The Cold War between the two superpowers has created heroes on both sides of the Iron Curtain. The West sang praises to "bully" Bukovsky, while Soviet Union put handsome Dean Reed on stage. Only Samantha Smith, an American teenager, has proven popular on both sides of the Atlantic. In Russia she is known even more than at home. To become famous it was enough to write a letter to Secretary General.
To become a hero one needs special circumstances, such as war. Yet, how does one become a hero in peacetime? Putting athletes, singers and movie starts aside, one still needs extraordinary circumstances, for example, saving the lives of others. The fame of the American teenager Samantha Reed Smith has nothing to do with the heroism while risking life or cheap popularity of an actor. In November of 1982, ten year-old Samantha wrote a letter to the Soviet leader Yuri Andropov, and received a reply.
In the 1980's the opposition of the U.S. and the USSR had reached a critical point. The American President Ronald Reagan went as far as calling the Soviet Union "the evil empire." Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was unfolded in the skies over planet Earth, which received media's title "star wars". The Soviet Union opened its own space "umbrella". Everyone was scared. Soviet citizens who had reconciled with a deficit stubbornly asserted: "As long as there is no war!" It turned out, the Yankees were afraid no less than the Soviets.
Samantha, an inquisitive girl from a small town in Maine, loved to read adult magazines. They were no third-rate tabloids with stories about the VIPs, but political articles in a serious weekly magazine Time. When she opened a new issue one day she saw an article talking about new Soviet leader, Andropov. She proceeded to read a horror story about the most terrible man on Earth, former head of the dreaded secret service, who, after having firmly established in power, threatens to destroy the peaceful American states and the beautiful American parents and their wonderful kids.
"If everyone is so scared of Andropov, why don't we write him a letter and ask if he is going to start a war?" Samantha asked her mother, and the mother jokingly suggested: "Write him yourself." In her childish handwriting the girl wrote: "Of course you do not have to answer this question, but I would like to know why you want to conquer the world, or at least our country. The Lord made earth, so we all can live in peace without fighting."
- 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.
- Samantha Smith
"We do not want anything like this. No one in our country - neither workers, nor peasants, nor writers nor doctors, nor the adults nor children, nor members of the government, we do not want any war, big or small," General Secretary of the CPSU Yuri Andropov wrote in response on April 19, 1983. The head of the Soviet Communists invited the American schoolgirl to come to the USSR in the summer and visit the international kids camp "Artek ".
- Dear Samantha,
- 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.
- Y. Andropov
The theory of the joint project of the KGB and CIA called "Samantha" will remain in the conscience of those who believe in the force of some secret springs, the invisible activities of secret societies and organizations. It is not ruled out that the idea of using certain methods of "public diplomacy" came to the smart heads on Lubyanka and Langley, and they could take advantage of a sincere impulse of the child. Since this information was not made public we will not discuss unsupported rumors.
Samantha Smith's visit was broadcasted by Soviet television, her photographs showing her in "Artek", during a visit to Leningrad and a telephone conversation with Andropov, were published by Soviet newspapers and magazines. After Dean Reed and Angela Davis, it was the third American to have acquired fame in the Soviet Union. Unlike them, she was a child. And this was her significant advantage.
We find it hard to imagine certain people old, for example, we cannot picture aged Yuri Gagarin. The same could be said about Samantha Smith. She will always remain a teenager in our memory. Death took her at the beginning of her bright life in a plane crash.
Most likely, the accident was just that, an accident, rather than the tricks of the intelligence services. It was not her untimely death that made Samantha popular. Perhaps subsequent world events would have overshadowed the image of Samantha Smith, as it happened to her counterparts in children's diplomacy - Katya Lycheva, Dean Reed, and Angela Davis, who is still alive.
Her mother thinks that Samantha could have become an actress or a senator from Maine. Maybe Samantha would have become a ballerina or a veterinarian. The girl who gave rise to the movement of "children's diplomacy" and was called the first "ambassador of peace" left this world when she was only 13 years old. Her last words to her Artek friends were: "Let's live!" They became a testament to all the people of the planet.
December 1982: Ten-year old Samantha Smith of Manchester, ME writes a letter to Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov to express her worry about the United States and The USSR getting into a nuclear war.
April 1983: Andropov replies to Samantha reassuring her that the Soviet Union wants no war with the United States. He invites her to visit the Soviet Union.
July 1983: Samantha, accompanied by her parents, leaves for a two-week trip to the Soviet Union. She visits Moscow, Leningrad, and the summer camp 'Artek'.
December 1983: Samantha goes on a 10-day trip to Japan, where she delivers a speech at the Children's International Symposium.
February 1985: An action-adventure television series featuring Samantha is announced. The show, starring Robert Wagner, is first called "J.G. Culver", then renamed "Lime Street."
August 25, 1985: Samantha, 13, and her father, Arthur Smith, are killed in a Bar Harbor Airlines crash near Auburn, ME.
October 1985: The Samantha Smith Foundation is established. It is a non-profit foundation fostering international understanding.
December 1986: A statue of Samantha is unveiled in front of the State Cultural Building. It shows Samantha releasing a dove, with a bear cub at her side.
Read an article "Remembering Samantha" by Josie Huang.
Read "The Innocent Abroad. Samantha Smith" chapter from the book "Citizen Diplomats. Pathfinders in Soviet-American relations" by Gale Warner and Michael Shuman.
Wikipedia.org published a page about Samantha Smith. It has a brief account of her early years, her letter, her trip to the USSR, the media attention her trip brought her as well as details of her death (along with the flight report), her funeral and tributes on both sides of the ocean. View>>