Like millions of American children during the Cold War, 10-year-old Samantha Smith of Manchester, Maine, was terrified of getting nuked by the Russians. News reports and TV specials about nuclear bombs, missile defense systems, and “mutually assured destruction” were commonplace, and Smith got more and more frightened about the possibility of war.
Frustrated and scared, Samantha asked her mother to write a letter to the president of the Soviet Union to find out “who was causing all the trouble.” Instead, her mother suggested that Samantha write the letter herself. So that’s what she did. In November 1982, Samantha wrote to General Secretary of the Communist Party Yuri Andropov, the head of the Soviet Union:
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 PROJECT
The Samantha Smith Project honors the young American girl who asked a simple question about war and changed the attitudes of two great nations. Busts of Samantha and her book Journey to the Soviet Union (a gift from Dot Walsh) are available for placement at children’s libraries and peace centers by contacting email@example.com.
In the 1980s, the United States and the Soviet Union were still in the grip of a Cold War – a struggle between Western democracy and communism as systems of government. Each country threatened the other with destruction by nuclear weapons and kept making more and more of them. Ten-year-old Samantha Smith worried about war and dreamed of peace. So she wrote a letter to Yuri Andropov, the new leader of the Soviet Union: “Dear Mr. Andropov,” she wrote, “I have been worrying about Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war. Are you going to have a war or not?”
He did not answer right away, but a few months later there was a phone call waiting for her at the principal’s office at her school in Manchester, Maine. and so began her amazing journey.
Samantha’s journey to the Soviet Union came to symbolize peace between the two nations. She proved that one person can make a real difference. Her courage, faith, and determination to make a positive change in the world make her a hero for all ages.
After returning to America, she was invited to appear on television often. She was a host of a Disney Channel special educating kids about the candidates in the 1984 presidential campaign, she spoke at an international children’s conference in Japan, she starred in the Lime Street television series. And she wrote the book “Journey to the Soviet Union.”
Sadly, on August 25, 1985, Samantha and her father were killed in a plane crash. They were on their way home from London where she had finished filming a segment for the TV series. She was then 13 years old. Around the world, people remembered the inspiring girl and her famous trip. A school in Sammamish, Washington, was named for Samantha, and in Russia there were many memorials including a postage stamp in honor of their young American friend.
Unfortunately, while Samantha effectively illustrated the power each of us has to make a difference in our world, many people today are not familiar with her story. “Journey to the Soviet Union” now out of print is a powerful record of her accomplishment. We believe that Samantha’s message and the courage with which she delivered it can continue to inspire and empower people of all ages.
ABC Evening News on Samantha Smith.