My parents and grandparents left the Soviet Union amidst the economic stagnation and political repression of the Brezhnev era. There was an old anecdote in Soviet times: Everyone has a job, but no one works. Gorbachev was smart enough to understand that the Soviet Union was badly lagging the West and the arms race was bankrupting his country. “We can’t live like this any longer,” he posited. He believed in the tenets of Soviet socialism — selflessness, equality, comradeship — but understood that these tenets lived mostly in speeches and not in reality. The reality was much grimmer — so much so that a wall was built in East Berlin to prevent citizens from leaving. Gorbachev may have been naive in presuming that anything but an iron fist could hold the Soviet Union together. He believed in a vast country that could bring together Estonians in the East and Uzbeks in the South, but was mistaken in his belief that he could reform Communism; once one piece was removed–the system would collapse. A son of the Soviet Union, he underestimated the power of nationalist sentiments within the Soviet republics. But his naivete was rooted in a certain humanity, a belief in democracy, and an aversion to violence; unlike his predecessors, he refused to violently quash popular uprisings in Eastern Europe. And unlike his predecessors, he had no riches to hide. He was a decent man who didn’t wallow in corruption. Perhaps Gorbachev died, in part, of a broken heart: In that he lived just long enough to see his life’s work reversed — and supplanted by the type of iron-fisted totalitarianism that he sought to vanquish. He understood that in striving, he made mistakes; on his gravestone, he wanted the following epitaph: “We tried.” For that, he deserves our respect.