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Trotsky, O. Henry, Tsar Nicholas: Snowden Joins Famous Fugitives

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Trotsky, O. Henry, Tsar Nicholas: Snowden Joins Famous Fugitives

Trotsky, O. Henry, Tsar Nicholas: Snowden Joins Famous Fugitives

Trotsky, O. Henry, Tsar Nicholas: Snowden Joins Famous Fugitives

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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For some famous asylum-seekers, being a fugitive turns out to be a very good thing. For others, no so much. Esquire Magazine's Editor at Large A.J. Jacobs talks to guest host Linda Wertheimer about the trials and tribulations of famous asylum seekers throughout history.


Edward Snowden is the latest in a long list of famous asylum seekers. We've asked our resident know-it-all, A.J. Jacobs, to give us some perspective on other well-known fugitives throughout history. A.J. is the editor-at-large of Esquire magazine. He started his list with O. Henry, whose escape from home worked out fairly well for him.

A.J. JACOBS: Yes, O. Henry - short story writer by day, international criminal by night. O. Henry was about to be put on trial in Louisiana for embezzling from a bank where he worked as a teller. So he fled to Honduras, which turned out to be an excellent career move. Because while in Honduras, he wrote a book in which he coined the term "banana republic," which, as we all know, means a Central American country whose economy depends on retail chain clothing stores. I think.


WERTHEIMER: Of course, of course it does. Edward Snowden - he escaped to Russia, but a long line of dissidents and artists have fled from Russia and sought asylum in the West. Do you have a favorite?

JACOBS: Yes, Leon Trotsky, one of the leaders of the Russian revolution, fled from Russia to avoid arrest by his rival, Josef Stalin. He ended up in Mexico and there he became the victim of one of the weirdest assassinations in history. He was killed by an icepick-wielding communist con man who had become lovers with Trotsky's confidant in order to gain access to Trotsky's inner circle.

WERTHEIMER: That sounds like an awful way to go.

JACOBS: Absolutely. I will say on the upside he had a pretty good exile up until then. He found time to have an affair with the painter Frida Kahlo.

WERTHEIMER: What about Tsar Nicholas II? Did he try to escape after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution?

JACOBS: Yes. Tsar Nicholas tried to seek asylum in Britain. And the British parliament actually was about to grant him asylum, but the king, King George V, vetoed it. And what's interesting is King George V happened to be Nicholas' first cousin. So, as the saying goes, with relatives like that, who needs enemies?

WERTHEIMER: Why did he do that? Do you know?

JACOBS: He was afraid that it would cause a revolution in England as well. So, he said better stay away.

WERTHEIMER: Now, then, of course, we have Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. Most of us remember Imelda Marcos for her shoe collection. But I gather that before they left the Philippines, they gathered up a few more things.

JACOBS: That's right. We've heard about the shoes, but what about the diaper bags? After being overthrown in 1986, the Marcoses fled to asylum in Hawaii. And according to at least one source, agents found several suitcases of gold and diamonds hidden in diaper bags. Now, Imelda would deny this. She has declared that her current net worth is a measly $22 million. And even sadder is that her shoe collection is now in a Philippines museum but the shoes have been attacked by termites. So, it's a tragic story.

WERTHEIMER: The Shah of Iran - now, there's a man who did not have an easy time finding asylum after the Iranian Revolution, even though he was dying of cancer. Where did he finally end up?

JACOBS: Well, he is the record holder for being kicked out of the most countries. He first got asylum in Egypt, and then Morocco, the Bahamas, Mexico of course, the United States for an operation, Panama, Egypt again. So it was like a game of diplomatic hot potato, or hot lamb kabob, perhaps.

WERTHEIMER: So, A.J., do you think we will be compared Edward Snowden to the shah? I mean, he's having a hard time finding a home.

JACOBS: Yeah, well, as far as I understand it, he does have some options in Latin America. So, he will be following in the footsteps of O. Henry and Leon Trotsky.

WERTHEIMER: A.J. Jacobs is an author. He is an editor at Esquire magazine, and he is an occasional know-it-all on our program. Thank you, A.J.

JACOBS: Thank you for having me.

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