If there is one thing we can learn from history, it’s that people do not learn from history. Over and over we see the same stories unfold; the date, place and people involved vary, but the essence remains unchanged. The same mistakes are constantly being made, and little is done to prevent them. It almost seems that such things are set in stone. Revolutions are always started by hungry masses, prohibition causes more crime than what it forbids ever could, ineptitude of those in power brings down a whole civilization, and people will stab their friends in the back if given enough time and motivation to do so.
All of us already know these stories, yet few people do anything to avoid these familiar scenarios. We are entering a dangerous era; thousands, if not millions, think that the end of times is near. Some people think that it will come in 2012 while others believe it will come when some sort of prophecy is fulfilled. Regardless of what instigates this delusion, the people who believe in these sorts of things are dangerous because they can turn their fantasies into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Individually, they normally cannot do much harm, but when there is a mass of these individuals they turn dangerous. When one of these fanatics gains power, its even worse than having a group of them because leaders wield the fate of the civilization in their hands.
A single foul decision on their part has the potential to ruin an entire culture. It has happened many times before, but one of the most prominent examples is the downfall of the Aztec Empire. Officially, the Empire fell on August 13th 1521, but its fate was sealed many years beforehand.
It was the year 1502 when after the death of Ahuízotl, the former Emperor of the Aztecs, Moctezuma Xocoyotzin was chosen as the new successor. Not much is known about this ruler; depending on where you look, you can either find him to be an incompetent fool (the Florentine Codex), or an avid administrator with a knack for war. Nonetheless, what most sources agree on is that he was a highly religious man who heeded prophecies as if they were true.
The Durán Codex states that ten years prior to the coming of the Spaniards, eight events occurred that were taken as omens of the downfall of the civilization. According to the legend, the eight events were as follows:
- A shooting star, which was referred to as a column of fire, appeared in the night sky all of a sudden.
- The temple of Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, was set on fire and no matter what the natives did, the flames wouldn’t stop.
- A bolt of lightning fell on top of the temple of Xiuhtecuhtli, the lord of fire, but no thunder was heard afterwards.
- A “bolt of fire in three parts divided” crossed the sky from east to west and it made a sound similar to bells.
- The water in the lake surrounding the city of Tenochtitlan started boiling and part of the city got flooded (floods weren’t uncommon, the last ruler had died because of one of those floods, and Mesoamerica is a highly volcanic region).
- A woman wept for her children in the middle of the night, and she was worried about their future.
An animal, similar to a crane, was hunted and in its eyes Moctezuma saw men riding hornless deer waging war to all who crossed their paths.
Odd people with one body and two heads went to see Moctezuma (this sounds strange but considering that he had a zoo where odd humans were housed this is easily explained).
Even if we discard all the plainly impossible ones, we still have plenty to go on. Most cultures, at one point or another, have given certain mystique to astronomical events. Constantine the Great, for example, saw a meteor as a sign of divine intervention at the deciding battle in his lifetime, which ended up creating the religious demographic we all know and love.
After ten years worth of omens, 500 Spaniards and thirteen horses turn up in the Yucatan Peninsula. A previous Spaniard expedition had already been seen two years before but never in such numbers.
Obviously, everyone was baffled by their strange appearance; some sources even claim that at least a few of the inhabitants, and later even Moctezuma himself, thought they were gods because of this. However, this has already been put into the area of myth by various historians. Nonetheless, the news of the arrival of these strange men quickly reached the ears of Moctezuma.
The Emperor sent an envoy immediately to ascertain the true facts behind the rumours he heard in the capital and to give a few gifts to placate the visitors. Obviously, this technique worked about as well as telling a five year old to not get near the candy box while giving him a single sweet. Before long Cortés, the Spaniard’s leader, marched to Tenochtitlan, the Aztec’s capital.
On the way, Moctezuma didn’t do anything to stop them. He merely kept sending them gifts. He even continued to do so when they allied themselves with the Tlaxcalteca, which were their long standing enemies. The omens had played their role in weakening Moctezuma’s resolve to fight, and after a long series of events, Moctezuma was stoned to death by his own people. However, it was too late – the damage had been done. In the end, a little over a thousand Spaniards managed to conquer a warrior nation of over 25 million people. The numbers just baffle the mind, and it wasn’t superior weaponry either, since some of the cultures which defended themselves lasted over a century. What it all boils down to was the inability of the emperor. If he hadn’t been a staunchly religious man history would be a lot different nowadays.
Delusions lead to bad decisions and bad decisions create bad leaders. So, no matter in what country you live in, if you have a say about who governs the country, do not support people just because they’re charismatic, or they’re the party you always vote for. Choose people because they are competent and do not have dangerous delusions, because with power delusions become a reality. It is said that religions prophesies the end of the world and then consistently work together to ensure that these prophecies come true. The real problem, however, is that we have allowed ourselves to get dragged into this situation. Tyrants and religious leaders only have power because the people allow them to have it. The question then is: Will you allow history to repeat itself?
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