Bernard Lown, MD
Imagine a new head of state rising to absolute power in a country threatening our extinction. Imagine further that an American doctor enters that leader’s inner sanctum and that the two hold a lengthy conversation. Would the American media not widely report the meeting and besiege the physician?
Such an event actually took place. The country was the Soviet Union, then targeting the United States with a vast nuclear arsenal. The new leader was Mikhail Gorbachev, and I was the American doctor. We met in the Kremlin on December 18, 1985, and conversed for three hours.
Outside Russia little was known about Gorbachev. He had unexpectedly been anointed general secretary of the Communist Party, the highest office in the USSR. Before that he was the minister of agriculture, a dead-end position that in the past had led to political oblivion. Gorbachev, who unlike any of his predecessors was born after the October Revolution, had not been part of the Moscow Communist Party bureaucracy. In further contrast to the ossified gerontocracy that had dominated the Politburo for decades, Gorbachev was in his early 50s, highly intelligent, well educated, brilliantly articulate, and bursting with charisma.