In the early 80s the arms race had created a climate of fear over the use of nuclear weapons. There were protests across Europe and North America. In the US, ABC TV broadcast a port-nuclear war dramatization called The Day After, which depicted America as an apocalyptic nightmare pitting neighbour against neighbour in a battle for survival became one of the biggest media events of the year.In 1982 Samantha wrote a letter to Yuri Andropov, the newly appointed head of the Soviet Union. Andropov was not seen favourably in the West. He had been the Ambassador to Hungary during the 1956 uprising, the KGB chief, and Andropv had declared, "The struggle for human rights was a part of a wide-ranging imperialist plot to undermine the foundation of the Soviet state."
In her letter, Smith pointedly asked Andropov if he was going to declare war on the US. In his reply, Andropov invited Smith to visit the Soviet Union to see for herself that everyone there was for peace. Smith's letter created a media frenzy. She subsequently appeared on Johnny Carson and was interviewed by Ted Koppel among others.
On July 7, 1983, she flew to Moscow with her parents, and spent two weeks as Andropov's guest. The American media followed her every move while there. She was not able to meet with Andropov, and only spoke to him by telephone. It was later discovered that Andropov had become seriously ill and had withdrawn from the public eye during this time.
After her well publicized trip to the Soviet Union she continued in her role as "America's Youngest Ambassador." She was invited to Japan where she met with the Prime Minister and attended the Children's International Symposium in Kobe. In her speech at the symposium, she suggested that Soviet and American leaders exchange granddaughters for two weeks every year, arguing that a president "wouldn't want to send a bomb to a country his granddaughter would be visiting". Her trip inspired other exchanges of child goodwill ambassadors, including a visit by the eleven-year-old Soviet child Katya Lycheva to the United States. Later Smith wrote a book called Journey to the Soviet Union.
In 1985 at the age of 13 she died in a plane crash with her father. After her death she was honoured in both the US and the Soviet Union. In her home state of Maine there are schools named after her, a monument erected to her, and the first Monday of June is officially designated Samantha Smith day. She is also remembered in many ways in the Soviet Union. Among other things Soviet astronomers named an asteroid after her, and a commemorative stamp was issued with her picture.
In October 1985 Smith's mother founded the Samantha Smith Foundation, which fostered student exchanges between the United States and the Soviet Union (and, after December 1991, the ex-Soviet successor states) until the mid-1990s.
Photo: Maine State Museum
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.
I received your letter, which is like many others that have reached me recently from your country and from other countries around the world.
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 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.