Thursday, February 15, 2018

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[a Samantha Smith post]


It seems that the Samantha Smith story is fading into obscurity. And that's a shame.

This is the cacheted first day cover for a stamp that was issued in the Soviet Union in December 1985 to honor Smith, a 13-year-old resident of Maine who had died that August.

And why was the USSR honoring a deceased American schoolgirl during the latter stages of the Cold War?

In a word, peace.

In November 1982, 10-year-old Smith wrote a letter to Yuri Andropov, the newly named leader of the Soviet Union. It stated:
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 responded to Smith with a lengthy letter in April 1983. It stated, in part, "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."

At the end of the letter, Andropov invited Smith for a summer visit to the Soviet Union. And, that July, she traveled there, along with her parents. They spent two weeks touring the country, including Moscow and what was then named Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg). It was a huge media event at the time, for both countries.

Andropov was unable to meet with Smith and her family during the trip, because he had fallen ill. But he did speak with her on the telephone while she was there.

Andropov died a half-year later, in February 1984, of kidney failure.

And, sadly, Smith died two summers after her goodwill trip to the USSR, in August 1985, in a plane crash in Maine.

And so it was that the USSR issued this Samantha Smith stamp in December 1985, honoring her youthful work for peace and understanding between the United States and Soviet Union. There is also, a "Samantha Smith Alley" and other monuments and things named in her honor in Russia today. She posthumously received the International Courage of Conscience Award from The Peace Abbey.

All because, at age 10, she wrote, stamped and mailed a letter to the leader of a country with which the USA had decidedly frosty relations. Her visit to the USSR also paved the way for a reciprocal goodwill visit when Katya Lycheva toured in the United States in 1986.

There is much, much more, of course, to the story of Smith's too-short life. I hope it remains more than a historical footnote. Here are some links to learn more:


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