It is often interesting to hear children’s solutions for “mature” problems. Their perception of an overheard conversation or the TV news always ends up with “the most logical” solution and understanding. If there is war, why they don’t simply end it? If you don’t have money, why don’t you shop with your card? Just swipe it, the seller won’t ask you for any money? If you dislike your job, why do you go to work every day? And so on.
Sometimes they even feel like they have to take things into their own hands. Such a child was Samanta Smith. In late 1982 she was a fifth-grader in an elementary school in Maine when Yuri Andropov was elected as a General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
With the Cold War at its peak, word spread about Andropov’s policy leading to nuclear war. Newspapers in the States took a hostile attitude towards Andropov and people were afraid because he was held responsible for crushing the Prague Spring. In the American mind, his acts were seen as hostile towards global democracy.At the time, both the States and the Soviet Union were indeed undergoing intense periods of technological development, which scared people around the world of the possibility of nuclear war. With many anti-nuclear protests going on, Samantha Smith asked her mother “If people are so afraid of him, why doesn’t someone write a letter asking whether he wants to have a war or not?”. Her mother replied, “Why don’t you?” And as simple as that, she did.
In her letter, she wrote:
- 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
Surprisingly, after a month, she got a response. Yuri Andropov answered her questions as briefly as he could explain them to a ten-year-old kid:
- 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…
- …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 a war on Earth. This is what every Soviet man wants. This is what the great founder of our state, Vladimir Lenin, taught us…
- …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….
- …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
So, in 1983, Samantha flew to Moscow with her parents visiting the capital and Leningrad (today Saint Petersburg). Even though she didn’t meet Andropov personally, she was treated as his guest for the next two weeks.
After she got back from the trip she wrote a book about her visit to the Soviet Union and became a peace activist, holding speeches around the States. She got to be known as “America’s Youngest ambassador”. She was invited by the Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone to attend 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.”
Many people saw claimed that Soviet propagandists were merely using her for their own purposes, but generally, she gained sympathies of the peoplewherever she was going.
Unfortunately, on August 25, 1985, while traveling with her father, their small plane crashed and both were killed.