Froma Harrop commentary: 2 stories of survival: A century and world apart – West Central Tribune

It seems timely that the remains of the Endurance, a ship symbolic of humans’ ability to persevere in the harshest environments, was just found where it sunk 106 years ago, off Antarctica. The 28 men who had boarded it in London wandered the frozen wilderness for nearly two years. Miraculously, all survived.
It may be indecent to make too much of a parallel between that tale of bravery and the story of Ukrainians fighting week after week against vicious Russian attack. The Endurance crew were explorers and scientists who volunteered for an exciting mission to explore the ice cap at the South Pole. Ukraine’s people never asked to undertake the suffering under Russian President Vladimir Putin’s cruel and insane campaign. But as Ukrainians die in the thousands, they show no signs of ending their resistance.
What both narratives have in common — in addition to the blessing of personal courage and determination to carry on — is extraordinary leadership. There are books written about Captain Ernest Shackleton’s skill at shepherding the Endurance’s passengers through many months exposed in the coldest, windiest region on earth. They were forced to eat mostly penguins, as well as their beloved sled dogs.
For several months after the Endurance got stuck in ice, the crew could return to the ship for supplies and shelter. But then the ship went down, virtually forcing the men onto a drifting ice floe. They eventually took life boats to Elephant Island, an outcropping of desolate rock. A handful then sailed for help on a tiny wooden open boat. With the most primitive equipment, they navigated 800 nautical miles through famously treacherous waters to an outpost in South Georgia, a lonely island in the South Atlantic.
Books are surely being written about the leadership skills of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He has roused his people to battle the invaders until the end, while putting himself in grave personal danger. His most famous quote was that directed to the U.S. government after it offered him safe escape from the capital, Kyiv. “The fight is here,” he said. “I need ammunition, not a ride.”
This show of steely resolve by Zelensky and his compatriots drew other countries into the mission of saving Ukraine. And that nearly global support may have changed the course of the war.
Early on, some marveled that a former comedian could transform himself into a Churchillian war president. Perhaps, though, that’s part of Zelensky’s strength. Shackleton was also a performer — a savvy fundraiser who sold the rights to his story before the ship set off.
Of course, there was an immense difference in the two leaders’ ability to communicate with the outside world. Every minute, scenes of the horror in Ukraine can reach most of the world’s TV screens. Antarctica was totally cut off from civilization. Though twice the size of Australia, no human had reportedly set eyes on the continent until 1820.
In addition, the explosion set off by World War I extinguished most interest in the fate of the Imperial Trans-Antarctica Expedition.
I send Alfred Lansing’s book, “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage,” to friends undergoing medical trauma. It offers an inspirational reminder that people can ride out terrible odds.
As the Endurance went down, “there was no sign of fear or even apprehension” among its former passengers, Lansing wrote. Interviews with the valiant Ukrainians fighting the Russian assault likewise include reports of their fear going away. Perhaps the dimming of terror reflects glimmers of hope amid the nobility of enduring such hardship.
This month, another team of explorers located Shackleton’s three-masted ship at the bottom of the Weddell Sea. Its name in brass letters, “Endurance,” shined in the glow of their searchlights.
Froma Harrop can be reached at or on Twitter @FromaHarrop .