In Chapter 3 of Guns, Germs, and Steel, how does Pizarro's capture of Atahuallpa explain why Europeans colonized the New World instead of Native Americans colonizing Europe?

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Diamond uses the historical incident of Pizarro's capture of Atahuallpa as a case study to support the arguments he makes throughout Guns, Germs, and Steel . Underlying the various arguments is his conviction that geography plays a dominant role in history, usually called “geographical determinism.” For the Incas, this included...

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Diamond uses the historical incident of Pizarro's capture of Atahuallpa as a case study to support the arguments he makes throughout Guns, Germs, and Steel. Underlying the various arguments is his conviction that geography plays a dominant role in history, usually called “geographical determinism.” For the Incas, this included orientation toward the mountains rather than the sea, and lack of development of large vessels. Along with geography, Diamond emphasizes natural factors such as health and disease, along with technological innovations, especially the use of metals to support the historical outcome of campaigns of conquest and colonization around the globe. In the confrontation between Incas and Spaniards, the latter were on horseback and wielded steel swords; in Diamond's view, the technological superiority greatly contributed to the success that day of fewer than two hundred Spaniards over thousands of indigenous men. Before and beyond one specific battle, however, disease was a potent factor, particularly smallpox. The European disease, to which indigenous Americans had no resistance, had spread to Peru before any Spaniard arrived there. The previous Inca emperor had died apparently of smallpox, leaving his sons vying for command of the empire. Smallpox and the American lack of immunity were likely connected to its relation to cowpox and the absence of bovines in the Americas. Diamond tends to downplay numerous cultural factors that possibly contributed to Spanish success.

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In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond says that there are both proximate causes and ultimate causes of European domination of the world.  In Chapter 3, he introduces us to the proximate causes.  These are the causes that led directly to Europeans being able to dominate other peoples of the world.  Diamond uses the story of the capture of Atahualpa to illustrate those proximate causes.  The proximate causes are summarized in one sentence at the bottom of page 80.  There, Diamond says that

Immediate reasons for Pizarro's success included military technology based on guns, steel weapons, and horses; infectious diseases endemic in Eurasia; European maritime technology; the centralized political organization of European states; and writing.

Diamond says that these are the factors that made it so that the Spanish sailed to South America and conquered the Incas instead of the Incas sailing to Europe and conquering Spain.  He takes these factors and reduces them to the three factors, “guns, germs, and steel” that make up the title of the book.

But this is really just the setup for the book as a whole.  Diamond is not particularly interested in the proximate causes of European domination because those causes are easily seen.  It is easy to say that the Spanish defeated the Incas because they had germs and superior technology.  To Diamond, the much more important question is why the Spanish had these things and the Incas did not.  That is, for Diamond, the real focus of this book.

Pizarro’s capture of Atahualpa helps Diamond to get his point across because it explains why the Spanish were able to conquer the Incas.  It shows how and why the “guns, germs, and steel” helped the Spanish conquer the Incas and not vice versa.

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