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Samantha Smith, the Short Life of a Child Peace Activist

1980s | July 9, 2018

Flowers adorn the statue of Samantha Smith by the Statehouse complex in Augusta. Staff Photo by Fred J. Field, Friday, July 11, 2003: Flowers adorn the statue of Samantha Smith by the Statehouse complex in Augusta. (Photo by Fred Field/Portland Press Hera

Although her life was tragically short, a young schoolgirl from Maine helped to thaw some of the Cold War tensions during the early 1980s and became America’s Youngest Ambassador. Samantha Smith relished this role, which took her to the Soviet Union and to Japan, then onto Hollywood. The meteoric rise of this star in the, however, was interrupted by a tragic accident. 

The Maine Schoolgirl Was Worried About Cold War Tensions

Samantha was born in Houlton, Maine, on June 29, 1972. Her family, including her father, Arthur Smith, a literature professor, and her mother, Jane Goshorn, a social worker, lived in Manchester, Maine, where Samantha attended Manchester Elementary School.

When she was just ten years old, Samantha expressed her concern about nuclear proliferation and the threat of was with the Soviet Union. Yuri Andropov has just taken over as the leader of the Soviet Union from Leonid Brezhnev in November of 1982 and the American news outlets of the time labeled this as a threat to national security. The main concern was the build-up of military arms and the development of weapons that could be launched from space. Many people in the United States and around the globe viewed the elevation of Andropov to lead of the Soviet Union as the first step in an eventual nuclear war between the two superpowers. 

(Time)

Samantha Writes to the Soviet President 

Time magazine ran an article on Yuri Andropov and his picture graced the cover of the magazine’s November 22, 1982, issue. When Samantha Smith read this article in her Maine home, she 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?”, to which her mother replied, “Why don’t you?”

Samantha did just that. 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.

Sincerely,

Samantha Smith

Andropov Answered Samantha's Letter!

Samantha’s letter not only reached Andropov, but it was published in the Pravda, the Soviet newspaper. She was pleased to receive a letter back from the Soviet leader on April 26, 1983 that read, in part:

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.

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.

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

Samantha Travels to the Soviet Union...Then to Japan!

Samantha accepted Andropov’s invitation to visit the Soviet Union and, with her parents, she boarded a plane on July 7, 1983, and spent two weeks touring the Soviet Union as guests of Andropov. Samantha was able to spend time with Soviet children. She declared, “They are just like us” to reporters who gathered for a Moscow press conference. Upon her return to the United States, Samantha was treated like a celebrity, complete with appearances on television talk shows and a parade in her home town. Soon after, she was invited to go to Japan to meet the Japanese Prime Minister, Yasuhiro Nakasone, and to take part in the Children’s International Symposium in Kobe, Japan. 

(YouTube)

Samantha's Star Was on the Rise

Samantha authored a book about her travels to the Soviet Union, called Journey to the Soviet Union, and appeared as a special correspondent for Disney Channel in a special titled, “Samantha Smith Goes to Washington”. Soon she was cast in a television series, Lime Street, starring Robert Wagner. 

Samantha Was Killed at Age 13

On August 25, 1985, Samantha and her father were returning to their home in Maine after filming in California. Their plane crashed after hitting some tree tops on approach to Lewiston-Auburn Regional Airport. Everyone on board was killed. Samantha was only 13 years old.

Samantha’s death was mourned around the world. Andropov joined leaders from around the globe in expressing their condolences and hailing young Samantha as a powerful peace activist and child ambassador. 

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.