Feb 25, 2011

Jared Diamond’s ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ Part 2 – Conquest and the Tropics

In these next episodes Jared Diamond explains why the New World was conquered so easily by the Europeans. He begins with why a few hundred Spaniards were able to conquer the massive Inca civilization and walks through the various reasons from guns, to animals to the germs carried by Old Worlders for which the New Worlders had no immunity. Then he shows how expansion worked very differently in Africa for the same reasons (i.e. guns, germs and steel).

Quick overview with notes;

Conquest - Summary of show and transcript

All livestock animals in Europe came from the Fertile Crescent and this eastward expansion gave the Europeans the resources to grow on land that was more productive

In the new world there were no horses or cattle so all farming had to be done by hand-so their productivity was lower

Lamas had never been harnessed and existed only in the south

Horses, besides beats of burden, provided faster transport and thus better control of their territory and were objects of awe in the new world…an intimidating/supernatural experience for the new worlders

The real power of the conquistadors were their swords, the rapier. Guns were inaccurate though intimidating to the new worlders

[ Note: The longitude argument holds as a reason for the lack of spread of livestock and farming technique ]

12 years before Pizzaro arrived a slave with small pox was aboard a Spanish vessel that arrived in Mexico. Within days thousands were infected.

The germs decimated the local population making conquest much easier

Our diseases evolved from animals so we developed a kind of tolerance- (i.e. over the many 'plagues' in the old world, natural selection had improved the overall immunity of the old world population) new worlders had never come into contact with these germs so were extremely vulnerable

There is some debate as to how many natives were killed in the early conquest, experts estimate the new world had a population of over 20 million and up to 95% dies from old world diseases - that’s why the continent was virtually empty when the expansion inland finally began

Tropics - Summary of show and transcript

Cities and kingdoms once spread across the African continent

Europeans conquered and transplanted their cities and systems - agriculture- used railroads-

South Africa - the cape - had similar climate to Europe making it possible for comfortable colonization

Germs are the biggest killers in history- Europeans took these germs with them wherever they went which decimated populations and made colonization seem easier than it would have otherwise been

1830s thousands of Dutch farmers began to settle into Africa like in the Americas - guns had advanced by then and every settler had 2-3 guns

You couldn’t go around without your rifle - guns were a part of life and everyone had one
When they had gotten about 800 miles inland they entered the land of the zulus - a 'mighty African kingdom' who wiped out settlers nearby stopping the advance of the Europeans further inland

In a large war the Zulu were defeated by a smaller European force because of their guns

Eventually settlement continued to expand as technology grew and was implemented in Africa and the machine gun was invented - now one man could decimate a less technologically advanced civilization easily

Eventually the settlers were stopped by geography - land became impossible to plow, crops wouldn’t grow, their shoes fell apart in the mud-[their technology was not adapted to that particular geographic region]-

The settler’s livestock also started dying and they picked up malaria. The Europeans had come up against a disease that they were not immune to.

All of these reasons combined put the Europeans at a disadvantage in the same way that was previously their reason for success. Their culture had simply not evolved to survive in this environment

Small pox decimated populations in South Africa and the Americas but not further north in Africa

The imported animals had no immunity to indigenous germs

African cattle had immunity to tropical diseases and since small pox originated with cattle, and may even have originated in Africa, the population had a greater immunity but more importantly they had medicine to bestow immunity to small pox for life! So this was a problem they had encountered before

Africans had antibodies against malaria, a tropical disease that was deadly for Europeans

Africans had even evolved a culture in high and dry areas which kept them away from the wet areas where mosquitoes breed plus they lived in small communities which limits the spread of Malaria.

The Europeans did not know this and settled next to rivers where mosquitoes bred

Here guns were effective but germs were the deciding factor in holding back European expansion. [ Question: Are germs more powerful than guns in expansion of culture/civilization]

With settlement out of the question the Europeans turned instead to harvesting natural resources.

In conclusion;

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