Samantha Smith: How a 10-year-old became a Cold War icon of peace

At the age of 10, he wrote an urgent letter to Soviet Union leader Yuri Andropov, which made headlines in the 1980s. Her message is about her 50th birthday present.

Mentioned as a “young activist,” and opportunities come to mind for later-day leaders like Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg.

In 2012, Pakistani Yusufzai, who was fighting for the right to girls’ education, was shot and killed in the head by the Taliban. Thunberg’s weekly protests for climate change action, launched in his native Sweden in 2018, have helped the global youth-led Freemasons for the Future campaign. Both were 15 when they started fighting for their causes.

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In the 1980s, at the height of the Cold War between the US and the former USSR, a 10-year-old American girl also made headlines.

Their justification for peace and the prevention of nuclear war has been present for 40 years, as threats of nuclear attack were made during Russia’s current war in Ukraine.

Her name is Samantha Reed Smith.

‘Nobody wants another war’

Born on June 29, 1972 in Holton, Maine, Smith was only 5 years old when she expressed her admiration for Queen Elizabeth II.

By the time she was 10, the news was more focused on the growing Cold War and nuclear weapons competition between President Ronald Reagan and her country, led by Russia.

“There was always something on television about missiles and atomic bombs,” he once wrote. “Nuclear war destroys the earth and destroys the atmosphere. No one wins the nuclear war,” she explained.

Her mother then showed her a copy of the November 22, 1982, Time magazine, which featured Russian new leader Yuri Andropov. In the cover story she read with her mother, it is clear that both the Soviets and the US are afraid of starting a nuclear war.

“All this seems very dumb to me. I learned about the horrible things that happened during World War II, so I thought no one wanted to do another war,” he reflected. “I told my mum that she had to write to Mr. Andropov to find out who was causing all the trouble. She said,” Why don’t you write to him? So, I did. “

Letter to the Kremlin

Samantha’s letter is:

“Dear Mr. Andropov,

My name is Samantha Smith. My age is 10 years. Congratulations on your new job. I’m worried about Russia and the United States getting into nuclear war. Do you vote to have a war or not? If you’re not, please tell me how you’re going to help them fight. You don’t have to answer this question but I would like it if you would. Why do you want to win the world or at least our country? God created the world for us to share and care for. Not to quarrel or a bunch of people have everything. Please allow [sic] Do what he wants and let everyone be happy. ”

She added at the end: “PS please write again.”

Although her letter was later published in the Russian newspaper Pravda, she received no immediate response. This prompted him to write a letter to the Soviet Ambassador in Washington, DC, asking if Andropov planned to respond.

On April 26, 1983, he received a response from Andropov himself.

Addressing Smith’s specific question and the devastating effects of nuclear weapons, he said his country had announced that it would not use nuclear weapons before other countries.

“Yes, Samantha, we are trying to do everything in the Soviet Union to prevent war on earth. This is what every Soviet man wants. This is what the great founder of our state, Vladimir Lenin, taught us.” Written by Andropov.

He praised Smith’s sincerity and courage, likening Becky to “Tom Sawyer’s friend in your countryman Mark Twain’s famous book.”

Andropov ended up inviting Smith to visit the Soviet Union with his parents in July 1983.

In a 2018 article, Smithsonian Magazine described 1983 as a “dangerous moment in the Cold War – in March of that year, Reagan delivered his” Evil Empire “speech, calling for military spending and modernized nuclear procurement to block the Soviet Union.

The Soviet propaganda tool?

Nevertheless, during Smith’s two-week trip to the Soviet Union, he and his family visited Moscow, Leningrad and Artek, the children’s camp of the Black Sea. She had never met Andropov in person, though: by that time he was very ill and he had only spoken by telephone.

Smith’s visit attracted much media scrutiny in both Russia and the US. While her visit was welcomed by the Russian media and the public, some in the US press regarded it as a public relations exercise. She also received letters questioning whether she was a Soviet propaganda instrument.

Nicknamed “America’s youngest ambassador”, Smith participated in an international children’s symposium in December 1983 in Kobe, Japan. At the time of the speech, US and Soviet leaders were advised to exchange a granddaughter for two weeks each year. “His granddaughter was visiting.”

She gave TV interviews and hosted a children’s special for Disney Channel in February 1984, “Samantha Smith Washington: Campaign ’84,” where she interviewed various political leaders on election campaign issues.

Guest roles in comedies and a regular role in the television series. With her father’s help, she also wrote her book, “Journey to the Soviet Union” (1985).

Humanity wins the war

Although her actions had no effect on easing the tensions of the Cold War, her observations during and after her trip to Russia helped to dispel some of the doubts common Russians and Americans had with one another.

“Some people have a misconception about the Soviets,” he told reporters on his Russia trip. “[They] I want peace like me. “

He described Russian children like those he knows in the US.

“They are really good people to me,” he said.

In an interview with Smithsonian Magazine in 2018, Lina Nelson, a writer, teacher, and historian raised in the Soviet Union, said: “The goal of the Soviet state is to use her to portray a peace-loving image. It was difficult. “

Unfortunately, Smith and her father were killed in a plane crash while returning from London to Maine in August 1985, filming the “Lime Street” series. She was only 13 years old.

Mikhail Gorbachev was one of the respondents to her untimely death, who was the new Soviet leader at the time and wrote the preface to the collapse of his liberal ideas, Perestroika and the Glasnost Soviet Union.

“I think that Samantha’s tragic death could have involved her in social change and done a lot of good,” she wrote.

On June 29, Samantha Reed Smith was entering her 50th year.

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