Who was the first to set foot on both Poles, North and South?
Textbooks teach us it was the Norwegian Roald Amundsen. And history does not deny that, although it tells a somewhat different story.
As for the North Pole, there were quite a number of cheating contenders. For the South Pole, to this day, some still argue about who really deserved the honour.
It’s 1911, supposedly during the heydays of the British Empire. But is it really? A cold, nationalist wind blows over Europe and beyond, even reaching Japan in the Far East.
It bodes ill tidings for the Empire.
Right after the turn of the century, in 1901, Victoria, by the Grace of God, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, Defender of the Faith and Empress of India passes away.
And other nations are waiting in the wings to claim their part, like dogs pulling at their leash.
The German Kaiser is building a fleet that challenges the Union Jack’s supremacy at sea. The Balkan and Russia seem to be unstable.
We are on the brink of the First World War.
The British have learned valuable lessons about counterinsurgency techniques at the expense of the Boers in Southern Africa, but all of that will come to no avail when the colonies, one after a another, tear away from the motherland.
Maybe it’s like the end of summer, just before autumn sets in: the days are still bright with sunshine, but the evenings and mornings are cool, the nights are cold.
And so it is with the Empire.
Captain Scott and his men want to shine, for the Empire, for science and for their own, personal, eternal glory.
Yes, they carried out scientific experiments before giving themselves over to the mad chase for the pole.
Yes, they were still hauling a lot of stuff along in their ill-fated return from the pole, stuff they should have abandoned in order to save themselves.
And again yes, Amundsen beat them to the pole by five weeks.
He beat them, not by one day or just by a couple of days, but by five weeks.
And still the British felt that Amundsen had been so ‘unsporting’ as to beat their hero, that he had stolen the trophy that rightfully should’ve been theirs.
The mindset of the citizen of a superpower is full of blind spots, sheltering him or her from anything that might blemish the feeling of supremacy, as if protected within a bubble.
There is only one perspective: theirs.
Just like the Americans from the USA after them, the British succumbed to this fallacy.
That dying is everything but glorious they had yet to learn in the years to come.