↑ comment by Daniel Kokotajlo (daniel-kokotajlo) ·
2020-10-04T10:01:18.092Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
UPDATE WITH THE RESULTS:
- On the importance of disease to Cortes' conquest:
--I predict that disease killed within a factor of 10 as many of Cortes' allies as enemies (Confidence: 80%, Tenochtitlan was under siege and a big city so probably especially vulnerable)
Answer: Yes. The book doesn't give numbers but it does say the disease ravaged everywhere, including Tlaxcala, and lists a few prominent Tlaxcalans who died.
--I predict that I'll eventually conclude that Cortes had a >10% chance of winning even without the disease. (Confidence: 80%)
Answer: Yes. Cortes actually ruled all Mexico for several months before the disease arrived; afterwards, there was a rebellion against his rule and much bloodshed before he was on top again. But there's some chance the rebellion wouldn't have happened (the Spaniards themselves caused it by massacring some nobles at a festival, while Cortez was away with most of his men!), or would have been nipped in the bud, or would have happened but been crushed anyway without the help of disease (since, again, Tlaxcala etc. lost population and leadership due to the disease also, and the new Aztec leader that replaced the dead one was seemingly just as competent.) Maybe not >50%, but definitely >10% and possibly >50%.
--I predict that I'll find some textual evidence of disease helping the Spanish maintain control later, e.g. locals deciding that the disease meant they needed to convert to christianity rather than deciding that it meant they needed to overthrow the foreigners, or e.g. some local ruler or population considering rebellion but then being too weak due to disease. (Confidence: 60%)
Answer: Probably not; by the time I got to this part in the book I may have forgotten this prediction however so I may have missed some things. So this is somewhere between ambiguous and no.
- On the importance of "cunning" to Cortes' conquest:
--I predict that I'll conclude Cortes' had significantly more relevant data (stories of European interactions with American civilizations) than Aztec leaders had-- in particular, that the Aztecs didn't know about what happened in hispaniola, and knew less about what happened in Yucatan than Cortes did. (Confidence: 90%)
Answer: The Mayans seemed to have heard about Hispaniola a bit, so maybe the Aztecs did too, but it's unclear. Still, presumably they knew less than Cortez did about Hispaniola and Yucatan too. Low bar since he was there. I was overall surprised by how good Aztec communications were however; they had extremely good intel-gathering about Cortez from the very beginning of his arrival in their territory. So I think this one is a hard case to resolve, it's definitely less true than I thought it was, but still probably true overall.
--I predict that I'll conclude the Aztecs suffered from a big information disadvantage, militarily: They had a noticeably worse sense of the capabilities and weaknesses of Spanish technology and tactics than the Spaniards did of Aztec tech and tactics (Confidence: 80%)
Answer: Yes. The Aztecs didn't know about night fighting tactics, didn't appreciate the power of cannons and boats until they had seen it in action, didn't appreciate the importance of pikes for resisting cavalry, didn't appreciate the danger cavalry posed to their military leaders. They learned fairly quickly, but only through painful lost battles. And they never quite got the hang of pikes, which was probably the biggest thing they could have done to stop the Spanish.
--I predict that I'll conclude the Aztecs suffered from some sort of diplomatic cunning disadvantage, e.g. not even considering the possibility that Cortes might kidnap the Emperor, e.g. being preoccupied with prophecies and religious implications that distract from level-headed calculations of military and strategic possibilities. (Confidence: 65%)
Answer: Unclear. They definitely made some mistakes but it's hard to say how unreasonable their decisions were, not knowing what it was like, and also making zero mistakes is obviously too high a standard to hold them to. They should have considered the possibility that Cortes would kidnap the emperor, they should have ambushed Cortes on the causeways into the city; they should have told their troops to forget about capturing sacrifice victims and just focus on killing the bastards, they shouldn't have made that prophecy that the Spanish would be gone in ten days or whatever it was...
- On the importance of technology to Cortes' conquest:
--I predict that guns weren't that big a deal; they probably were useful as surprise weapons (shocking and demoralizing enemies not used to dealing with them) but that most of the fighting would be done by swords, bows, etc.
Answer: Hand-held guns weren't a big deal, but the cannons were useful mostly for knocking down enemy fortifications. As grapeshot surprise weapons they were also useful, though less, I think.
--I predict that I'll conclude the following ranking of technologies by importance: (Credence: 20%, it's hard to get so many things exactly right!)
Answer: My post-book ranking would be Horses, Steel Armor, Steel Weapons, Guns, Ships (Bonus) Surprisingly, the Spanish had a shipbuilder with them, who organized the construction of a small fleet of brigantines on lake texcoco, which proved extremely important--necessary?--for winning the war. So arguably ships should be higher in the ranking actually...
- On the importance of disease to Pizarro's conquest:
--I predict I'll conclude that disease was mostly a factor in that it reduced the total number of native troops and also got a bloody civil war started. That is, if somehow the population had just been naturally lower, and a bloody civil war had happened, Pizarro would have had just as good a chance as he did have. (Credence: 70%)
Answer: Yes, the book I read describes the disease this way.
- On the importance of "cunning" to Pizarro's conquest:
--I predict that Pizarro designed his strategy to learn from Cortes' experience (Confidence: 90%)
Answer: Yes. Pizarro even interviewed Cortez beforehand.
--I predict that the Incas were not aware of what happened to the Aztecs at all (50%) or just vaguely (90%)
Answer: Yes, they were completely unaware.
--I predict that Inca rulers made at least three serious mistakes in anticipating what Pizarro et al might do, mistakes that they wouldn't have made had they been familiar with the history of Cortes and the Aztecs
Answer: Yes, they (1) walked unarmed into his ambush, (2) obeyed the captured Emperor even though the Spaniards were obviously untrustworthy and just stalling for time, (0) let him through all their defenses to meet with him instead of keeping him at arms length while staying behind their forts. Afterwards during the battles they probably could have done things better too had they known more about Spanish weaponry and tactics.
- On the importance of technology to Pizarro's conquest:
--Same predictions as in 3, with the same confidence.
Answer: Ships were not important to Pizarro's conquest. Cannons and guns were less important too. So it comes down to whether steel armor or horses was more important... I think I'd say horses were more important again.