Jared Diamonds offered an interesting thesis in the National Geography/PBS documentary Gun, Germs, and Steel (2005). He argued that geography had a large role in determining which societies advanced and which stagnated. …
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He argued that geography had a large role in determining which societies advanced and which stagnated. By advancement, this does not pertain to a Eurocentric thinking, but one where a greater value was placed on societies that were able to defend themselves from the colonization attacks of the Europeans. After all, numerous societies that did not withstand the technology, resources, and diseases of the European conquistadores mostly died out centuries ago. Societies collapsed because of environmental and human-made constraints and problems, and they recovered because of the ability of humans to be flexible and to adapt to their conditions, sometimes to the extent of being inhuman to other human beings. Environmental limitations delayed the growth of societies or led to their collapse. Diamond compared and contrasted the availability of plants and animals that can be domesticated in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Papua New Guinea. He learned that countries with highly advanced societies had more domesticated animals and plants. Of the fourteen animal species that can be domesticated, 12 are native to Eurasia (Diamond, 2005, episode 1). South America domesticated the llama, while the farmers of New Guinea domesticated the pig. But pigs cannot plow farm lands, and by the time the Europeans arrived at Papua New Guinea at the 20th century, New Guinean farming depended on their hands (Diamond, 2005, 1). As for the distribution of domesticated plant species in the world, many of them are native to Europe and Asia, such as wheat, barley and rice. Only two plant species are native to Tropical Africa (sorghum and yams), only one is native to the Americas (corn), and one in Papua New Guinea (taro). Australian natives had no domesticable plant available to them (Diamond, 2005, 1). The distribution of natural resources proves that geography consequently affected the interests and activities of the people. Human-made problems contributed to the collapse of civilizations. The section “Recovery in China: The Ming Dynasty” described the descent of the Mongol’s Yuan dynasty. Some of their major problems are economic and political by nature. Financial mismanagement disabled the state from supporting public goods and services. In addition, political division produced factions among Mongols. Soon, the Mongols left China altogether in a state of financial and political ruin. In the case of the Incas, their civilization died because of the steel technology of the Europeans, among other factors. In Episode 2 of Guns, Germs, and Steel, Diamond (2005) explained the geographical advantages of the Europeans. Geography provided Europe with rich sources of iron and wood, and a climate that suited high-temperature metallurgy (Diamond, 2005, 2). Geography helped the communication of ideas and technologies too. Gunpowder travelled thousands of miles, where it originated from China and exported to Spain (Diamond, 2005, 2). At the same time, the competition in Europe resulted to a kind of “medieval arms race” (Diamond, 2005, 2). Pizarro's conquistadors already accessed the latest and best weapons technology: guns and swords (Diamond, 2005, 2). The Incas, on the contrary, did not work on iron as a weapon and did not have access to gun power (Diamond, 2005, 2). Warfare technology did not reach their isolated territories too (Diamond, 2005, 2). Hence, the Incas faced the problem of poor access to resources and knowhow regarding warfare technology. Through the “steel” part of the colonization process, a hundred conquistadores were enough to wipe out tens and
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