The power of one voice
In November 1982, a 10-year-old from Maine, concerned about the possibility of nuclear war, wrote a letter to then-Soviet leader Yuri Andropov:
"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."
Thirty years ago today, Andropov responded to Samantha’s letter, after it was printed in a Soviet newspaper. It read, in part:
"Your question is the most important of those that every thinking man can pose. ... (W)e in the Soviet Union are trying to do everything so that there will not be war on Earth. ... (T)oday 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. ... 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 ... I wish you all the best in your young life."
Samantha and her family took Andropov up on his offer, visiting in July of that year. It captured the media’s attention in both countries, as well at the imagination of the entire world. The event turned young Samantha into a goodwill ambassador and a celebrity. Sadly, Samantha died just a few years later, at age 13, in a plane crash.
Still today, 30 years later, the innocence of her letter rings true. With several hotspots around the world where the threat of a nuclear skirmish breaking out is more real than we care to believe, let’s hope Samantha can continue to inspire good.
Thirty years ago, one 10-year-old captured the world’s attention. Imagine the attention hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of voices could demand.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.