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Sometimes You May Hit an Empty Jackpot



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Sometimes the most coveted things prove useless once people get them, either because the really worthwhile thing about coveting something was the desire itself, but not the object; and sometimes the problem lies in the fact that people believe untrue things about what they covet and want.

At the end of the eighteenth century, the Spanish empire was crumbling: its monarchy was only a ghost of what it used to be the biggest superpower that the world ever knew, surpassing indeed the United States, the Soviet Union or Rome. Spain really managed to conquer a respectable chunk of the world, and the sun never set in their dominions, literally. But all good things must come to an end, and Spain was diving into a decadence that only could be reverted after the death of General Franco, in 1975. It took them a while and quite a lot of wars - including a civil one - to get their act together; at the turn of the century the Spanish monarchs were despised by their own people so much that even Goya portrayed them and their families as mentally retarded individuals, with pretty stupid faces included.

On the other hand, Napoleon was beginning to show his intentions towards Europe and the British were beginning to fight against him in earnest. Then, the French invaded Spain and the remaining 'free' countries of Europe declared that Spain was their enemy because the French Emperor put one of his good friends in the throne, in Madrid. No matter that the Spaniards go so upset about the fact that they began fighting the French army with such dedication and proficiency that the guerrillas there required the presence of half the manpower that Napoleon could deploy. Of course, others with the British at the helm were just trying to use the situation as an excuse to fetch whatever they could from Spain at her weakest moment: no one called back them the Germans traitors and allied with the French even after Napoleon wiped them out in his way to Russia, neither were the Russians considered collaborators at the time when Napoleon entered Moscow. It is only reasonable to expect that an invader would place a puppet.

The thing was that neither the Germans nor the Russians had anything that could be considered valuable for the British and others: Russia is too cold, and beer was not yet fashionable in London. But it seemed that the bankrupt Spaniards - no one knew that then - had a lot to give, voluntarily or not, or so people thought. The first thing that the Brits tried to grab for themselves was the captured Spanish - sorry, 'partnered with the French' - navy. Their order of battle seemed quite impressive, especially a ship called 'Santisima Trinidad,' which had more cannons than any other ship in the world. But the tactics used by Lord Nelson at Trafalgar, while assuring a spectacular victory for the Royal British Navy, also caused the obliteration of almost everything that the French could put to float in the area. Moreover: the Spanish ships were ageing and without proper maintenance: they were creaky, obsolete, slow and manned by inexperienced crews. Most of those ships were also seriously damaged during the battle, and the Santisima Trinidad sunk miserably short after being captured. Almost nothing could be salvaged and what was left was of little military value.

Then, the British went to South Africa and captured the Dutch colonies there and felt so enthusiastic about the whole thing that they decided to cross the Atlantic and invade South America, just to spend their gunpowder leftovers. Unexplainably, the locals at Buenos Aires fought so hard against them that they threw the whole task force back into the water: there was only a small military garrison there and almost the whole job was done by neighbours who had no idea whatsoever on what a rifle could do or what side of the a pistol's muzzle was the safest one. Event today people wonder there how their ancestors could pull out something like that. Then the British came back with more troops and cannons: they met a similar fate and the prize that they intended to get, their easy bounty, proved too much and the seasoned regiments - including one of Royal Guards that lost its regimental flag then and there - got their butts kicked twice by amateurs. This fact gave everyone a lot to think about, because no one could explain what happened. Imagine your average nerd sending a professional boxer to the emergency ward twice, and you will get the idea.

But no one gained anything, again: after that unexpected and unwarranted demonstration of fighting talent, the people of Buenos Aires decided that they were also fed up with the Spaniards so a few years later they declared independence and thought also that they didn't like the idea of Spain keeping any kind of presence in the neighbourhood: thus, enthusiastically they went on to pester just anybody else around by crossing the Andes, invading Chile, what is now Bolivia, then Peru and then Ecuador. And when everyone thought that twenty years of constant warfare could reasonably have been enough to calm spirits, they turned their heads to Brazil and utterly destroyed the army, navy, cities and whatever seemed to belong to their neighbours.

The Brazilians tried to invade Argentina too, of course, but they were so unlucky that one of their ships got bombarded and damaged with cheese - there were no more cannonballs left, it seems -, and many soldiers died because the gunpowder that they carried in their backpacks often exploded spontaneously. They also lost their best ship, captured by the Argentineans who couldn't make good use of it either; instead, it was left to decay in the middle of a river and was used for a couple of decades afterwards as a shelter to protect settlers against Indian raids.

But was that enough? No. Was that for anything good? Neither: the country, now Argentina, got its first dictator as the rest of its 'strategists' were busy shooting anything that moved. He was a good fellow who had an estancia: Don Juan Manuel de Rosas, and liked to torture and decapitate his enemies after lunch. This lad was such a nice butcher that even Charles Darwin choose to sail further south to meet the Indians of Tierra del Fuego who, despite being cannibals in some cases, were more amenable. Of course, as people should have expected, Mr. Rosas died happily exiled in Britain a few years after, after writing several letters to the man who ousted him and inviting his whole family to a tranquil life in the English countryside. General Urquiza, - you guessed, he ousted the other one - choose to stay, and got murdered.

And lastly, there is a catch: today a lot of people in Argentina think that it was probably unfortunate not to let the British get the former colonies there and wonder how on Earth could their ancestors do so well almost the only thing done with dedication in the country when it was needed the least, and how the British, who won almost every war they fought, lost so miserably at the hands of a mob that should have been as disorganised and stupid as any government that the country experienced ever since.




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