In Diamond's book, he doesn't necessarily say that the diseases we have gotten from domestic livestock leave a society stronger for the epidemic experience. At least i didn't get that from reading his book. His claim was that it left the population immune, or at least more immune than populations which had never been exposed to those diseases. If either Mr. Diamond, or you, wish to allege that pandemic diseases acquired by humanity from livestock leave society stronger for the experience, you'd need to make the case in realistic terms.
Diamond's book is interesting, but largely because of his synthesis of the contemporary archaeological and agronomic view of the domestication of plants and animals. His reliance upon history is much more flawed. For example, he describes the seizure of Atahualpa and then alleges that it was a reliance upon guns, germs and steel which lead to Pizarro's successful conquest. That is not exactly accurate. It is true that the so-called Inca empire had been earlier devastated by exposure to what was probably smallpox--but that did not reduce their military capacity to the point where they could not have handled fewer than 300 Spanish soldiers. Ultimately, it was a cultural failure which doomed the Tawantinsuyu empire (usually called the Inca empire). The seizure of Atahualpa and his eventual murder paralyzed his society, which was so rigidly adapted to centralized control that no one individual could take decisions upon which others could act until it was too late. By the time the "Inca" people finally rose against their Spanish masters, they had largely overcome their previous failures, but by that time, the Spanish were too well established, and were in reasonably constant communication with the rest of the Spanish "new world" empire to call for the help they needed to survive.
Diamond also compares the conquest of Peru to the conquest of Mexico, and dismisses Cortés' accomplishment in a few lines. The two events did not resemble each other in the least. After Cortés landed near Tobasco, he acquired the services of two Spaniards who had been shipwrecked on the coast, and who had learned the local language (a relative of Mayan dialects), and then he found and "liberated" a woman usually described as an Aztec "Princess." Dona Marina, as she became known, quickly picked up Spanish, and as she spoke the Nahuatl (the language spoken by the Toltec tribes of the central Mexican plateau) and Mayan languages, he was enabled to set up a train of translation even before she learned Spanish. From her, he learned of the Aztec empire, and made his decision to sail up the coast, land and march inland. He had previously been following the Grijalva expedition, which had touched briefly on the coast of the Yucatan, and he had with him Bernal Diaz, who had accompanied Grijalva, and who was later to write The Conquest of New Spain
, the one surviving eyewitness account of the conquest other than Cortés', which is necessarily suspect.
Cortés landed on the east coast of what is now Mexico, and established a settlement, La Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz, which is modern Veracruz in Mexico. From there he began marching inland, having been forbidden to do so by emissaries of the Aztec emperor, Moctezuma (not Montezuma, although it's swimming against the tide to insist upon it). He first encountered the Tlaxcalans, the people of a city state which had been in a state of constant defiance of the Aztecs in the three generations of the Aztec empire. Thinking he was an ally of the Aztecs, they attacked him over a period of three days (they holed up in some abandoned houses), and very nearly destroyed them. Diaz, a veteran of Cordoba's campaigns in Italy and a reliable military witness, estimated that the Tlaxcalan forces numbered in the tens of thousands--Cortés' just over 400. Cortés was able to use two significant factors to accomplish his conquest. The first was his undoubted diplomatic skills. He parlayed with the Tlaxcalans, and they came to an agreement after Cortés had convinced them that he was no friend to Moctezuma and the Azteca. That agreement lead the Tlaxcalans to contribute thousands of warriors and thousands of porters (they had no domestic animals suitable as beasts of burden). Cortés marched over the mountains to Cholula, where Dona Marina warned him of a plan of which she had heard in the market place to attack and slaughter most of the Spaniards, and to make a prisoner of Cortés and his officers, to be presented to Moctezuma. The Spanish and the Tlaxcalans set their own trap, the plot was foiled, and Cortés turned on his diplomatic charm again, and the Cholulans became his allies.
Between Cholula and Tenochtitlan (capital of the Azteca and site of modern Ciudad Mexico--Mexico City), Cortés enlisted the aid of the city state of Xochimilco as well. By the time he finally confronted Moctezuma, he had the aid of literally tens of thousands of Toltecs who deeply resented the hegemony of the Azteca. It is very likely that Dona Marina, an intelligent and astute woman by all accounts, had apprised him of this situation from the outset. He also enlisted the aid of the Texcocans, and of several other city states around the Lake Texcoco, upon the southwest shores of which Tenochtitlan was located. Even with that aid, it took Cortés nearly two years to reduce Tenochtitlan and destroy the Aztec empire. When Moctezuma was taken prisoner, and appealed to his people to cooperate with the Spaniard, they spontaneously stoned him to death. They then put up a fierce resistance which required thousands of Spaniards (Cortés had surprised and taken over an expedition of 1100 Spaniards sent from Cuba to supercede him, and was later reinforced by more Spaniards from Cuba) and tens of thousands of other Amerindians to subdue them--at the cost of very nearly annihilating them.
The two situations as between Pizarro and Cortés were not at all similar. Contrary to what Diamond claims, the smallpox did not visit central Mexican plateau until after the conquest--that was the pandemic of the late 1520s which was eventually to reach Quito and the "Inca" army shortly before Pizarro arrived. When the Tlaxcalans very nearly wiped out the Spaniard, the guns and steel and horses of the invaders had almost no effect on a fierce and independent people who were willing and able to absorb the few additional casualties which those advantages would entail. The same is true of the Azteca, who would rather stone their emperor to death than to submit to the invader, and worse yet, to the other Amerindians they had conquered three generations before.
Diamond reduces complex cultural events to simplicities--and simplistic explanations. There is not doubt that he did yoeman's work in writing a synthesis which carefully and clearly describes the domestication of plants and animals by prehistoric cultures, and the spread of languages and cultures with their domesticates across the globe. His theory of the causes of the success of European conquest is over-simplistic, and is not founded at all in the historical record, of which he appears to be profoundly ignorant, based on what he has written. I suspect he had his theory in place, and rushed about skimming modern historical review textbooks to find an incident which he could hold up as the avatar of European conquest.
For those who would like to know what the Spanish conquest was really
like, i recommend William Prescott, the great American scholar who wrote more than twenty volumes on the Spanish monarchy and the conquest of their empire from the late 15th century through the 18th century. It isn't necessary to read them all, his conquest of Mexico is in three volumes, and his conquest of Peru is in two. As well, i would recommend The Conquest of New Spain
, by Bernal Diaz, which he wrote 50 years later while on his hacienda in Nicaragua, and which has rarely been out of print ever since.
Diamond's pet theory is gratifying to him, i'm sure, and to those with insufficient historical knowledge to question it. However, those who have read more deeply will immediately recognize how shallow his analysis is, and how very, very much he leaves out. Most glaringly, his account only explains the conquest of the Americas (and actually only seems to explain it), and doesn't explain the conquest of Africa and Asia, where the people already had guns, germs and steel. Mr. Diamond's theories are naive. The book is fine for learning about the domestication of plants and animals, and the spread of cultures with domesticates. It is worthless for explaining how Europeans came to dominate the modern world.