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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 have a war or not? If you aren't please tell me how you are going to not have a war... God made the world for us to live together in peace and not fight.

Sincerely, Samantha Smith

That letter, written near the end of 1982 by a ten-year-old American girl named Samantha Smith to the Soviet Union's new president Yuri Andropov, touched off one of the most publicized and ultimately most tragic incident in American-Soviet Cold War relations.

Samantha was a resident of Manchester, Maine. For many children, youths, and adults in the '80s, the threat of nuclear war was constantly on the public mind. One was reminded daily, if not hourly, that America and much of the world was three minutes to nuclear midnight. Everyone understood this nuclear stand off was utter madness but aside from some British mothers who tried to blockade the arrival of cruise missiles at Greenham Common, no one felt like they could do anything to break out of this madness.

When people feel helpless, many write letters. Usually letters are directed at one's congressional representative or the editor at the local paper. Marginal types sometimes direct a missive to Jody Foster or TV Guide. But Samantha, after consultation with her mom, decided to send a letter to the recently installed Yuri Andropov.

No one expected a reply, save for maybe one in possession of a child-like innocence. But a reply, of sorts, did come in April 1983. Word came from a reporter with UPI that Samantha's letter had appeared in Pravda. Samantha wrote another letter to the Soviet ambassador in Washington, D.C., inquiring if this was indeed true. The Soviet ambassador called Samantha to not only confirm her letter had appeared in Pravda, but a written response was being sent by Andropov himself.

That's when all hell broke loose. Reporters camped out on Samantha's front lawn waiting for the letter from Andropov. When it did arrive, Samantha was happy to report its contents. Andropov's letter was three pages long. In it, he compared Samantha to the courageous Becky Thatcher from Tom Sawyer. Andropov happily informed Samantha he himself was working to ensure there would never be a nuclear war between America and the USSR. She noted it read like a letter from a friend. And like any good friend, Andropov invited Samantha and her family to visit his home. It was an offer the Smiths could not refuse and in July 1983 they embarked on a two-week tour of Moscow and Leningrad (the once and future Saint Petersburg).

In the Soviet Union, Samantha found the answer to the question Sting posed on his The Dream of the Blue Turtles album: Do the Russians love their children too? Yes. Apparently.

Samantha's return was treated by the American press much like a return from the moon. She spent the next two years of her life as a celebrity, doing talk shows, giving speeches around the world, and even writing a book about her trip called Journey to the Soviet Union. At a symposium on children's rights in Kobe, Japan, Samantha made the remarkable suggestion that the American and Soviet presidents should exchange grand daughters for two weeks every year. The reasoning was no grandfather (with maybe the exception of my grandfather) would bomb the fuck out of a country his grand daughter loved visiting.

Alas, Samantha's promising future as a semi-official spokesperson for world peace was cut short. She died in an plane crash in August 1985, along with her father. The Soviet Union grieved as if it had lost one of its own. A stamp was created in her honor. It also named a flower and mountain after her.

Samantha's mother created the Samantha Smith Foundation to encourage understanding and friendship between children across the globe.

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