Apr 15, 2007
You would think the Nazis' military regime was so grotesque that there wouldn't be the need to create any myths -- reality was hard enough to comprehend. Not so. Conspiracy theorists for years have connected the Nazis to everything from UFO sightings to anti-gravity technology (http://pesn.com/2005/11/16/9600203_New_Nazi_Bell/). One particularly persistent myth -- that the Nazis established a secret base in Antarctica (http://www.beyondweird.com/ufos/Branton_The_Omega_File_Part_2_Nazi_Bases_In_Antarctica.html) -- is now the subject of a peer reviewed scientific paper...to debunk the entire idea.
Nature discusses (http://www.nature.com/news/2007/070326/full/070326-14.html)the recently published article, "Hitler's Antarctic base: the myth and the reality," about the fascinating effort of scientists to disprove a longstanding conspiracy theory:
Using documentary evidence and first-hand experience of Antarctica, Colin Summerhayes of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, UK, and Toronto-based Peter Beeching puncture every last bit of the story.
To give just a few of their points: the Germans' pre-war visit to Antarctica, concerned mainly with establishing a whaling base, was fleeting, never spending more than a day on the ice shelf. The wartime British force in Antarctica was tiny, and concerned mainly with observation and securing territorial claims to the islands around the Falklands.
The U-boats were in the southern ocean during the Antarctic winter, when the pack ice would have made it impossible for them to reach the coast. The US atomic tests in the 1950s took place around Tristan da Cunha, thousands of kilometres from Antarctica.
It doesn't help that the various conspiracists haven't got their story straight. The proposed location for the Nazi base (often a cavern under the ice) has wandered around over most of the Norwegian Antarctic territory of Dronning Maud Land. And it's not agreed whether the submarines were carrying Hitler himself, or just his ashes.
Taking 21 peer-reviewed pages to address this looks like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The story ends up being indulged and damned simultaneously, in the same way that highbrow papers report celebrity goings-on by harrumphing over the lowbrow media's obsession with them (a situation which, I confess, sounds mildly familiar).
And Summerhayes and Beeching face the problem of all scientists trying to engage with unreason. If the people advancing this kind of stuff — one of whom was recently jailed for holocaust denial — cared about the evidence, they wouldn't be where they are in the first place.