Germs and Guns

European imperialism gave rise to a culture of colonial expansion in the 15th Century. The Blocking of the ???silk road??™, with a increasing Ottoman empire, lead to an alternative trade route needed for European Asian relations. Columbus with the backing of Spanish colonists led to the discovery and the eventual building of a European empire on the Canary Islands and the Americas. This modern imperialism was subject to unsuccessful opposition by the natives. The reasons for imperial dominance are subject to much scrutiny, however two key factors emerge – that of germs and guns. Though advanced military equipment played a key role, initially creating a sense of Christian justice, their effect was limited. However European pathogens, created from a domestication of livestock and agriculture, had a demonized effect on the indigenous people, leading to the regrouping of a declined Indian population. Germs caused the success of colonization in the ???New World??? due to the weakening of states, but despite this, preconditions of colonization were also responsible for dominance. They played a significant part in the expansion of the European Empire and without them germs or guns effect would be hindered.

The use of advanced weaponry played a large role in European dominance. Most notably, the Spanish colonial activity in the West Indies showed the destruction caused by guns on the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Referred to as the ???Black Legend??™, ???the Spaniards had used violence against them [Indians], killing, robbing, torturing???[1] to dominant. Their widespread killings amounted to around twelve million[2] ??“ ???killing and destroying such an infinite number of souls???[3] had demonized the European Colonists and it is this use of weaponry that aided the declining population of the natives. The domination of such a vast population only furthers the significance of arms- this is best demonstrated in 1519 by Hernan Cortes??™ war on the Aztecs. Cortes was a conquistador and his conquest of the ???New World??™ made an example of opposing European imperialism. Accomplished through the use of armory, but also an alliance with Tlaxcalan warriors, massacres were seen throughout Middle America, most notably at Chalula. Furthermore, not only the use, but also the superiority of equipment meant the advancement of colonization met insignificant opposition. The age of gunpowder warfare was developed prominently in this Early Modern period and it is this that shaped a ???Revolution in Military Affairs??? (inaugural lecture, Michael Roberts). Though it can be seen that it is not only the ???gun??™ of the imperialist, which meant dominance, but just as significant is the inferiority of the native arms. This is predominantly seen in the Gaunche of the Canary Islands as ???their lack of metal weapons was one of the several fatal gaps??? in their culture[4]. It is a combination of these weaponry factors that can be held responsible for European dominance. However the use of guns can be hindered with the rising opposition of the natives. For example, the 1422 Jamestown massacre killed 347 English men, women and children throughout the Virginia colony[5]. This led to a decrease in smaller settlements by the English and showed how the Powhatan of Virginia had used the indigenous ???guns??™ to oppose European colonization. Though the effect short-lived, it reduces the prominence of the European arms, as natives were able to, in certain cases, defend themselves and become the oppressors. What??™s more the trading of arms with the natives meant the inferiority of indigenous armory was lessened. As a result it can be seen that though guns had a significant role, their effect is hindered due to opposition and trading of arms with the natives, therefore they were not the most prominent reason for European dominance in the Canary Islands an the Americas.

Though the influence of guns had a significant effect, the dominance of the Americas and Canary Islands is a direct result of ecological imperialism. The European pathogens decimated 95% of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, causing the extinction of many native groups – notably that of the Gaunches and the Tainos. The most recognized disease, which ???had devastated indigenous populations??? [6], was smallpox. The natives couldn??™t oppose the foreign germs due to being isolated from the Europeans prior to this point. There lack of exposure to build up antibodies, meaning the increase dominance of colonists, is only furthered by the fact Europeans themselves had the immunity to resist the pathogens which decimated the indigenous. In this case, it can be seen that the Early Modern Europeans indirectly used the first case of biological warfare against the Indians. This biological expansion therefore strengthened Europe??™s position. The initial cause of disease was the farming of livestock in Eurasian, and the bringing of these non-native species over to the ???New World??? further influenced the decline in population. As a result not only was there a human pathogen influence but an animal factor, which in a world dominated by a Neolithic revolution, destroyed the crops and thereby food on the indigenous peoples. This is most notably seen in the ???explosions of burros in Fuerteventura in the Canaries, [and] rats in Virginia in North America???[7]. The native Indians had scarce resources that were further declined by the influence of germs, resulting in the disappearance of native plants and the killings of native animals. [8] What??™s more, germs thereby resulted in cultural and political instability[9]; the natives were more easily susceptible to European colonists. This concept of a weakened Indian population is made clear by the need for and resulting influx of African slaves to carry out work on the European plantations. Therefore the domination of European colonists is a result mainly of a biogeographically factor. Though the germs of imperialism had a more significant impact on the successful expansion of empire then guns, a biological influence can be hindered. The pathogens of Europe did not wholly reduce the population of the Americas and Canary Islands, and though not as significant the disease also caused the death of Europeans directly and indirectly. Many colonists died due to the decline of the native population resulting in their main food source, the agriculture of the indigenous themselves, being decreased. This led to cannibalism in the most extreme cases such as the newly found colony of Jamestown. It can therefore be seen that germs played a huge role in dominance, but with the hindering of the natives, both the Indians and Europeans suffered.

Despite germs and guns role in securing a colonial empire, the preconditions of imperialist expansion influenced a wholly geographical factor in determining why Europe dominated the Americas. The sheer variety of plants and animals over the continent gave Europe an advantage over the domestication of livestock and agriculture. This interaction with increased livestock meant a development of natural selection and thereby immunity to disease, which the indigenous did not have. What??™s more, the wheat and barley of Eurasia outweighed that of the common maize found in native America, therefore influencing a larger workforce. The economic and technologic expansion seen is a direct result of a division of labor, meaning an increase in trade and weaponry. ???Hence the availability of domestic plants and animals ultimately explains why empires, literacy, and steel weapons developed earlier in Eurasia and later, or not at all, on other continents.”[10] What can be seen from these preconditions is the fact Europe??™s dominance of the Americas and Canary Islands is not only a result of their modernization, but also a lack of change in other leading powers such as China. This most notably seen when Emperor Xuan De disallowed the building of large ships – ???The prohibition to build such ships prevented the Chinese exploration??? [11] As a result Europeans could dominant exploration and became a hegemon of imperialism. It can therefore be seen that without percusses the use of arms, devastating effect of pathogens and hindered influence of China may not have resulted in the dominance of Europe.

To conclude, the dominance of Europe in the Americas and Canary Islands is a direct result of both germs and guns. It can be seen however that germs had a greater effect in influencing the prominence of colonists, due their weakening of natives, resulting in an a near impossible task of successful opposition. What??™s more, it is this initial factor that created a platform for the influence of weaponry. Though guns played a role in the expansion of Europe??™s empire, their effect is hindered with the trading of arms with the indigenous themselves and the, in some cases, successful opposition by the natives, despite being initially ill equipped. Yet despite germs being more responsible then guns, preconditions created colonist influence. The dominance of Europe in the ???New World??? is therefore a direct result of the dominance of Europe in the era of imperialism and a Neolithic Revolution. The prominent Empire to modernize in the Early Modern World, over that of China and the Ottomans, meant Europe could expand successfully into the Americas and as a result dominate over the natives.
Bibliography

Alfred W.Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900, (Cambridge 2004)
A.Frost, Pacific empires: essays in Honour of Glyndwr Williams, (Canada 1999), p.6
Bartolene de las casas, The Devastation of the Indies
B. Easton, 500 YEARS LATE: The effects of a decision by a Chinese Emperor in 1432 Article, (1996)
C. C Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, (Knopf 2005)
G. O??™Brien, Jamestown: Legacy of the Massacre of 1622, (Gale Group, 2005) Article
H.Zinn, voices of a people??™s history of the United States, First Edition, (Turnaround, London, 2004)
J. Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, (United States1997)

[1] H.Zinn, voices of a people??™s history of the united states, First Edition, (Turnaround, London, 2004) p.38
[2] Bartolene de las casas, The Devastation of the Indies
[3] Idiom
[4] Alfred W.Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900, (Cambridge 2004) p.81
[5] G. O??™Brien, Jamestown: Legacy of the Massacre of 1622, (Gale Group, 2005) Article
[6] A.Frost, Pacific empires: essays in Honour of Glyndwr Williams, (Canada 1999), p.6
[7] Alfred W.Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900, (Cambridge 2004) p.71
[8] Idiom
[9] C. C Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, (Knopf 2005) p.35
[10] J. Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, (United States 1997) p.92
[11] B. Easton, 500 YEARS LATE: The effects of a decision by a Chinese Emperor in 1432 Article, (1996)