turn Indian rebellion against Aztec rule into civil war and revolution. Although Spanish arms are traditionally credited with the conquest of Mexico and the Az- tec empire, it is clear that Indians defeated Indians, with Spaniards the benefici- ary of the result. 5
Spaniards could gather the fruits of civil war and military victory in part because of European technology, which was even more frightening than it was lethal, and native American theology, which foretold conquest of Mexico by strangers from the East.6 But the chief factor in Spanish rule was not weaponry but disease. Typhoid, smallpox, measles, and other diseases endemic among Europeans simply destroyed the native population in less than a century, leaving only a million disorganized, demoralized survivors by 1600, when France and England began to establish permanent footholds on the North American conti- nent. Without natural resistance to disease, the native American succumbed not to muskets and armored cavalry, but to conversation and kisses.7
Geography completed the real imperial system of New Spain, in which or- ganized armed force would play a surprisingly limited role. The incredible silver deposits at Potosi, Zacatecas, and Guanajuato were dug out by a dying native population, incapable of resistance, and soon by Africans as well. 8 This great Mexican treasure house and charnel house was secured by vast deserts to the northward, by the inaccessibility of its western flank, and by the deadly diseases of the Caribbean coast and the constricted eastern routes to the interior. Ve- racruz, guarded by San Juan de Ulloa and a small regular garrison, thus blocked access to thousands of square miles of Mexico. More difficult was securing the line of supply and communication to Old Spain. Prevailing winds pushed silver- laden convoys through the Florida channel, and long before France or England could colonize the continent the fortresses of Havana and St. Augustine guarded the one point at which New Spain was truly vulnerable. On the mainland, along a frontier looking northward from St. Augustine, the courage and dedication of Franciscan monks did more than soldiers to bring the Indian tribes of that area under effective Spanish control. 9
On the eve of permanent French and English colonization of North Amer- ica, military organization as such played so little part in New Spain that standard histories barely mention the military aspect of Spanish rule.10 Militia existed, but more in name than in fact; the people were not armed. As long as Veracruz, Acapulco on the west coast, Havana, and St. Augustine could be held (or quickly retaken), and as long as a huge annal convoy could be assembled, New Spain could not be threatened in any serious way. Violence, or the threat thereof, read- ily controlled the native and African labor force; institutionalized armed force, however, was simply not important in New Spain before the eighteenth cen- tury. 11
New France, in its military aspect, stands in stark contrast to New Spain.