My grandmother’s retirement after a long career teaching high school must have made a lasting impression on the barely fiveyear- old me. One of my earliest childhood memories is watching television with her, then a recent retiree. I recall seeing a white-haired man on the TV and thinking that he must be someone important. Curious whether he was above retirement age, I asked my grandmother about it. “He has a job one does not retire from,” she said matter-of-factly.
The man on TV was Konstantin Chernenko, the Soviet head of state.
Indeed, he never retired. Chernenko led the Soviet Union for 13 months before passing away at the age of 74 in March 1985. His death opened the way for Mikhail Gorbachev and the end of the Cold War.
Over the recent week, reality has come to resemble that pre-Gorbachev era too closely for my taste.
On February 27, armed men without insignia took over the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. The “little green men,” so dubbed because of their uniforms’ color, were soon acknowledged by Russia to belong to its armed forces. Since then, events have developed in a dramatic whirlwind that never seemed to spiral out of Moscow’s control. The Crimean local parliament, apparently without quorum, declared a referendum from a building overrun by Russian soldiers; the government in Kiev protested; the aircraft carrier USS George Bush and its fleet of support vessels made their way to the Black Sea.
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