Wednesday, 14 December 2011

First Man to the South Pole

A hundred years ago today, on the 14th of December 1912, at 3pm the first man ever (at least the first in recent recorded history) stepped onto the South Pole of Planet Earth. He was called Roald Amundsen, the leader of a Norwegian expedition that bore his name. This wasn't only an expedition, it was a race! Another team, led by an Englishman called Captain Robert Scott, was on the way to the Pole too. Both groups of men travelled speedily through an environment colder and more desolate than any have ever experienced before. Amundsen beat Scott by 5 weeks, which is quite close in terms of the time-scales of the expeditions. Amundsen returned home in triumph while Scott's men, already on their last legs, attempted to escape to their base camp, but cold, exhaustion and hunger stopped them and they sadly perished.

Since then Captain Scott's expedition has become more famous by far than Amundsen's. Surveys show time and time again that more people can name Scott, the loser of the race than Amundsen, the winner. This is interesting in terms of how we judge social values. It seems that a very heroic failure can in a sense be a victory. Scott kept a record of his travels and it reveals a story of immense human courage and dignity. I have a copy of the published diary and there's not one hint of self-pity or bitterness anywhere in the pages. Lawrence Oates, a member of the team who was too sick to walk, committed suicide so that his comrades would not be burdened with carrying him.

I take heart from this observation; it flies in the face of a lot of the propaganda we've been fed about the benefits of practical, ruthless nihilism and social Darwinism, see:

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