Bono: What Mikhail Gorbachev Taught Me About History

Youn my lifetime no one person has had the impact on the world that Mikhail Gorbachev, who died Aug. 30 at 91, did. Though Vladimir Putin would attempt to pull down the digital blinds, the rolling back of the Iron Curtain is right next to Neil Armstrong’s walking on the moon as the most awe-­inspiring events I’ve witnessed on a television. The world Mikhail Gorbachev found was not unlike the moon. It is one that I have walked. Two epoch-­making events: one signaling human ambition to challenge the boundaries of where we might live; the other redrawing the boundaries
Where we live actually.

For a quarter-­century, my wife Ali has worked with an Irish NGO, Chernobyl Children International. Ali and other Irish volunteers have made frequent trips to the region. On one trip, Ali met Anna, who was one of many thousand Irish children being brought to Ireland for surgery. Anna was adopted by a family in Cork, and she became Ali’s goddaughter. The universe was kind enough to allow Anna to stay with us for one weekend in 2002, when Gorbachev came by. Anna was born suffering from severe disabilities as a result of radiation poisoning by her parents after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. When Anna entered the living room where the great man sat we felt the poignancy and surprise of their unexpected encounter.

Bono sent a sketch of Mikhail Gorbachev to the Soviet President in a birthday card for his 90th.


Gorbachev’s voice quieted to a murmur as he explained that it was that 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl that convinced him the Soviet Union could not continue as it was: “I thought to myself, if the state cannot control a nuclear power plant of this significance, then the state is no longer functioning as a state. The state is kaput … When we see the devastation that splitting an atom can cause, then this is untenable; this cannot ever be acceptable. The Soviet Union was no longer viable; it has to find a new path—a path that must include rapprochement with the West.”

Learn more Mikhail Gorbachev Championed ‘Glasnost’ and ‘Perestroika.’ Here’s How They Changed the World

Mikhail Gorbachev’s moment of truth changed our history. We discover history doesn’t have to shape us. Things are more malleable and adaptable than what we imagined. The history of the world is made up of clay that can be molded, manipulated, gathered, or even sexed into new shapes.

This is an adaptation of the piece. Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story,Knopf to release Nov. 1,

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