War Scare: Russia and America on the Nuclear Brink

By Peter Vincent Pry | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
Gorbachev at 20,000 Feet,
August 4, 1991

High above the Ukrainian steppes, Mikhail Gorbachev peered through the window of his presidential jet at an expansive plain stretching from horizon to horizon, broken only by rectangles of brown plowed fields and green grasslands. Below was the breadbasket of the Soviet world--and of the Slavic race since its origin. On the horizon was the mighty Caucasus, one of the world's great mountain ranges, reduced to insignificance by distance, swallowed up by the nearly incomprehensible dimensions of this land. Beyond the Caucasus lay even vaster territories: the Central Asian steppes, the forests and plains of Siberia, entire seas--the Caspian and Aral--and the homelands of a hundred ethnic groups of diverse language and heritage. The nation stretched over eleven time zones and girdled nearly half the earth. It was all led by one man.

Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev was born on March 2, 1931. His parents and grandparents were communists, making Gorbachev a member of Soviet "aristocracy"--only about 10 percent of the USSR's population were allowed Party membership. In the 1950s, he attended the elite University of Moscow, where he studied law and thrived on an intellectual life dominated by Marxist-Leninist theory. All of man's existence, he learned, was a product of impersonal historical forces. Understanding these objective forces would enable one to manage global, national, and personal problems.

In all this Gorbachev was not unlike many Western university professors, political activists, and religious scholars who live the life of the mind and to whom ideas have a reality that transcends the material world. Like many Western intellectuals, Gorbachev fell in love with someone who shared his love of ideas, and, in fact, the same ideas: Raisa, who became his wife. She was a specialist in Marxist-Leninist economic theory and had even earned a doctoral degree in the subject.

Gorbachev was not a Stalinist fanatic advocating bloody terror and preparedness for world conquest, nor a Party hack who mouthed Marxist- Leninist pieties without grasping their meaning. He was a true believer in communism. Gorbachev's vision of communism was essentially humanitarian. He genuinely believed that it offered the fairest and most economically productive way of organizing society. He was convinced that the USSR had been thwarted in delivering prosperity and social justice by Soviet leaders and bureaucrats who, through incompetence and corruption, had mismanaged things and betrayed the true spirit of communism.

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