On this day 35 years ago, 11 year-old Samantha Smith boarded a plane for the Soviet Union at the invitation of that country’s leader, Yuri Andropov, after writing him a letter during the height of the Cold War. The schoolgirl received a reply and an invitation to visit. . . She had seen a TIME magazine article about the Soviet Union and asked her mother, “If people are so afraid of him, why doesn’t someone write a letter asking whether he wants to have a war or not?” Her mom replied, “Why don’t you?” READ their remarkable letters below… (1983)
Smith was in fifth grade when she wrote the letter, which was published in the Soviet newspaper Pravda (Photo of Ms. Smith in USSR by RIA Novosti, CC):
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
On April 25, she received a response from the Soviet leader:
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
MORE Good News in History:
- David McCullough, award-winning author and historian known for the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographies, Truman and John Adams, was born (1933)
- Judge Sandra Day O’Connor was nominated by President Reagan to become the first female justice on the US Supreme Court (1981)
- President Bill Clinton visited an Indian reservation, the first president since FDR to do so, specifically the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota (1999)
- Influenced by Live 8, the G8 leaders pledged to double 2004 levels of aid to Africa from US$25 to US$50 billion by the year 2010 (2005)
- On 07/7/7 Live Earth concerts publicize threat of global warming as 100 artists on seven continents perform in live broadcast (2007)
He is known for his deadpan delivery and jokes about eating food. Besides touring with his standup routine, he stars on The Jim Gaffigan Show on TVLand. You may know him as Roy Keene from That ’70s Show, or from his memoirs: Food: A Love Story, and Dad Is Fat. WATCH this bit about Seafood from his 2016 comedy special, Obsessed. (1966)