Resources - The key to just about everything!
The Greeks recognized early on the danger of adding a resource ingredient to the political mix, if the legend of King Midas or Jason and the Argonauts is any indication. Gold was the metal chosen in both cases. If it was classified as a metal, like iron or copper, it had been endowed with mythical powers, recognized far beyond the world of metals or resources. Perhaps only gold had the power to transform an ordinary sheepskin into a symbol worthy of Jason's quest. Top billing in a story is one thing, being taken seriously by history is another.
Resources have been participants in many of history's great events. The Spanish Armada would never have been built without wood. The Roman legions would have found construction of their bridges and aqueducts almost impossible without concrete. Armies, ancient and modern, found iron to be one of the most adaptable tools of war. Whatever their contribution however, resources have been regarded as mere spectators. It is not that they been totally ignored. Mining, mineral exploration, and manufacturing have histories of their own. Yet, in a world focused on spectacular catastrophes and ambitious individuals, resources could contribute only a motive for action or a sense of mystery. Was the legend of the Lost Dutchman Mine important because a particular vein of ore could not be located or was it important because what was lost was a gold mine? Pirate attacks on the Spanish Main might shed light on naval tactics, but they gained a certain credibility and interest when the bloodthirsty pirates were motivated by a lust for gold and treasure.
The very fact that gold would be chosen over iron or copper, when it was necessary to add interest to a story, was itself symptomatic of an "image problem" for resources. Iron, copper, or wood might have greater utility and wider use, but when it came to representing metals, gold was likely to be chosen for its spectacular qualities. History and storytelling demanded, if not action, at least something to add interest. In that context, the asteroid which wiped out the dinosaurs was more significant than the erosive forces which created the Grand Canyon. Alexander the Great was measured by his conquest of Persia, Hannibal is remembered for crossing the Alps to invade Italy, and Napoleon is associated forever with his invasion of Russia (and his defeat at Waterloo). The First and Second World Wars are regarded as the most significant events of the Twentieth Century, if history book numbers are any indication. Ancient societies found ordinary life mundane and dreamed of the possibility of immortality. When immortality proved unexciting, they imagined their heroes and gods undertaking great adventures. Gilgamesh would challenge the gods and Prometheus would steal fire from them. When immortal beings tired of adventure however, they often longed for the mundane experiences enjoyed by mortals. Zeus got in trouble with Hera for wooing earthly women.
Without Apparent Motive
Nations and peoples have been fighting over resources almost, it seems, since the beginning of recorded history. At the same time, history often downplays the resource role, when it comes to motivation. While it might acknowledge that the lust for gold played a part in the conquest of Central and South America and in the exploration of the American Southwest, it would find it difficult to discount the personal ambition of Cortes or Pizarro or to distinguish the lust for gold from a general desire for power or fame. Resources in their various forms, with the promise of wealth, have served as a motivator throughout history. Merchants ventured into the deserts and crossed the mountains of Asia along the Silk Road to bring cloth back from China. The riches promised by the spice trade would lure Portugal, Holland, and England to the Indian and Pacific oceans
History may acknowledge a role for economics in political activities, when those motives are obvious. It may even acknowledge a place for resources, in the more aggressive commercial activities of nations. New World gold transformed Spain into a major military power in Europe. Athens, in the Fifth Century B.C. began her climb to power with a silver strike in a played-out mining district. France and Germany battled over the iron ore of Alsace Lorraine. Oil lured Germany into the Balkans in World War II and the oil fields of the Middle East have served as a magnet for the nations of the world.