View Full Version : Remembering Samantha Smith

01-16-2010, 06:56 PM
This August 25th will mark the 25th anniversary of the tragic and untimely death of Samantha Smith. This little girl--born in 1972 in Maine--was what I can only describe, perhaps in contradictory terms, as a little warrior for peace. For those who don't know the sad story of this beautiful little spirit, let me tell you--Frightened by the prospects of war with the Soviet Union, at a time (1982) when tensions were perhaps at their highest between the US and the Soviet Union, Smith, then ten years old, wrote what I feel is such an innocent, heartbreaking letter--a letter I feel that though simple and childish could perhaps make the most hardened soldier cry. I am not ashamed to say reading it, especially in retrospective context of the time and knowing her fate, made me weep. To Soviet Premier Andropov she wrote in November 1982:

''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"

She thereafter in April 1983 received a reply from Andropov, stating:

''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.
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–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.
"Y. Andropov"

In July, 1983, she flew to Moscow with her parents, and spent two weeks as Andropov's guest. During the trip she visited Moscow and Leningrad and spent time in Artek the main Soviet pioneer camp in the town of Gurzuf on the Crimean Peninsula. Smith wrote in her book that in Leningrad she and her parents were amazed by the friendliness of the people and by the presents many people made for them. Speaking at a Moscow press conference, she declared that the Russians were "just like us"--The press dubbed her '"America's Youngest Ambassador" or the Good Will Ambassador, and her actions inspired other children--an eleven year old Soviet child named Katya Lycheva visited the US in 1986, as well as others.

Smith's life and work was tragically, cut short on August 25th 1985--when she and her father died in a plane crash.

We often forget who propaganda and the horrors of war harm and traumatize the most--our children. No child asked to be born an American child or a Soviet child during the Cold War; no child asked to be born an American child or an Iraqi or Afghan child during our present war, yet on both sides, they suffer and even in cases, live their little lives in fear despite it--in any war, not simply American wars. And it wounds. It cuts...It cuts to the very soul of an innocent child, whether soldiers and generals realize, or whether they even care--but it does.

We often forget in the midst of rivalry and war the human cost, and I believe in the process a great many soldiers lose their hearts, or have them hardened by the terrible sights they see---in a sense their own innocence is lost, the innocence of millions of young men and women. But we must not, even in the face of the most imposing or evil enemy or most intimidating or evil ideology, forget that behind that enemy, as well as behind us, there are millions of children, innocent to the ideologies their countries propose or acts their countries do. We must never forget the children we scar, we traumatize, we turn into cynical souls with each bullet fired or each bomb deployed. The greatest evil or the greatest villain, in my opinion, is the one whixch robs or destroys two qualities present in any child--two most precious gifts--the state of innocence ad the fruitful investment of optimism. Both can be and are often destroyed by war, or by terrorism, or by conflict. Both losses are tragedies in their own right.

This is not an attack on soldiers, as they are doing a duty also in it's own right sacred, and important, and they are sacrificing their youth, risking their limbs and even their lives for the sake of others---an occupation more a service than a job; a service more an act of utter selflessness than mere servitude or duty. Nor is this remembrance an attack on any policy or any current war, or any nation engaged therein.

This is an attack on the idea of war itself, and it's costs--To understand, cherish, uplift and encourage the Samantha Smith's of the world, and perhaps, help us to remember that in any war, while there may be great territorial or material gain, there is always, on both sides, a spiritual or moral loss. Always the stain of innocent blood or innocence lost in the souls of those involved. We are all but children of God, and yet we wantonly shed the sacred blood and sacred gift He has given us--Life--often without regard for the cost. Without regard for children, or for innocence--Sometimes even forgetting what we are fighting for in the process.

We must not, even in the face of the most imposing enemy or most intimidating ideology, forget that behind that enemy, as well as behind us, there are millions of children, innocent to the ideologies their countries propose or acts their countries do. We must never forget the children we scar, we traumatize, we turn into cynical souls with each bullet fired or each bomb deployed. The greatest evil or the greatest villain, in my opinion, is the one which robs or destroys two in any child, or even any person, two most precious gifts--the state of innocence and the fruitful investment of optimism.

The greatest war crime is the death of a child, on either side of a conflict, and with the death of that child the death of the promise and innocence that resided within it's soul.

So to close this I say Rest in Peace, Samantha Smith. Your bravery, your innocence, your sincerity and your optimism, should be an inspiration to all--And your fears and those of millions of children like you should be thought of long and hard before any man, or many nation, decides to engage in act of terrorism, or decides to declare war. Never forget who above is watching, or the humanity of those you oppose--for their blood runs as red and thick as your own-- before the first bullet is fired or the first bomb is detonated.