When Franklin Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882—132 years ago today—it might reasonably have been assumed that he was destined for success. The child of privilege, Roosevelt would have entree into the best schools and firms of his choosing. But the impact he would have on the 20th century was unimaginable.
In July 1955, a decade after his death, Isaiah Berlin wrote in The Atlantic about what Roosevelt meant to a young man growing up in Britain during the Depression.
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These days, air travel is anything but sexy. TSA pat-downs, inflatable neck pillows, reruns of CBS sitcoms—it can get pretty grim at 35,000 feet.
There was a time, however, when flying was both the literal and figurative height of sexiness. “The good old days,” Mark Gerchick calls them wryly in the January/February Atlantic. “When travelers were ‘mad men’ and flight attendants were ‘sexy stews,’ when the ‘sex sells seats’ mantra drove some carriers to adorn ‘trolley dollies’ in hot pants and go-go boots.”
While air travel ads printed in The Atlantic in those days were a little more… buttoned up (than, say, this 1972 Southwest Airlines commercial), it’s clear the “sexy skies” gimmick was an advertising boon. The campaigns were wildly misogynistic, hopelessly fantastical, and maybe a little bit racist. But sell seats they did, from Narita to O’Hare.
A “classic” essay, republished today by The Awl.
Throughout her 105-year life span, Soong Mei-ling never held elected office or any official government position. Yet few individuals exerted a bigger influence on 20th century Chinese history. As the wife of Chiang Kai-Shek, the man who ruled the Republic of China for nearly a half-century—first on the mainland and then in Taiwan—Soong served as a vital liaison between her country and the United States—a role she was uniquely suited for.
Born into a prosperous Shanghai family in 1898, Soong spent much of her childhood and early adulthood in the United States, where she attended boarding school in Georgia and later studied at Wellesley. Following her return to China, Soong eventually married Chiang, a military general who had assumed leadership Republic of China in 1927 following the death of the Republic’s founder, Sun Yat-sen. Beautiful, Christian, and fluent in English, Madame Chiang compensated for a husband, who, despite great military prowess, was relatively provincial and unsophisticated.
Sino-American relations came to a head during the second World War, when the two sides fought together against Japan. Yet despite their common enemy, China and the United States were uneasy allies; China felt that the U.S. devoted insufficient resources to their cause, while in Washington the Roosevelt Administration distrusted the corrupt and ineffectual Chiang. During these years, Madame Chiang served as a translator and spokesman for her husband, whose tempestuous relationship with the American General Joseph Stilwell threatened the effectiveness of the alliance.
But her greatest influence would occur outside of China. In order to shore up American support for the Chinese cause, Madame Chiang barnstormed the U.S. during the 1940s, charming Americans with her excellent, Southern-accented English and oratorical skill. Madame Chiang’s tour brought her to the pages of The Atlantic, where in the May 1942 issue she penned an article entitled “China Emergent.”
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A previous decade called. It would like its cause back.
The Atlantic was founded in 1857 as “a magazine of literature, art, and politics” devoted to the abolitionist cause. In the spirit of that tradition, African-American writers and intellectuals such as Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, and Martin Luther King Jr. have appeared in its pages through the years, offering distinctive answers to the same question: How can America promise “liberty and equality for all” without ending racial discrimination?
On this day in 1963, more than 200,000 people marched in Washington, D.C. with that question in mind. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of that march, we’re revisiting the articles written by four American icons who helped lead the country toward that historic moment.
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From The Atlantic archives: a detailed account of Nat Turner’s slave rebellion from Thomas Wentworth Higginson.
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A colorful 1974 account shows how the 37th president set elaborate verbal traps for his closest allies.
Happy 76th Birthday, Hunter S. Thompson!
The journalist and gonzo innovator died in 2005. In honor of his birthday, here is a collection of stories from The Atlantic’s archives.
- He Was a Crook (June 1994) - On the passing of Richard Nixon, Thompson looked back on the man who became his arch-nemesis:
"Richard Nixon is gone now, and I am poorer for it. He was the real thing—a political monster straight out of Grendel and a very dangerous enemy. He could shake your hand and stab you in the back at the same time."
- Writing on the Wall (August 1997) - Matthew Hahn sat down with Thompson to interview him about politics, Bill Clinton, Nixon and his style of journalism. He ended up getting that, plus whiskey and orders to read aloud some of Thompson’s work:
"Aw, man. I drank this like some sort of sacrament for—I mean, constantly—for I think fifteen years. No wonder people looked at me funny. No offense. This is what I drank, and I insisted on it and I drank it constantly and I liked it. Jesus."
- Hunter S. Thompson Applies for a Job (October 2010) - Most people try to present themselves with tact and courtesy in a job application. In 1958, Thompson wrote to the Vancouver Sun in a letter that did the opposite:
”As far as I’m concerned, it’s a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity.”
- The Hunter S. Thompson You Don’t Know (July 2011) - Although Thompson is remembered as a larger-than-life personality, Hampton Stevens argues that it’s his writing that should hold the fame.
[Image: Michael Ochs/Getty Images Archives]