History is written by the victors. Don’t believe me? Break out that 100 ruble stamp, and write a letter to Mikhail Gorbachev, he’ll tell you.
20 years after the Cold War, you’d think only guys named Ronald played parts in its closing act. Sure, Reagan and McDonald had speaking roles, but Mikhail Gorbachev is the tragic hero in the Cold War’s final stanza.
In 1985, an amazing thing happened: Mikhail Gorbachev rose to succeed Konstantin Chernenko as General Secretary of the U.S.S.R. They say children danced in the streets, but I think that was more to do with Tears For Fears. For the first time in its history, the Soviet Union was not being led by a blood thirsty, maniacal tyrant, who all told were responsible for ~50 million deaths.
Unlike his predecessors and others in the Politburo, Gorbachev knew that the Soviet machine was broken. Its centrally planned economy, which had kept pace with the West through the 1970s, was now quickly being left behind by the West’s technological revolution.
1985: A Tale of Two Spheres:
In 1985, the U.S.S.R imported 17.9 million tonnes of grain to avoid starvation. You may remember Steve Jobs’ Macintosh was spreading like locust through the West right about then.
In 1985, as thousands of prisoners languished in Stalin-era labor camps, Bill Gates and a legion of other Silicon Valley innovators were minting millions for themselves and their shareholders.
In 1985, Larry King opened his 1st season for the fledging CNN network. Meanwhile, in the U.S.S.R, there was no independent media, no right of assembly, and criticism of the government was strictly forbidden.
In 1985, the supercomputers of the West were networked together by a new fangled TCP/IP protocol. In the U.S.S.R., the only comparable network was one of the informants and spies of the KGB, a secret police force that operated with absolute authority and outside any judicial process.
The Iron Curtain’s Rust
Yet, as ferrous as the Iron Curtain was, it had rusted to the point of no return and the end coming quick. On December 25, 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev announced to the world, via a live CNN feed filmed from within the walls of the Kremlin, that he was resigning his position as President of the Soviet Union, dissolving the last vestiges of the U.S.S.R.
In the span of 6 years, Gorbachev took a U.S.S.R. heading squarely into the side of a cliff, and crash landed it as the fledgling, but ultimately ineffectual, C.I.S. He opened the valve of liberalization with Glasnost and Perestroika, which brought the McDonald’s clown to Eastern Europe. When the Baltics declared independence, Gorby could have released the Kraken, but he didn’t.
Look, I’m not saying he should get a ticker-tape parade, but just a little bit of love for a real good man. People remember Gorbachev being ‘that guy with the birthmark on his head?’. Sadly, Gorbachev has been long forgotten by the world with rumors swirling that he can be spotted moping about the outside of the Kremlin gates, posing with tourists and doing his best Eduard Shevardnadze impression.
But let’s not get too excited, he’s not batting in Mandela’s division, maybe more like F.W De Klerk‘s. Even Gorbachev admits it wasn’t his aim to end the Soviet Union, but rather, to modernize it and bring about a form of Leninism fit for the 20th century. Yet Gorbachev’s reforms were snowflakes that unleashed an avalanche. In 6 years, it consumed the entire Eastern sphere; relegating the Cold War, the Soviet Union, and sadly even Gorbachev, to history’s dustbin.
By the time the CNN cameras had shut off, memory of Gorbachev melted away. No phone calls from world leaders, no words from Yeltsin, and even his address wasn’t printed by the newly freed Russian media. By the next day, Yeltsin had moved to expel Gorbachev from his government dacha, and personally saw Gorbachev’s office emptied into a hallway.
Gorbachev, the man with a birth mark shaped like the Korean Peninsula, and who even in his demise chose not to revert to the atrocities of the past, was forgotten.
The Forgotten Gorbachev Legacy
Today, the term ‘Reformer’ has become a bad joke; bastardized as its dropped on everyone from Ron Paul to T. Boone Pickens. We may have won the Cold War, but 20 years on, as our moribund system collapses under its own intertia, Mikhail Gorbachev gives us hope, that no matter the entrenched ideology, it only takes one man with the courage and will to bring about a revolution. While Ronald Reagan is often credited with winning the Cold War, let us never forget the legacy of Mikhail Gorbachev, without whom the world would have continued to be gripped by the icy hands of the Cold War.
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