No biggie in the markets. The Dow down some. Gold holding steady, so let’s change the subject.
We tossed and turned last night. Troubling our sleep was the Battle of Lima.
Anyone who wonders how the history (and pre-history!) of the human race is made, should consider the plight of poor General Quis.
The man was a gifted and experienced veteran of many years of wars. He had with him a force of some 20,000 troops, more or less prepared for the battle ahead. And he was fresh from two major victories.
General Quis had figured out how to meet the challenge of mounted, armed Spanish cavalry. Instead of attacking them on level ground, where their horses and armour made them almost invincible to club-wielding Inca peasants, he ambushed them in narrow valleys.
In the few months leading to the Battle of Las Salinas, he had wiped out two Spanish armies (albeit few in number, but previously considered unbeatable). Now, he faced Francisco Pizarro himself…in his new city, today’s Lima, Peru. His mission was not just to defeat Pizarro, but to annihilate him…to take him prisoner and kill every Christian in Lima, and then every Christian still alive in the Inca empire.
Here, in our diary, we have a weakness for underdogs, die-hards, and lost causes. We are part of the Irish diaspora…victims of 1,000 years of invasions, suppressions and self-mutilations. First, the Vikings attacked our monasteries, stole our crops and violated our women.
Then, the Fitzgeralds — an Anglo-Norman clan — came in the 11th century and soon lorded over us. And then, in successive waves, with great violence and bloodshed, the English exterminated, starved and crushed the Irish insurgents.
The novel Gone with the Wind is the story of the subjugation of the ‘Old South’. It is also part of the Irish story. The O’Haras had left Ireland to find wealth and success in the American South, free from their English masters. To their great dismay, the New Englanders invaded and put them down again!
So, we naturally take the part of all lost causes — political, financial, linguistic…and whatever. We shed a tear for dying languages… We cling to stocks trading at two times earnings, and sinking… We say a prayer for lost traditions and disappearing tribes…
And so, we tossed and turned last night…thinking of how to unhorse a mounted Spaniard. Despite a huge superiority in numbers, the smart money was on the Spanish. Except in mountain ambushes, the Inca had found no way to stop their cavalry. And the conquistadores had hundreds of years of experience fighting the Moors…and other European powers.
They were hardened warriors, with well-developed military tactics, the latest European weapons, and ruthless ambitions. They had already toppled one Inca emperor, stolen his treasures and burned him at the stake.
Another one, Manco, set up as a puppet leader, they later put in chains and urinated on. But this puppet had escaped and now, in the 1530s — had declared total war on the bearded invaders. How could the Inca have neutralised the Spanish cavalry, we wondered?
This weekend was Palm Sunday, when Christians remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. There was an underdog! The man was riding (on an ass) into a trap. The local establishment…working with their imperial overlords (the Romans)…were out to get him. The Dick Cheneys…the Donald Rumsfelds…the Lindsay Grahams and John Brennans of the day were all gunning for this renegade Jew.
We attended services in our chapel, along with the local people — who are descended from the Diaguita tribe that was once vassal to the Inca. How it might have turned out so differently, we thought to ourselves, as a dark-skinned woman with an Inca face and long, black hair read the gospel lesson.
Had General Quis been able to stop Pizarro’s cavalry charge at Lima, the whole history of South America might have been different. Instead of a total collapse of Inca authority, Manco might have been able to hold his empire together.
And instead of allowing the Spanish to loot and murder at will, all up and down the continent, organised Inca armies might have been able to hold them off for centuries.
Instead of being colonised by foreign conquerors, like in Ireland and North America, the Inca empire might have had time to learn from the invaders…like the Japanese after the visit of a US fleet. Like the Japanese, the Inca might have been able to copy the technologies of the Europeans, instead of being crushed by them…
…and then, perhaps, the people in the chapel on Palm Sunday might be still worshipping their own gods, rather than those imported from the Old World.
How could General Quis have neutralised the Spaniard’s cavalry? Already, in Europe, the solution had been discovered. Long, strong, sharpened pikes…with the blunt end stuck firmly in the ground and the sharp end aimed directly at the horse and rider…could usually stop an attack. Either the horses stopped short…or they were impaled on the stakes.
Spanish warhorses were protected, but not well enough to break through a determined and disciplined rank of foot soldiers with these pikes. Often the stakes were hidden in the ground and raised at the last moment, when it was too late for the horses to change course. Instead of wheeling around and attacking from a different direction, horses and riders were killed by the pikes.
The Inca also had the ‘bolos’ — leather cords with rocks tied to both ends. They were used for hunting guanaco and would have brought down a horse too. But the Inca never thought of them as military weapons.
Put to service in the Battle of Las Salinas things might have turned out differently. The Inca could have thrown the bolos — tying up as many horses and riders as possible — and then retreated behind their sharpened posts.
It is also puzzling that the Inca did not try some sort of grappling hook to pull the rider from the horse. A mounted cavalry man is a formidable fighter, but once off his horse — as the French discovered at Agincourt — he is dead meat.
Alas, the Inca — with their own military doctrines and tactics, which had been tested and adapted over hundreds of years of warfare in the Andes — did not understand the horse or how to deal with a mounted fighter.
Pizarro’s cavalry attacked at Lima…and went straight for General Quis. The poor general was killed with a lance to the heart. Having lost its leader, the Inca army also lost its heart…thousands were massacred as they fled for the hills.
Soon after, the siege of Cuzco was lifted…and the Inca rebellion collapsed. Then, the Spaniards had no one to fight but each other…which they did, within months of defeating General Quis. The first ‘European’ battle in the New World took place between two factions of conquistadores, both mounted…and both with European weapons…at Salinas.
There are some battles, like the great battles between the Germans and the Soviets in WWII…and the battles between Iraq and Iran later in the century…that the underdog-backing observer doesn’t know which side to root for. Mostly, he wishes they could both lose.
That ‘European’ Battle of Las Salinas was one such battle. Both sides deserved to lose. But only one did…Pizarro’s brother, Hernando.
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From the Archives…
22-03-13 – Bill Bonner
21-03-13 – Nick Hubble
20-03-13 – Nick Hubble
19-03-13 – Dan Denning
18-03-13 – Dan Denning