According to Guns, Germs, and Steel, what made the Europeans accidental conquerors?

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thetall's profile pic

thetall | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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Despite being outnumbered, the Spanish army under the command of Francisco Pizarro managed to conquer other bigger armies like the Incan empire. Jared Diamond refers to the Spanish as “accidental conquerors” and proceeds to explain his reasons. First and foremost, he states that their geographical location is responsible for their luck noting that Europe is wider east to west as compared to its narrowness north and south. For this reason, it is easier to travel east to west because the climate remains relatively constant. This stability enabled the Spanish travel across fairly easily while interacting with numerous civilizations along the way. The result of the interaction was exposure to new ideas and machinery. The Europeans obtained sophisticated artillery such as guns, steel swords and horses which enabled them trample on other empires.

Secondly, their prior interaction with domesticated animals that had transmitted diseases to them worked out well to strengthen their immune systems. It is important to note that the Europeans were not aware of the fact that their immunity was stronger due to their previous interaction with disease causing germs from the animals. When they moved with these animals to the new world, they spread diseases that the natives were not immune to. Consequently, their defense was weakened a great deal and experts approximate that close to 95% of the native population was wiped out as a result of the new diseases.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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According to Diamond, the Europeans were accidental conquerors because they got the agents of conquest essentially by accident.  Diamond’s major claim is that the various societies of the world came to be powerful or weak due to geographic luck.  He says that the Europeans became strong largely because they were lucky.  Eurasia just happened to be the place where agriculture was first able to arise (because of geographic factors like the number of domesticable plants and animals).  Eurasia happened to have a long east-west axis, making diffusion possible.  These factors, which were accidental, ended up allowing the Europeans to get the guns, germs, and steel that made them powerful conquerors. 


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wu518847 | Student, Kindergarten | eNotes Newbie

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Through Diamond's point of view, the Europeans became accidental conqueror because they were geographically advantaged than their other counterparts such as people in the Americas and Africa. Their advantage allowed them to produce a surplus. Through this surplus, specialization in labor was needed and it caused be people to specialize in different areas of craft, which lead to eras of discoveries like farming, and the forging of steel. Eventually through their discoveries, they explored to new areas and spread their ideas which resulted in cultural diffusion. Along with their new ideas, they brought their guns, germs, and their steel. These three were what made the Europeans "accidental conquerors" because whenever they expanded and explored, they usually ran into conflict and more often than not, the Europeans were militarily superior. Those who didn't die from war, died from the germs they brought hence the title guns, germs, and steel from those who succumbed to them.