Much has been learned in the intervening years to correct many of the classic historical misnomers that appear in this 1942 book review of BROTHERS OF DOOM, a biography of the Pizarro brothers, by Hoffman Birney, an independent scholar and prolific pulp fiction writer.
For one thing, we now know that the Spanish Chroniclers perpetrated a self-aggrandizing myth that fewer than 200 conquistadors — “quite unaided by native allies” — defeated tens of thousands of Inca warriors, purely by virtue of superior nerve, military prowess and armaments. In fact, Francisco Pizarro and his cohorts deftly won over indigenous groups who resented Inca control and gladly bore arms alongside the Spanish to wage war against the Inca Empire.
The Inca dynasty’s rule over a vast empire did not last five centuries, but rather little more than a hundred years. And sociopolitical comparisons between the Inca Empire and modern socialistic societies and Marxist utopian ideology are overwrought, at best.
Still, it’s a fun read…
The Windsor Daily Star ~ May 30, 1942
By H.L. MacPherson
Long before Columbus discovered America, even before the Norsemen are supposed to have touched these shores, and empire mighty for its times was taking form in the Western Hemisphere. It was the Land of the Four Corners, the Inca Empire of Peru. Its area was approximately that of Ontario.
“No nation in 16th century Europe even approached the Land of the Four Corners in size or potential strength; none approached it in wealth or in the number of trained soldiers it could push to the field, yet it was conquered by a few hundred desperate adventurers quite unaided by native allies such as those thousands who Cortez had found waiting only a leader to rebel against their Aztec overlords in Mexico.
Those “desperate adventurers,” gold-mad Conquistadores, were led by Francisco Pizarro, a Spaniard of scrambled ancestry who was ably abetted by three half-brothers, Hernando, Juan and Gonzalo. Their story, and the story of the empire they pulled down, is related with jagged directness in BROTHERS OF DOOM (Thomas Allen Limited), by Hoffman Birney, whose previous work was the excellent “Ann Carmeny.”
Francisco was with Balboa when that worthy discovered the Pacific; and it was he who placed the discoverer under arrest when the Balboa luck ran out. It was while serving as a mere foot-slogger in Panama that he first heard of the land of the land of the Incas and its fabulous wealth. Years would pass before she was to feel that gold run through his fingers, but pass they did and Peru ran red with blood while he and his cutthroats hacked and thrust at everything five centuries of Incaic civilization had built.
“Many phases of Inca life were quite beyond the comprehension of the Conquistadores,” writes Birney. “Nor can one blame them, for in Peru, from 1100 to 1500 A.D., there was developed and applied socialism in which one may find many of the basic doctrines of Marx, the Hegelian philosophies, some elements of Communism and collectiveness, plus a simon-pure dictatorship – and it worked.”
How much longer it would have worked had Francisco Pizarro not launched his campaign against it in 1532 is of course open to question. It was in decline then but still strong. It had a fighting strength of from 100,000 to 200,000 men. Francisco broke its back with 168 men, 62 of them mounted, three firearms, and less than 20 crossbows.
Audacity and ruthlessness did it. Pizarro’s first clue was to seize the Sapa Inca, the Peruvian Hirohito; then, after this hostage had produced millions in gold to purchase his freedom, he was strangled and a puppet named to succeed him. Resistance in the Land of the Four Corners collapsed. A year later Francisco entered its wondrously wrought capital, Cusco, a city of the unit of monolithic structures, worthy of a place among the wonders of the world.
“The complete surrender of the Peruvian people,” observes Birney, “it is impossible to understand. The race which had created a mighty empire by military prowess, the generals have led armies of 100,000 trained warriors; that race produced no man capable of organizing a revolt and sweeping into the sea the tiny force which had ravished land. As that año triste of 1533 drew to a close there were scarcely 600 Spaniards in all of Peru, and they stood absolutely alone.”
Fought Own People
And, later, those cold-blooded Conquistadors fought among themselves, and killed one another was as much unconcern as they had shown in butchering the natives who opposed them. Of the four Pizarros, only one, Hernando, died a natural death, and that followed a long prison term.
The story of the conquests and looting of Peru is one that is stranger than fiction, and in BROTHERS OF DOOM nothing has been lost in the telling. In fact, Birney writes history in this book in a manner reminiscent of the way Secretary Ickes talks politics. This does not detract from the readability of the work, but with many will compromise its value as a reference book.
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