A Lesson from the Past

A few days ago, I was watching a PBS program on how the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes (1485-1547) conquered the Aztec population in what is now Mexico, and I was intrigued by a parallel to modern life.  Without going into a lot of detail about the invasion, Cortes, with a force of Spanish and local indigenous people he picked up along the way, and much smaller than the Aztec forces arrayed against him, defeated the Aztecs, captured and killed their leader, Moctezuma II, and made the country a Spanish colony.  How did he do it?  Basically he had superior firepower.

The Aztecs had never seen horses, guns and gunpowder, and had no concept of the wheel.  Yet their civilization flourished in central Mexico, and they built large cities and magnificent buildings, many of which are still visible.  Their capital city had over two hundred thousand inhabitants.  They were highly sophisticated in mathematics, astronomy, and devised a complicated calendar.  They were a great civilization, no doubt, in spite of the fact that they practiced human sacrifice.  Yet they were conquered by a smaller force.

Cortes’s army was, in today’s terminology, a quantum leap ahead of the Aztecs.  It’s difficult to imagine what the average Aztec individual though of a weapon that made a thunderous noise and shot a projectile that could kill a person at a distance.  Or what he thought of the presence of horses, huge animals that people could ride, and in so doing, travel much faster than a man could run.  To them, these must have been, at the same time, awe-inspiring and terrifying.  How many Aztec warriors were killed because they simply didn’t know how to react?

What’s this got to do with today?  Certainly, a number of lessons can be derived from the defeat of the Aztecs, but what I want to focus on is the future.  This story would make a good basis for a science fiction novel, but it could be extended to science fact as well.  If a smaller, but much more highly advanced army (perhaps I should call it an invasion force) can defeat an army of superior numbers but inferior weaponry, how much chance do we on Earth have of a force of aliens from outer space?

So far, there’s never been any seriously documented invasion of Earth from outer space.  There hasn’t even been a well-documented visit, Roswell, NM, notwithstanding.  A few people claim to have been abducted by aliens, but no one has any real proof.  None of that, however, means it couldn’t happen.  Were we invaded by a force from the stars, they would almost certainly be scientifically superior.  How else would they know how to travel the immense distances through space in order to reach us here?  They would have to come from outside our solar system, as there doesn’t appear to be any place in our system that could allow development of the type of living beings we have on Earth.  We’re almost certainly alone in this solar system.

But other systems are a different matter.  Highly sophisticated militaristic forms may be lurking out there, salivating at the prospect of annexing our lovely planet.  Do they really exist?  No one knows.  But if they’re capable of traveling to Earth, they must be far more advanced than we, since we can barely make it to the moon and back.  That almost certainly would include weaponry.  In short, if we get invaded by Conquistadors from outer space, we’ve had it.  They could probably take us down like a cat taking down a mouse.  Take a lesson from the Aztecs.  Let’s hope there’s no alien Cortes out there in his faster-than-light spaceship.

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