It’s 100 years since the British explorer Captain Scott reached the South Pole only to realise his rival Roald Amundsen had just beaten him to it. On the return journey he and his party died, but not before writing about it in journals, thus creating an enduring myth of ‘heroic failure’.
In his ‘Message to the Public’, Scott saw his party’s demise as the result of improvident weather:
“We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last”
Amundsen for his part was typically phlegmatic about his own achievement as contrasted with Scott’s:
“I may say that this is the greatest factor—the way in which the expedition is equipped—the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.”— from The South Pole, by Roald Amundsen
So which was it, luck or judgement? Amundsen clearly didn’t believe in luck. For him it was all down to the planning. This anti-Fatalist stance certainly paid off, but of course it was an appraisal made after the event.
The irony to this little tale is that in 1928 while Amundsen was attempting to rescue another explorer whose air ship had gone missing near the North Pole, his own seaplane went missing. The wreckage was found but Amundsen’s body never was. So which was it this time: bad luck or bad judgement?
- More on Fatalism (Fourcultures)
- Centenary of Captain Scott reaching the South Pole – in pictures (guardian.co.uk)
- Starving and dying for a beer, duo finish South Pole return trip (smh.com.au)