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Collision at Cajamarca: ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ by Jared Diamond

Guns, Germs and Steel is the most famous book of the writer –Jared Diamond. It examines the history of humanity in order to answer a question that has tormented many scientists –why did humankind develop unevenly. At the turn of the Middle Ages and Modern times, Europe came into contact with America’s unfamiliar and alien world of aboriginal peoples. The desire to justify colonial seizures in the New World helped to foster the European legend of the original backwardness of the aborigines and the civilizational mission of the conquerors. Despite the size and greatness of the empires on American land real difference in the development level of their early-class states and of the capitalistic Europe defined the fate of the New World.

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The results of such uneven development of peoples throughout human history manifested itself in violent bloodshed and conflicts. One example, according to Diamond, is the Massacre in Cajamarca when a small squad of Spanish conquistadors led by Francisco Pizarro attacked and captured the Incan ruler Atahuallpa, despite being surrounded by thousands of fighters of his army. Diamond highlighted the proximate and ultimate factors that favored Pizarro’s victory, as well as America’s continued successful conquest.

First of all, it is necessary to explain proximate factors. The Incas had misguided intelligence –they mistook the Spanish as weak warriors who were easy to defeat because of poor discipline, small numbers, and their difficult adaptation to the new climate. However, the conquistadors had weapons, steel armor, and horses. In front of such an equipped force, Incas leather armor and wooden sticks had no chance. In battle, the conquerors also used psychological attack – unexpected hit, noise, screams. Another equally important factor that influenced Pizarro’s strategy is literacy. The trap he used to capture Atahuallpa was not a new idea –he learned it from a book describing the actions of another conqueror, Cortés. The Inca people could not read and learn about such a strategy. Thus, they could not predict the outcome of events and avoid a trap.

The factors described above can be considered as obvious. However, after looking deeper into history, it is understandable that the Incas were vulnerable not only because of absence of weapons and horses. At that time, there was a rift among their people, as the previous emperor died and Atahuallpa struggled for reign. Perhaps also because of this occupation by state affairs, he did not take the Spanish threat seriously. Despite the disorder, the ruler was still worshiped as a deity. For this reason, when Pizarro captured the leader, troops that were still fighting run –the morale of the soldiers was undermined. Furthermore, the conquistadors came to the empire, which was already prepared for conquest. Smallpox, they brought came to these lands, had come from Panama even before them. The epidemic killed many people and even the previous emperor of the nation died because of it. Against this background, the small group of foreigners did not seem threatening.

These factors, that affected the results of the battle at Cajamarca, are proximate. Still, the critical question remains – why exactly the conquistadors were able to build ships and come to conquer the land. Why exactly did the Spanish have the necessary weapons, and Incas did not? Why did European society develop faster than American tribes? Diamond suggested the ultimate factors to answer these questions.

The problem of the development pace can be considered on the example of one of the main phenomena of ancient history –the Neolithic revolution. This term usually means a historical process of the transition to an economy, giving a stable add-on product. It is the economic prerequisites for the emergence of human exploitation and the addition of class socials. The main specific form of the Neolithic Revolution was the transition from appropriation farming (hunting, fishing, gathering) to producing (farming, cattle farming).

The Neolithic Revolution took place in Europe earlier than in America, as there was a more favorable precondition for it. For climatic and geographical reasons, animals, and plants suitable for human consumption and that could be domesticated were in Europe. It had a favorable impact on productivity –surplus products appeared, which, in turn, affected the development of the economy. People began to lead a more settled lifestyle. Cities arose, a complex social system, technologies of building houses, ships, and other things started to develop. In America at this time, the advantage was given to hunting and gathering. Moreover, thanks to domesticated animals and densely populated cities, Europeans have developed immunity to diseases that have killed a significant number of Native Americans (Diamond 86). These factors are the fundamentals of Spanish success in the New World.

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Thus, the author of the book hypothesizes that asymmetry in the development of different parts of the world is due to natural factors: habitat, climate, availability of animals and plants suitable for domestication. These factors are conducive to the development of technology and difficult human society. It became the ultimate factor for conquistadors’ conquest of America’s indigenous peoples and the basis of the proximate factors. The European level of development allowed the creation of means and methods, such as weapons, ships, military strategy, that favored the conquest of American territories.

Work Cited

Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. Norton & Company, 1997.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, January 3). Collision at Cajamarca: ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ by Jared Diamond. https://studycorgi.com/collision-at-cajamarca-guns-germs-and-steel-by-jared-diamond/

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"Collision at Cajamarca: ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ by Jared Diamond." StudyCorgi, 3 Jan. 2022, studycorgi.com/collision-at-cajamarca-guns-germs-and-steel-by-jared-diamond/.

1. StudyCorgi. "Collision at Cajamarca: ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ by Jared Diamond." January 3, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/collision-at-cajamarca-guns-germs-and-steel-by-jared-diamond/.


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StudyCorgi. "Collision at Cajamarca: ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ by Jared Diamond." January 3, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/collision-at-cajamarca-guns-germs-and-steel-by-jared-diamond/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Collision at Cajamarca: ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ by Jared Diamond." January 3, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/collision-at-cajamarca-guns-germs-and-steel-by-jared-diamond/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'Collision at Cajamarca: ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ by Jared Diamond'. 3 January.

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