Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Some things missed

The second hour of the PBS special based on Jared Diamond's book "Guns, Germs and Steel" ran last Monday night and while it was interesting, it focused too much on Pizarro's conquering of the Incas and didn't put in enough of what Diamond says in the book as to why the Europeans were so successful in other parts of the world, particularly the new world and Africa. I hope the series will remedy that in the final installment.

Basically, what Diamond pointed out is that the growth of the food production in the Middle East, led to the rise of settlements with food enough to develop a class of people who were able to make pots; forge bronze, iron, and eventually steel weapons; and develop writing systems able to carry forward the history of what worked and what didn't work. They also carried forth myths, legends, history and philosophy that helped spur the people of Eurasia into people who had the power to dominate. What the series is not pointing out is that it led to a form of government that could initiate and survive and win wars without disappearing (at least some of them) and gave the people of their times an ability and a willingness to develop an Odyssean wiliness that helped them as well. Pizarro used some of this wiliness in defeating the Inca, but that is not given much time in the series, maybe only a line or two.

The series does, however, spend some time illustrating how the germs to which Eurasians gained some immunity through their constant exposure to the domestic animal herds from which the diseases arose were able to survive the smallpox and other epidemics, including measles and tuberculosis, that wiped out a majority of native Americans from the moment of first exposure. It doesn't point out, however, at least not strongly, that the epidemics preceded the European and that many of the villages and towns of the Mississippian culture were empty long before the first European walked there. The diseases had spread to rapidly through the Indian tribes that they spread the germs.


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