With the situation in Ukraine and the rhetoric being swapped back and forth between Washington and Moscow, it certainly brought back vivid memories of the Cold War for me. And often is the case such as it was back in those days we talk of all the bad things that could happen and sometimes not really thinking about the small child who may be off in the distance casually listening absorbing our frivolous talk about consequences. Giving that thought a lingering moment, it brought back a memory that I would happily like to share with those who may be unfamiliar with the young girl or her small part in that a fore mentioned Cold War.
We have to go back to the year 1983 some eight years before the Cold War would officially be declared as over for the beginning of our story. In November of 1983 Time Magazine published a piece on the new Soviet Premier, Yuri Andropov, to include a seemingly auspicious portrait displayed on its cover. There had been an enormous amount of rhetoric and media attention lavished on this new Russian Premier and his underlying intents with regard to relations with the United States and with regards to Russia’s nuclear arsenal. And as was the norm in the days of the Cold War, these type news stories only fed into the stress levels and anxieties within the American populace.
It was during this time that Samantha Smith, a ten-year old little girl living in Manchester, Maine became very disturbed and concerned with all she was hearing about the perceived war and saber rattling. She questioned her mom with regard to all the talk about wars and nuclear bombs and it is said that her mother, having the referenced issue of Time Magazine at hand opened it and read the article regarding the new Premier to her daughter. Samantha then suggested to her mother that her mother should write the Premier and find out who was causing all the trouble. Her mother simply responded, “Well, why don’t you write him a letter?”
And so it was that a few weeks later in December with the help of her mother she sent the following letter to Premier Andropov in an obvious effort to waylay the fears of a ten-year old.
Dear Mr. Andropov,
My name is Samantha Smith. I am ten years old. Congratulations on your new job. I have been worrying about Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war. Are you going to vote to have a war or not? If you aren’t please tell me how you are going to help to not have a war.
This question you do not have to answer, but I would like to know why you want to conquer the world or at least our country. God made the world for us to live together in peace and not to fight.
Sincerely, Samantha Smith
Samantha did not hear back directly from the Premier or any other official from Russia in the short term although the Soviet newspaper Pravda did run a story on the letter written by Samantha, even printing excerpts from the letter. But still she hadn’t received any response after a couple of months or more so she wrote a second letter to the Soviet Ambassador to the United States questioning the Ambassador as to the reasons the Premier had not answered her letter. A week later the Soviet Embassy called Samantha directly and informed her that a letter from Premier Andropov was on the way to her. Finally on April 26, 1983 she received the letter from Premier Andropov, one written in Russian and one translated to English. The letter read as follows….
I received your letter, which is like many others that have reached me recently from your country and from other countries around the world.
It seems to me – I can tell by your letter – that you are a courageous and honest girl, resembling Becky, the friend of Tom Sawyer in the famous book of your compatriot Mark Twain. This book is well known and loved in our country by all boys and girls.
You write that you are anxious about whether there will be a nuclear war between our two countries. And you ask are we doing anything so that war will not break out. Your question is the most important of those that every thinking man can pose. I will reply to you seriously and honestly.
Yes, Samantha, we in the Soviet Union are trying to do everything so that there will not be war on Earth. This is what every Soviet man wants. This is what the great founder of our state, Vladimir Lenin, taught us.
Soviet people well know what a terrible thing war is. Forty-two years ago, Nazi Germany, which strove for supremacy over the whole world, attacked our country, burned and destroyed many thousands of our towns and villages, killed millions of Soviet men, women and children.
In that war, which ended with our victory, we were in alliance with the United States: together we fought for the liberation of many people from the Nazi invaders. I hope that you know about this from your history lessons in school. And today we want very much to live in peace, to trade and cooperate with all our neighbors on this earth—with those far away and those nearby. And certainly with such a great country as the United States of America.
In America and in our country there are nuclear weapons—terrible weapons that can kill millions of people in an instant. But we do not want them to be ever used. That’s precisely why the Soviet Union solemnly declared throughout the entire world that never–never–will it use nuclear weapons first against any country. In general we propose to discontinue further production of them and to proceed to the abolition of all the stockpiles on Earth.
It seems to me that this is a sufficient answer to your second question: ‘Why do you want to wage war against the whole world or at least the United States?’ We want nothing of the kind. No one in our country– neither workers, peasants, writers nor doctors, neither grown-ups nor children, nor members of the government–want either a big or ‘little’ war. We want peace—there is something that we are occupied with: growing wheat, building and inventing, writing books and flying into space. We want peace for ourselves and for all peoples of the planet. For our children and for you, Samantha.
I invite you, if your parents will let you, to come to our country, the best time being this summer. You will find out about our country, meet with your contemporaries, visit an international children’s camp – ‘Artek’ – on the sea. And see for yourself: in the Soviet Union, everyone is for peace and friendship among peoples.
Thank you for your letter. I wish you all the best in your young life.
After some deliberation and consultation on the invite, on July 7, 1983 Samantha, accompanied by her parents, did indeed fly to Moscow spending some two weeks there as Premier Andropov’s guest. You can read more about the specifics of her historic trip by clicking on the two links noted at the bottom of this post.
Sadly, Samantha would die tragically some three years later at the age of 13 in a commuter airline plane crash with her father when the plane was attempting to land at Lewiston-Auburn Regional Airport in Auburn, Maine.
Samantha Smith was mourned by about 1,000 people at her funeral in Augusta, Maine, and was eulogized in Moscow as a champion of peace. Attendees included Robert Wagner and Vladimir Kulagin of the Soviet Embassy in Washington, who read a personal message of condolence from Mikhail Gorbachev, while President Reagan sent his condolences to Smith’s mother in writing.
In the months that followed, the Soviet Union produced a commemorative stamp honoring Samantha….
A bronze statue was erected in Augusta, Maine honoring Samantha….
(Samantha Smith Statue)
Additional tributes and memorials were made in her name and you can read about them and much more about this sweet and courageous young girl by visiting “Samantha Smith – Wikipedia” or “Samantha Smith.Info”.