According to Guns, Germs, and Steel, why did Europeans conquer the Americas instead of Americans conquering Europe?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Chapter 3 of Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond explains why the Europeans were able to conquer the Americas rather than the other way around. He begins the chapter with a close analysis of Francisco Pizarro's defeat of the Inca King Atahuallpa in 1532, despite the Spanish forces being vastly outnumbered.

The first element underlying Pizarro's victory was superior military technology. This included the use of horses, guns, and steel swords and shields, which not only were vastly more effective than Inca weaponry but also terrified many opponents.

Just as important as military technology was the spread of European diseases such as smallpox, typhoid, and plague, to which the inhabitants of the Americas had no natural immunities. This meant that European conquerors were fighting against communities decimated by diseases.

Finally, the Spanish conquerors were better organized and used writing to communicate effectively, spread strategic plans, and share information about their opponents' weaknesses. In other words, the Spanish had more elaborately developed systems of what is now called C3I, or Command, Control, Communications and intelligence, which are essential to military success.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The answer to this can be found in Chapter 3.  There, Diamond lays out a number of factors that allowed Spain to conquer the New World rather than having Native Americans conquer Spain.  They include:

  • Military technology.  The Europeans had guns and steel weapons.
  • Infectious diseases.  These "germs" killed many Native Americans, helping to weaken their societies.
  • Ships and writing.  These were two more things that the Europeans had and the Americans didn't.
  • Centralized political organization.  This allowed the Spanish to be more organized and disciplined than the natives.

All of these were proximate causes of Europe's ability to conquer.  The ultimate cause of this, however, was the fact that agriculture arose in Eurasia long before it did in the Americas, thus allowing Europe to become stronger than the New World.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial