypt. If not for the native people, many Europeans would have died of starvation or succumbed to fevers. These people understood the importance of the environment and the use of plants for medicinal purposes. Indigenous people had a complex written and spoken language that the Spanish and other conquering Europeans tried to destroy. Forbidding a group of people to speak in their language and practice their culture is an effective way of destroying the structure of the group.
Finally, this is a difficult subject to write about in one chapter because you need the opinions of European historians and scholars who are versed in the primary sources of indigenous manuscript, art, and songs. One such writer Juan De Betanzos wrote one of the most important sources on the conquest of the Incas. His book titled, Narrative of the Incas, a primary source the testimony of his wife, who had been previously married to Incan King Atahualpa as well as conducting interviews of Incans who had taken part in the Battle of Cajamarca or been in Atahualpa’s camp. The book is coming from an Indian perspective and it gives you a different perspective.