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Samantha Reed Smith (June 29, 1972 – August 25, 1985) was an American schoolgirl from Houlton, Maine who was called "America's Youngest Ambassador" in the United States and the "Goodwill Ambassador" in the Soviet Union during her short lifetime. She became famous in these two countries and well-known worldwide after writing a letter to the Soviet Communist Party General Secretary Yuri Andropov during the Cold War, and receiving a reply from Andropov which included a personal invitation to visit the Soviet Union, which Smith accepted. Assisted by extensive mass media attention in both countries, she participated in peacemaking activities in Japan after her visit to the Soviet Union, she wrote a book and co-starred in a television series before her death at age 13 in an airplane crash.
Smith was born in Houlton, Maine, and lived there with her parents, Arthur and Jane. She enjoyed field hockey, roller skating, reading, and science, and played on her school's softball team. At the age of five she wrote a letter to Queen Elizabeth II, telling her that she liked her. In 1980, when Smith had just finished second grade, her family moved to Manchester, where she attended Manchester Elementary School. Her father taught literature and writing at the University of Maine at Augusta, and her mother worked as a social worker with the Maine Department of Human Services Augusta. After Yuri Andropov became the Soviet leader, the leading American newspapers and magazines had his portrait on their covers and lead articles dedicated to him with rather negative views on his assumption of power and expectations of new threats to the world. During this period, massive anti-nuclear protests were taking place in Europe and North America, and there was expectation for the ABC nuclear war television film The Day After which was scheduled to be aired for November sweeps. Ronald Reagan had also scrapped the concept of détente, and had moved to deploy cruise missiles and the Pershing II missile in Europe. The Soviet Union had been involved in a war in Afghanistan for three years at this time, which also contributed to the international tension. It was a TIME magazine article (most likely its November 22 1982 issue) that met Smith's eyes. "If people are so afraid of him", she asked her mother, "why doesn't someone write a letter asking whether he wants to have a war or not?" "Why don't you?" her mother replied.
In November 1982, when Smith was in fifth grade, she wrote to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov, trying to understand why the relations between the Soviet Union and the USA were so tense:
- 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"
Her letter was published in the Soviet newspaper Pravda and on April 25, she received a response from Andropov:
- 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"
A media circus ensued, with Smith being interviewed by Ted Koppel and Johnny Carson, among others, and with nightly reports by the major American networks. On July 7 1983, Smith flew to Moscow with her parents, spending two weeks as Andropov's guest. During this trip she visited Moscow and Leningrad, and spent some time in Artek, the main Soviet pioneer camp in the town of Gurzuf on the Crimea peninsula. Although Andropov, who was already seriously ill, did not meet her, they spoke by telephone. 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 them. Speaking at a Moscow press conference, Smith declared that the Russians were "just like us".
In Artek she chose to stay with the Soviet children rather than take separate accommodation offered to her. For ease of communication, teachers and children with fluent English were chosen to live in the building where she was lodged. Staying in a dormitory with nine other girls, Smith spent her time swimming, talking, and learning Russian songs and dances. She made many friends there, including Natasha Kashirina from Leningrad, who spoke English fluently.
Media followed her every step — photographs and articles about her were published by the main Soviet newspapers and magazines throughout her trip and after it. Smith became widely known to Soviet citizens and was well regarded by many of them.
When Smith returned to the U.S. on July 22 1983, her arrival was celebrated by the people of Maine and her popularity continued to grow in her native country. She became a political and peace activist, hosting a children's special in 1984 for the Disney Channel entitled Samantha Smith Goes To Washington...Campaign '84. The show covered politics, where Smith interviewed several candidates for the 1984 presidential election, including George McGovern and Jesse Jackson. She went to Japan with her mother, where she met with Yasuhiro Nakasone, the Prime Minister of Japan, and attended the Children's International Symposium in Kobe. In her speech at this 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". Her trip inspired other exchanges of child goodwill ambassadors, including a visit by Soviet child Katya Lycheva to the U.S. Later, Smith wrote a book called Journey to the Soviet Union and took on an acting role, co-starring with Robert Wagner in a television series called Lime Street.
Death and funeral
On a return flight from filming a segment for Lime Street in the summer of 1985, Smith's plane missed the runway of the Lewiston-Auburn Regional Airport in Auburn, Maine airport by 200 yards and crashed, killing all aboard (six passengers and two crew), including Smith and her father. Much speculation regarding the cause of the accident circulated afterwards. An investigation was undertaken in the USA and the official report, which did not show evidence of foul play, was made public. As stated in the report, the accident occurred at about 22:05 EDT, the ground impact point located one mile south-west of the airport. The report goes on to say, "The relatively steep flight path angle and the attitude (the orientation of the aircraft relative to the horizon, direction of motion etc.) and speed of the airplane at ground impact precluded the occupants from surviving the accident." The main point of the report was that it was a dark and rainy night, the pilots were inexperienced, and an accidental, but not uncommon and not usually critical, ground radar failure occurred. The plane used for the fatal flight was a Bar Harbor Airlines Beechcraft 99.
Samantha Smith was mourned by about 1,000 people at her funeral in Augusta, Maine, including Vladimir Kulagin of the Soviet Embassy in Washington, who read a personal message of condolence from Mikhail Gorbachev. President Reagan sent his condolences to Samantha Smith's mother, writing,
"Perhaps you can take some measure of comfort in the knowledge that millions of Americans, indeed millions of people, share the burdens of your grief. They also will cherish and remember Samantha, her smile, her idealism and unaffected sweetness of spirit."
She and her father were buried near Houlton, where she was born.
The Soviet Union
The Soviet Union issued a commemorative stamp with her likeness. A diamond, a cultivar of tulips and of dahlias, an ocean vessel, and a mountain were named in Smith's honour, and a monument to her was built in Moscow; "Samantha Smith Alley" in Artek Young Pioneer camp was named after her in 1986.
Samantha Smith's mother founded the Samantha Smith Foundation in October 1985, which fostered student exchanges between the United States and the Soviet Union until it became dormant in 1995. The first Monday in June of each year is designated as Samantha Smith Day by the law of Maine and there is a statue of Samantha Smith near the Maine State Museum in Augusta, which portrays Smith releasing a dove, while a bear cub is resting at her feet. The bear cub represents both Maine and Russia. An elementary school in Sammamish, Washington was also named after Smith. At the University of Maine, an apartment-style dorm is named after her.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the extensive coverage by the Russian media of all events related to Samantha Smith stopped. The monument built to her in Moscow was stolen by metal thieves in 2003. However, some interviews with her mother Jane Smith were published in Russian newspapers in the early 2000s and many people in Russia still remember her fondly. In 2003 Valentin Vaulin, a retiree from Voronezh, built a monument to her without any support from the government.
In 1985 the Danish composer Per Nørgård wrote the viola concerto Remembering Child in memory of Smith.
- Samantha's address to the Children's Symposium 1983 December 26. Retrieved on April 25, 2006.
- Feb 1984 issue, Disney Channel Magazine
- Chronicle 1980s. ICC Artek. Retrieved on April 11, 2006.
- Samantha Smith Day. Maine law. Retrieved on April 11, 2006.
- Samantha Smith Elementary School. Retrieved on May 11, 2007.
- Voronezh Retiree Built A Monument to Samantha Smith. Voronezhsky Telegraph. Retrieved on June 1, 2006.