Colonial Latin America Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Born to Die

Why did the native populations, such as the Incas and the Aztecs, appear to be, not equals to be met with military and diplomatic force, but as victims born to die in the eyes of the invading European powers? Why were they not feared, despite the extensive technological capacities of their civilizations, and the detailed political and religious theology these civilizations created? Simply put, the invading Europeans came to regard them as sick and ailing bodies of a sick and ailing body politic, born to die because of their lack of immunity to European diseases, even more than European firearms.

The book Born to Die thus presents the provoking thesis that disease was the major cause of the European power's seemingly never-ending successes of colonial successes and conquests in Latin America, rather than these nation's prowess in military conquest. In some cases, the nations had already been decimated even before the full military capacity of the European powers had been launched. With such a small and relatively technically ill equipped population, no contest resulted in overwhelming conquest.

Although the author of the book admits that technological military superiority on the part of the invading Europeans thus did have some impact in the tremendous success of the invading powers, he asserts that the death rates by the native empires that were incurred were so overwhelming, even if the parties had been equal technically, there was no way the natives could have won. Ultimately disease and the resulting deaths from smallpox, which the local populations were not protected from, were the main reasons that the Europeans were able to dominate the indigenous populations.

Thus, states David Noble Cook, "the critical factor in the European conquest and collapse of the New World civilization was disease," not military might, much less the cultural superiority often ascribed until the recent postcolonial era of European, Western thought, to the conflict between natives and colonists. (17) This escalating death rate of natives, Cook asserts, affected all of human history, not simply the provinces of Latin America. For instance, it substantially increased the slave trade, for example. The African populations whom were brought in to work the land to replace the dying native population had genetic protections against malaria and some of the ailments through the presence of sickle cell genes in their structures, for example, and thus did not present the pure and untouched population that the natives did to the invading diseases from Europe. But this protection also made Africa more apt to be enslaved.

Plague, smallpox, measles, typhus, and cholera, however, were all deadly to the pure populations of the native populations, whom had yet to develop resistance. (17) Smallpox, of course, remains a fear today even in the United States, as a potential weapon for terrorists in a no-longer vaccinated population. (Lim, 2003) The reasons for its causes were unclear, but its deadly and disfiguring effects were quite plain, and although Europeans were affected by all of these ailments and often engaged in poor sanitation practices that facilitated the spread of the disease, because they were ironically used to such poor water and safety constraints, they also had developed a greater immunity than the Aztecs and the Incas.

Noble David Cook's book is thus stunning on a number of levels -- first, it is a fundamental challenge to the common notion of colonialism as a purely philosophical or intellectual impingement, as a willed act of control upon a native population. Often, it has been written that the Europeans seemed godlike to the natives, and this godlike status is attributed as a reason for the ability of the Europeans to dominate the natives. But the godlike reading, even if it did exist, seems to be understandable, given that the Europeans were mysteriously able to weather diseases that the natives were not. The clash of worldviews, of native and European, was inevitably affected by the latter group's physical as well as cultural differences. (Trigger, 1991)

The Europeans wished to dominate the natives of course, through…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

Cook, David Noble. Born to Die. Cambridge University Press, 1998.

"Kurds." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Edition. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001 -- 04. 8 November 2003.

Lim, Louisa. "Analysis: Disease as a Weapon." BBC News. 2003. 8 November 2004.

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