I have long wanted to write this letter to you, but I had my second thoughts. For one, you have long passed on, before I was even born. Second, I never found the time and drive to write this. But the anniversary of your trip is coming up only a few months from now. I thought I had to take this opportunity. And what better way to give this tribute to you than in the form of a letter, not unlike the one you wrote that got you famous.
I discovered your story when I was ten years old. At that age, you had the guts to demand for answers. The threat of a widespread holocaust seemed to loom on the horizon. Movies and television shows that showed the catastrophic effects brought about by a nuclear war were becoming popular. You feared that you would wake up one morning to find out it would be the last day of the Earth.
The American press described the new leader of the other side of the Iron Curtain as someone who was not hesitant to push the button. Did he really want to plunge the world into a new world war? You asked your mom to write a letter asking him who was causing all the trouble. She replied, “Why don’t you?” Without any second thoughts, you 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.
You were not expecting anything to happen with your letter. It was all but forgotten until it was published in the Soviet newspaper Pravda five months later. Yet you received no reply. You wrote another letter, asking the Soviet Ambassador to the United States whether Andropov would reply.
It did not take long before you received Andropov’s response. He assured you that the Soviet Union would never strike first. The Soviet people fully knew the dangers of war, when Nazi Germany invaded their country during World War II. Towards the end of the letter, he wrote:
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.
You and your family accepted the invitation. You saw for yourself that Soviet boys and girls were not different from Americans. They did not want to go to war as well.
But then again, you probably knew all these things. After all, this was your life, one that was full of promise. But it was a life that was not meant to last.
When I first read your biography while browsing Encarta back in 2005, I wanted to know what had happened to you since then. Probably you had gone on to greater things – a career in politics maybe. I was shocked to find out that you had died in a plane crash twenty years before. “What a waste,” I said to myself.
But was your life really a waste? To me, it wasn’t. It was a life well-lived. In only a few years, you have played a part towards changing the world for the better. You showed that children should be seen and heard.
Suddenly, I had found my calling. I became more concerned with the realities confronting the world. Instead of aiming for a high-paying job, you have inspired me to contribute to the betterment of society. It is now up to me and my generation to continue what you started. Okay, it sounds impossible to change the world. There would be hurdles as well as not a few people who would question that lofty motive. You had your critics, who dismissed you as nothing more than a tool or a pawn.
But I know that bringing forth change is possible. Your letter was a step towards understanding and peace between the United States and the Soviet Union. It may be a stretch to say this, but what you did may have even sparked the end of the Cold War.
Thank you for what you have done for our world. Rest assured that your story – and your ideals – would remain alive.
Happy birthday Samantha. Sleep well, good night.
Find out more about Samantha Smith’s story at http://samanthasmith.info/