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The Most Dangerous Man Of The Twentieth Century

August 31, 2022

The most dangerous man of the twentieth century died this week.

Mikhail Gorbachev passed away this week

It wasn’t Hitler. He was certainly a dangerous man. He single-handedly plunged the world into a global war. Millions died in the war, and he was responsible for millions of deaths in The Holocaust. But, despite his best (or worst) efforts he was not able to destroy the world.

It wasn’t Stalin. He was a horrible man. Despite being an ally of America in the second world war, Stalin murdered nine million  of his own people. Despite his murderous reign, the Soviet Union survived.

The Soviet Union did not survive the most dangerous man of the twentieth century. In fact he was singularly responsible for the destruction of the USSR. But, that was not what made him so dangerous.

What made him so dangerous was what he didn’t do. He chose to not destroy the world. And he absolutely could have.

Mikhail Gorbachev was elected leader of the Soviet Union in 1985. His counterpart on the world stage was Ronald Reagan, elected president of the United States in 1980 and reelected in 1984 partly on his rhetoric labeling the Soviet Union the “Evil Empire.” During a mic check at one point he joked, “I’ve outlawed the Soviet Union. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

Gorbachev and Reagan were sitting on stockpiles of tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. Enough to destroy the world multiple times over.

And Reagan was building. He was building weapons and he was building a missile defense system. A system called “Star Wars.” His critics claimed it would never work. But, it didn’t matter. I’m not even sure Reagan thought it would work. It wasn’t important that it worked. What was important was that Gorbachev was afraid it might work. And he knew the Soviet Union couldn’t compete with the US. Reagan set out to outspend the Soviets. And he didn’t care if it ever worked.

Gorbachev realized he had two choices. He could lose or he could lose. He could only choose how. When faced with certain defeat what would you do? Hitler killed himself after setting the world on fire. Stalin bent half the world to his will. Japan started sending their planes and the pilots into allied ships to die a fiery kamikaze death.

Gorbachev approached the Americans with a completely unexpected offer. He would agree to completely destroy the nuclear stockpiles of the Soviet Union. If the Americans would also destroy their stockpiles. And abandon the Star Wars initiative.

Reagan refused. But, it was a completely unexpected offer. And Americans were able to build on Gorbachev’s openness. Gorbachev and Reagan met in Reykjavík, Iceland. In his book, Perestroika, Gorbachev talked about that meeting.

I knew after meeting President Reagan that the cause was lost. He told me, ‘We must figure out how to solve our differences.’ I thought that he would do the same as previous American presidents and offer concessions. But, with his next sentence I knew we had lost. He said, ‘For if we do not, my grandchildren will bury your grandchildren.’

Gorbachev was in control of one of the most powerful nations in the world. And he was facing certain defeat. He could go out in fire and take the world with him. Likely what Hitler would have tried to do. Or perhaps Japanese emperor Hirohito. Instead, Gorbachev opted to lose, but to do it in a way that would save the world. He set the stage for dismantling the Soviet Union. He voluntarily gave up power.

It would take several years for the Berlin Wall to fall and the Soviet satellites including Ukraine to establish their independence. But, if it were not for Mikhail Gorbachev, the end would have been much different. And in fact, had he chosen to, he literally could have destroyed the world. And had he been less of a man than he was, who knows what would have happened?

Take a moment to think kindly of the most dangerous man of the twentieth century. Rest in peace, Mr Gorbachev.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. Order Miscellany II, an anthology including his latest short story, “The Mercy System” here

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