In December 1982 Samantha Smith, a 10-year-old girl from Manchester, Me., wrote to Soviet President Yuri Andropov to ask if he was going to wage a nuclear war against the U.S.
She toured the USSR at his invitation the following July and as a result, became first a media celebrity and then a television actress. Samantha died on a rainy August night in 1985 when the commercial plane she was in crashed killing all aboard.
The heads of the two most powerful nations on earth sent condolences to Samantha's mother, Jane:
"Everyone in the Soviet Union who has known Samantha Smith will forever remember the image of the American girl who, like millions of Soviet young men and women, dreamt about peace, and about friendship between the peoples of the United States and the Soviet Union." -- Mikhail Gorbachev
"Perhaps you can take some measure of comfort in the knowledge that millions of Americans, indeed millions of people, share the burdens of your grief. They also will cherish and remember Samantha, her smile, her idealism and unaffected sweetness of spirit." -- Ronald Reagan
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In November 1982, 10-year old American schoolgirl named Samantha Smith wrote this letter to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov.
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.
Her letter was published in the most important Soviet newspaper ‘Pravda’. On 26th April 1983, she received a reply from Yuri Andropov.
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 near by. 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.
On July 7, 1983, she flew to Moscow with her parents, and spent two weeks as Andropov’s guest. During the trip she visited Moscow and Leningrad and spent time in Artek, the main Soviet pioneer camp, in the town of Gurzuf on the Crimean Peninsula. Smith wrote in her book that in Leningrad she and her parents were amazed by the friendliness of the people and by the presents many people made for them. Speaking at a Moscow press conference, she declared that the Russians were “just like us”. In Artek, Smith chose to stay with the Soviet children rather than take the privileged accommodation offered to her. For ease of communication, teachers and children with fluent English were chosen to stay in the building where she was lodged. Smith shared a dormitory with nine other girls, and spent her time there swimming, talking and learning Russian songs and dances. While there, she made many friends, including Natasha Kashirina from Leningrad, a fluent English speaker.
Andropov, however, was unable to meet with her during her visit, although they did speak by telephone. It was later discovered that Andropov had become seriously ill and had withdrawn from the public eye during this time. Smith also received a phone call from Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to orbit the Earth.
After her return to the U.S. she wrote a book and co-starred in a television series before her death at the age of 13 in the Bar Harbor Airlines Flight 1808 plane crash.
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