My home is in my charming gulf coast city’s Museum District. I love all the trees in my neighborhood. I enjoy the squirrels who play and make their home in the trees.
I used to feed them, delighting in how this untamed wild animal would remember me. Respond to my coaxing, run over to my yard to receive some nuts and treats. Many times they would take their treat from my fingertips.
Then I began discovering their dead bodies on my street near my house. I realized, even when I wasn’t home, they would remember to come to my yard to search for me, hoping for a free snack. And in their happy anticipation they were being unintentionally hit and run over by cars driven by my neighbors.
Feeding them, my making this wild animal dependent upon me, I was killing them.
The Inca Empire was built upon the remnants of earlier tribes and smaller settlements that spanned across South America for centuries upon centuries. They knew math. They knew government. They knew architecture and engineering. They could perform surgery – even brain surgery. But the Incas had no written language. What we know about the Inca Empire is from the people who conquered them. Los Conquistadors.
When it was suspected there was gold to be found half way across the world, Pizarro released from the local Spanish prisons real hardened criminals. Rather than spend the rest of their miserable lives incarcerated they chose to serve as Pizarro’s sailors and soldiers on some crazy quest to sail across the Atlantic Ocean. A body of water that had, until recently, been considered by many to be flat, with an edge, over which one fell and became devoured by monsters, from which there was no return.
By that time some Spanish has landed on the northern shores of South America. After discovering Cuba, Florida, Mexico and Panama. Landing on the shores of what would become Venezuela, they brought with them themselves, horses, and smallpox and measles and venereal diseases.
Hearing that strange men where arriving from the ocean and walking upon his land, the king of the Inca Empire took a reasonably large army up north to stop them. He was killed. His army decimated. First by sword and cannon ball. Then by disease.
It has been reported that more Native Americans across the entire American continent, both north and south, died from disease brought over from europe than from any battle.
When the Inca ruler died the Inca Empire was left in the hands of his two sons. They despised each other. Both wanted total control over all of South America. Much like our presidential elections today, nearly as vicious but a tad bit more violent, these two brothers decided to fight it out.
The Inca Empire, by this time, was truly vast and, in their part of the world, overwhelmingly powerful. When they wished to take over a distant tribe the Incas would march a massive army to that village. They would line their warriors up along the mountain ridges by the thousands. One Inca representative would then walk down into the village where he would ask a single question: “Give up?” Instead of doing battle against the entire Inca Empire this small outlying village would allow themselves to be divided into groups of 50, and each fifty people would then be sent off to distant parts of South America so that they might never re-group again. They would become absorbed into the Inca civilization and turned into productive working citizens.
The Incas were one of the very first, and certainly one of the most true, forms of Socialist government. Each family had a garden that was the same in both size and purpose. When crops were harvested what wasn’t immediately consumed was stored in large buildings, saved for a day when the people might need it. Except for the ruler and his family and a few counsel, all of the people who lived and served the Inca Empire were equal. Equal in stature. Equal in what they possessed. Equal in what they did. The entire Inca Empire was a vast expanse of people who all did the same. Who did not improve or change. They were not permitted to.
The entire Inca Empire had become completely dependent upon the Inca government for all sustenance. They had become completely dependent upon the Inca rulers to make every decision for them.
The rulers saw no reason to change. Everything was working just fine for them.
This situation would have a lot to do with why, when 86 men stepped off a boat on the shores of what would someday become Peru, nearly the entire massive Inca Empire would not know what to do about it.
One day, possibly a Tuesday, Pizarro and 85 of his men, stepped off the boat they had anchored in a muddy natural harbor inlet on the Pacific coast that would later become Lima, the capital of Peru. The Incas ignored them. They had little interest in the ocean or what might come from it. Their terrain of interest were their mountains and jungles.
These 86 men from half way around the world, using a different form of fighting, speaking a different language, wearing a different type of clothing and military gear, made their way into the South American continent. There they encountered the son of the now deceased Inca Emperor. This son had only just recently beaten his brother and was now in control over all of South America.
This new Inca ruler arrived to deal with these outsiders. He brought with him thousands of his Inca warriors. The spanish were hiding in a small building. Seeing thousands upon thousands of warriors approach they were literally peeing in their pants.
A priest stepped outside the building and approached the Inca ruler. He wished to convince this king to accept the word of the bible.
Not understanding what a book was, the Inca ruler threw the bible on the ground. The priest screamed that these people were infidels and intolerant of the true religion. He ran back to the building where his felow conquistadors were hiding. Inspired by the outrage of their religious leader, the spanish stormed out of the building, brandishing swords, riding horses, wearing armor, and, within only a few hours, slaughtered thousands upon thousands upon thousands of Inca people.
The military might of the Inca empire was primitive in comparison to the weapons used by the spanish. Thousands of trained Inca warriors had nothing – no armor, no weapons – to defend themselves against 86 men with metal swords. They were not prepared. The people who actually had the right to live on this land lost.
The spanish captured the new ruler, the surviving son of the original ruler that had died from their disease. They tied him up in a room. His citizens were instructed to bring to this room gold sufficient to fill this room. If the room could be filled with gold the spanish promised his people that they would release their ruler. The Inca people did bring gold, enough to fill the room to the ceiling. The spanish, once they had this gold, instead of keeping their promise, killed their ruler.
The spanish now understood that where they had arrived had vast quantities of gold, and a population that could not stop them. They made their way deeper into the mountains that lead to the Inca capital.
At one point these conquistadors were making their way along a thin treacherous mountain trail. A number of Inca tribes people were looking down upon them from the mountain slope above. These Incas, at that moment, had the means and the opportunity to push some stones that would have easily caused a slide that would have killed every conquistador trying carefully to make their way along that path.
But they didn’t. They didn’t think to do it. Instead, they just watched as 86 conquistadors continued their journey, all the way to Cuzco.
If they had killed all the spanish that day, there would have been no spanish that would have returned from this trip back to Spain. No gold would have been taken back to Spain. The Inca Empire may very well have survived that period, and grown over the next several centuries to become a unique civilization in our modern world that might have rivaled today’s China or India.
But they didn’t. When opportunity presented itself, for lack of vision or understanding of the danger these foreign invaders presented, because there were no rulers or government left to tell them what to do, these Incas let these Spanish live. They let them walk on by. They tolerated them. From all the experience of their lives these Incas did not see these few odd looking spanish people as dangerous. Conquistadors that would soon destroy their entire civilization. The Incas had, over the years, become a mass of people who did not, could not, think for themselves.
Within a few short years the entire Inca Empire would be gone. It’s temples would be raided. It’s monuments destroyed and built over. Most of it’s people dead. It’s women raped and turned into slaves. It’s last surviving ruler would soon be chased deep into the woods. There he would be assassinated by a betrayer he had trusted.
I had tamed my wild neighborhood squirrels to depend upon me. By becoming tame, depending upon me for their food, this killed them. I did not mean them harm. But by making them come to me for their food I had ended their lives. Taken away any chance for these squirrels to have children, or grandchildren.
The Inca Empire had become a nation that had become dependent upon a government to care for them, to make their decisions. They had lost all perception as to how challenging or dangerous this world could be. They did not perceive that in this world there just might be something stronger and more powerful than they were, than their government. Like squirrels killed by a single car, the Inca civilization was wiped out by a mere handful of men they didn’t see coming.