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tv history - nuff said
on 17 January 2016
Released on the back of a major BBC series, at a time before such things were hidden away on BBC4, the lavish production of both book and film tends to obscure the fact that this is little more than a retelling of earlier accounts, with the odd sententious observation thrown in by Wood to remind you that he's there. There is absolutely no attempt to substantiate numbers, for example - whether of armies, populations, or casualties - and the probably much-inflated figures in the sources are taken at face value. The text is full of vague 'could have been', 'must surely have been' assertions.
As is now usual in such cases, Wood affects an objective relativism which tends if anything to extenuate the faults of the conquered peoples, play up those of the Europeans and minimise the incredible daring which, for better or worse, was needed to pull this thing off (if we think that a couple of cannon and a few horses guaranteed the Spanish victory we are misusing hindsight). But an arrogantly Eurocentric comment like 'our post-religious age' gives the game away. What purports to be relativism is usually just an equal disdain for the attitudes of both parties concerned; it's certainly not a genuine belief that they have equal validity with those of the writer. We can sympathise now with the Aztecs and their horrifying ways, dishonestly making the Spanish look bad by comparison (for example by talking as if they deliberately introduced the diseases which devastated native populations), because they have been comfortably consigned to history's scrap heap.