I'd love to change the world; But I don't know what to do; So I'll leave it up to you. Alvin Lee
At 18 I wanted to change the world. Heck, at 48 I still do. Only today, my idea of change is having you think and act differently after reading this article. As a kid, it was world peace, ending poverty, eliminating disease and the like.
It's been too long now to remember if I didn't take action at 18 because I didn't know what to do, or if doing it was just too much effort. It was probably both.
Yet, at almost the same time, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean from me, another 18 year old decided he knew what to do. And then did it.
Mathias Rust decided that the US-Soviet Union peace talks were not progressing and a sign of support and trust was needed. He would create that sign by flying his rented Cessna aircraft from Helsinki to Moscow. The fact that he was an inexperienced pilot and that the Soviets had impregnable air defenses was to be ignored. It was a mission that had to be flown.
As it turns out, Mathias was pretty lucky. A series of embarrassing miscues by the Soviet Military resulted in his plane being tagged as friendly. These miscues ranged from breakdowns in command and control structure to confusion caused by a concurrent search and rescue mission from a crashed plane earlier in the day.
While the long story is worth the read, the short story is that Mathias landed his plane in Red Square (for my younger readers - think the equivalent of landing the plane on the White House lawn) and was greeted by many astonished people. The Moscow populace soon referred to Red Square as Sheremetyevo-3 - the third runway of the two runway Moscow International Airport.
The Soviet embarrassment continued as it took a rather long time before someone realized what had happened and the state police arrested Mathias. He would eventually be sentenced to four years of prison.
Mathias was successful at creating change but probably not the change he had envisioned. The reform minded Soviet leader, Gorbachev, at the time was embroiled in a life and death battle with a recalcitrant Soviet military establishment. The global embarrassment of letting a kid fly through their air defenses made it easier for Gorbachev to dispose of hundreds of his military rivals.
After serving his jail time, Mathias returned to to his German homeland and soon found himself in jail again. This time for attempted murder. Later in life he was convicted of theft and then later of fraud.
So, while not exactly a role model, there is something a bit heroic about Mathias Rust. He didn't just want change, he knew that with the right actions, it could BE different.