Remembering Samantha Smith: The Youngest Peace Ambassador

On This Date in History:  In late 1982, the Cold War had gotten a bit chillier.  President Reagan had given a speech to the British House of Commons on June 8, 1982 that many mistakenly refer to as the “Evil Empire Speech” when in fact, Reagan never used that term in that particulary speech.  But, he did make reference a couple of times to totalitarianism.  It was not until March 8, 1983 that President Reagan actually made his “Evil Empire Speech” to the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida.  Following the death of Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev, former Director of the KGB, Yuri Andropov was elected as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on November 12 1982.  As the head of the KGB, Andropov had overseen brutal invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the repression of Soviet dissidents and was instrumental in the decision of the Soviet Union to invade Afghanistan.  It was in this atmosphere that a 10 year old girl in Maine asked her mother a question.

The little girl had seen on television numerous reports concerning nuclear weapons and missiles.  She saw a PBS show in which scientists related to the destruction of the earth in the event of a nuclear exchange and said that there were no winners in an all out nuclear war.  I can tell you from experience, that type of thing can bring great fear to a child.  I grew up my whole life just accepting that, when I grew up, I would be fighting a war.  When I saw the fallout shelter signs, I always thought of having to escape an attack by the Soviets.  This little girl felt the same fright that one morning she woke up and wondered if it was going to be the Earth’s last day.  So, she asked her mother if there was going to be a war, who would start it and why.   Her mother answered by getting a news magazine and she thought that it seemed to her that the people of America and the Soviet Union were both fearful of the other attacking.  To this little girl, “it all seemed so dumb.”   She told her mother to write a letter to Andropov to determine who was “causing all the trouble.”  Instead, her mother turned it around and encouraged her to write the letter.

Andropov Finally Answered Samantha's Letter

In December 1982, 10-year-old Samantha Smith from Manchester, Maine wrote a short letter to Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov.  She asked if he was planning on having a war, and if not, what he was going to do to prevent a war.  She concluded by saying, “God made the world for us to live together in peace, not to fight.”   She did not receive a reply.  So, she wrote a letter to the Soviet Embassy wondering why she Andropov did not answer.  The actual dates of the ensuing events are not clear.  She received a phone call from Soviet officials saying that she would be receiving  a reply.  The Soviet press agency, Pravda, published her letter. 

On Nightline With Ted Koppel-Archive Says April 25, 1983

Some sources say that, on this date in history, the letter of Samantha Smith was published in Pravda.  A website dedicated to Samantha Smith says that she received her response from Andropov on April 26, 1983.  However, the archive of ABC’s Nightline program shows an interview by Ted Koppel with Samantha Smith on this date in 1983 which means that she received the letter on this date in 1983.  In the introduction of the interview, Koppel relates the a different order of events.  In any case, the big story is that Samantha got her response from Yuri Andropov.   In it he says that the Soviet Union would never be the first to use nuclear weapons and that the Soviet Union was doing everything to prevent war on Earth.  When the Americans pledged to not be the first to use nuclear weapons, she wondered why both sides needed all of those missiles. 

Samantha with friends Natasha and Vera at Artek Camp

Shortly after she received Andropov’s response,  the Soviet Premier invited her to be his guest in the Soviet Union.  After asking her father’s permission, in early July 1983, the Smiths went to Moscow and Leningrad and visited children at the Artek Camp.  At a Moscow press conference, Smith declared that she found the people of the Soviet Union to be “just like us.”  Not only did she meet with Andropov, but also with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.   Well, the media of the 1980’s was not much different than today, except there was no reality TV yet.  Even so,  the then 11-year-old Smith became a sensation.  She was on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (twice), the Today Show and was featured on and hosted several television shows.  She interviewed a couple of presidents  and was even on co-starred in a sitcom.  She became an international peace activist.  I suspect her story was the inspiration for the movie, Amazing Grace and Chuck.  But that story had a happy ending.

Samantha Smith Soviet Memorial Stamp

On August 25, 1985 Samantha Smith and her father were killed as the small plane they were in crashed on approach to Auburn Airport in Lewiston, Maine.  Her tragic death brought the following condolence letters to her mother Jane from Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev and United States President Ronald Reagan:

Samantha Smith Statue Augusta, Maine

 “Everyone in the Soviet Union who has known Samantha Smith will forever remember the image of the American girl who, like millions of Soviet young men and women, dreamt about peace, and about friendship between the peoples of the United States and the Soviet Union.”  — Mikhail Gorbachev

“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.”  — Ronald Reagan

Weather Bottom Line:  I left for the Kentucky Writers Festival songwriters celebration event in Lebanon,KY at about 4 pm.  As I had expected, a line of thunderstorms were developing west a Owensboro-Paducah line.  About 7:45 pm, it got to Lebanon.  I figured it was the apex of a bowing segment (which it was) but I wasn’t so sure.  The winds just picked up out of nowhere and went howling down the streets, taking street signs with it and magically opening the doors of the Oak Barrel bar and restaurant.  I dutifully retired to an interior room as I wasn’t so sure it was not the inflow into a tornado.  It was not but we got a lot more rain than my rain guage showed in Louisville.  Tragically, the day ended up as I had suspected it would with numerous super-cell thunderstorms in the northern half of the Dixie States and southern Tennessee.  At least ten perished in a long lived wedge tornado that crossed the Mississippi River (rivers like the Mississippi and Ohio do NOT protect you from a tornado) and continued on through Yazoo City, MS  and then acrosss I-55.  Here is a gallery of AP Photos from Yazoo City.   At least ten were killed.  From the damage I saw and the tree damage (some may have been denuded of their bark), my guess is that it will be classified as an EF-4 or, perhaps more likely,  EF-5 on the Enhance Fujita Scale.  Either way, it was a real big bopper and one that the only real way to be safe is to get out of its way.  I betcha it was about a mile wide.

Tree Damage Looks Consistent with At Least EF-4

The dyanmics of low level convergence and upper level divergence has shifted east and is not nearly as pronounced so I suspect the events on Sunday on the Southeast Coast of the US won’t be as spectacular.  The parent low is also lurking back in the Ohio Valley where it will provide cold air aloft that will produce clouds, showers and gusty winds after a sunny morning start on Sunday.  It’s so pokey, showers and clouds will probably be around on Monday followed by a secondary low moving through on Tuesday brining another threat of rain and showers.   It will be cool before we get some sunshine midweek and a warming trend thereafter for the rest of the week.  Next Sunday may be a time of some action, but its too far out to say for certain. Hopefully, if we do see some storms next weekend it will be after Derby.


6 Responses

  1. i think its said for the little girl to die because people inspired her

  2. very sad story. people must live in a peace

  3. Samantha Smith, would have accomplished a lot more if she hadn’t died, she would still we alive today. She is a great role model.

  4. It is one of those questions that cannot be answered which is “what might have been.”

  5. She just said on a Carson repeat that she was not able to meet Andropov. Still a remarkable girl and a remarkable story.

  6. She was a amazing young girl R.I.P Sam

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