Speaking truth to power. The conversation between Wilson and Oates concerning actions to take if injured cover the possibility of major injury while on the ice. But what about minor injuries or long standing weaknesses ? There is talk in many of the texts concerning the Terra Nova trip of the underlying weakness of Oates. Cherry-Garrards book has a wonderful foreward by George Seaver in which they discuss an old war wound that Oates had. Oates had previously talked about doing the right thing concerning injuries, but what was the right thing ? Cherry-Garrard describes Oates limping at the top of the Glacier and that Atkinson had told him that Oates had declared that he did not want to carry on. Oates never told Scott and neither did Atkinson and Cherry-Garrard declares that if Scott had of been told he would have sent Oates back and that he would have continued in his place. The condition of Oates is described by Smith in his second book on the trip looking at the life of Oates. Oates records in his own diary that his feet are in bad condition but not the worst in the party. Atkinson knew of his problem with his feet and described it as ‘undue perspiration of the feet’. Smith also describes Oates as having an ‘unfortunate hygiene problem’ and poor circulation. Oates had confided his condition in Atkinson who had also noticed that Oates hands were always cold, signs of poor nutrition and poor circulation. Oates has marched 500 miles, tended the horses diligently and is now walking with a limp and suffering other physical difficulties and his psychological state is in doubt. This information was known within the party and even Wright stated many years later that he thought he was the better man to take forward to the pole.
Scotts journal December 27th 1911. A light wind but a heavy pulling today and the second team had trouble keeping up. They are in the middle of sastrugi and so the sledges are going up and down. They had an accident today in which Bowers broke the thermometer. As the march progressed the surface altered between soft snow and hard ice and that meant more crevasses. Scott notes that they ‘tumbled into crevasses and got jerked about abominably’. Scott comments that he cannot allow his thoughts to wander as the others in the party can, he gets worried when they enter a period of disturbances and bad surfaces, ‘it is monotonous work this’. They covered 13 miles.
Commentary. Smith describes Scott as a man who likes to study human nature and comments on Scotts journal entries to back this up. Smith does state that many of the comments are negative and many were omitted from the published version. I am not so sure. I get a sense that Scotts comments on people are more on their actions rather than motivations or emotional state and the negative comments perhaps say more about Scott than of the people he criticised. He could not accurately judge the state of the men under his command if he was not informed about many of the things that concerned them on the trip. Why was the truth of Oates’s condition not told to Scott ? Atkinson was aware of Scotts moods and also his unapproachable nature and Oates had fallen out with Scott and pride and stubbornness probably played a part in their strained relationship. But what about Scott’s close friend, Wilson ? Why didn’t Wilson speak the truth to Scott ? Why didn’t Scott ask Wilson for a detailed report on the men before sending some back to Cape Evan’s. Speaking truth to power can only happen when power creates the right environments and trusts in the thoughts of others by asking questions that respect their knowledge and opinion. Scott struggled with this, he was a lonely leader who was not afraid to take decisions but I sense he was afraid to ask questions.