Originally Posted by Rain Man
I think I mentioned this in a thread a while back, but the thing I don't get is why this was a one-way deal. Europeans show up and cough, and 90 million Native Americans start dying. But why didn't the Native Americans cough and kill all of the arriving Europeans?
And presumably no diseases went back to Europe with Columbus and John Smith and Verrazano and all those guys. Why not? Why didn't Europe take the same disease beatdown that the Native Americans took? Was it just sheer luck? Did the Viking expeditions somehow inoculate Europeans? And why didn't the Vikings start the North American plague? Or is it possible that something like the Black Plague was carried from America with the Vikings and nailed the white folk 200 years earlier?
The book Guns, Germs and Steel
is really good (Pulitzer-winning good, actually) about explaining this. The short version is that it goes back to the diversity of plant and animal life in Europe/Asia/Africa, due to the shape of the continents; crops that were feasible in India could be transported to China and Turkey and Italy and Spain, and be feasible there as well because they were all at about the same latitude. In America, you didn't have this; a crop feasible in Peru could be transported to Panama or Argentina, but the latitude difference meant it likely wasn't as feasible in those new places. Hence, less diversity.
Diversity in crops meant better farming. Better farming meant fewer farmers were needed to feed a city. Fewer farmers meant more administrators, priests, artisans, and engineers. More of all of them meant more innovation. More innovation led to steel, firearms, ships, sextants, and advanced forms of government. All of that stuff led to the Europeans sending ships to America, rather than vice versa.
Diversity also lead to Europeans/Asians/Africans being exposed to a much, much wider variety of plant-born and animal-spread diseases, and therefore developing natural resistances to them. Native Americans, having a much narrower range of flora and fauna, didn't develop that. As someone else pointed out, these germs ran wild in America once they were introduced, and killed something like 95% of the Natives before the Europeans even landed in force. It was pretty brutal, but also unintentional - the follow-ups, however, were both brutal and very intentional.
Originally Posted by Rain Man
It seems to me, though, that the Native Americans were too decentralized. Defeating 90 million Native Americans would be very tough, but I don't think that's the war. I think the war is defeating one tribe and then moving on to the next one. It seems like the eastern tribes would work together, but I don't think the western tribes did much of that at all, and they certainly wouldn't send troops east.
It seems like the Native Americans' best chances would be that the eastern tribes would ally and stop the Europeans at the beaches. If they got past the eastern tribes, I think they'd roll west to the sea like Sherman.
If there were twenty or fifty times as many Natives as there were, I don't see the Plymouth colony surviving King Phillip's War, or the Pequot Uprising. The Iroquois Confederacy would rule for a long time. The best place for a continued European settlement would be Maryland or Virginia, which was mostly inter-tribal swampland.
The Europeans probably would never penetrate past the Appalachians, and if they did, they would never in a million years be able to maintain a supply line across the Great Plains. It would be *teeming* with Natives, and given the expertise the plains tribes developed with horses once they got them, the Europeans would be helpless against the lightning raids.