In 1982 a 10-year-old girl from Maine named Samantha Smith wrote a letter to Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov:
“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.
The letter made it into the Soviet media, but its author received no response until she wrote again, asking for a reply. Then Andropov wrote back to her at some length, and invited her to visit the Soviet Union.
In the Soviet Union, Samantha became a media star (video).
In the U.S., she appeared on ABC News, the Tonight Show, the Today Show, and the Phil Donahue Show. While CBS News found a way to put a negative and frightening spin on it, nobody as far as I know ever denounced Samantha for “illegal diplomacy” or for “having ties to Russia.”
Yet, Samantha Smith did more to oppose official U.S. policy and to make public secret information than Donald Trump has ever done. Smith revealed to the people of each of the two empires that the people of the other desperately wanted peace. She promoted nuclear disarmament, and the policy of no-first-use, which to this day remains Russian but not U.S. policy.
And Samantha visited the Soviet Union, where she connected with other human beings more deeply than Donald Trump may ever have connected with anyone anywhere. Her “Russian ties” were far more significant than those denounced as evil each day now in the U.S. media.
Are 10-year-olds in the United States writing to President Vladimir Putin to question him on the myths with which U.S. television has filled them? Would their parents tolerate their doing so?
And if Putin replied with an invitation, would the U.S. media respond with even the level of openness to peace that it had in the 1980s? There is no question whatsoever that it would not.
But the effort ought to be made.
When I recently met with Mikhail Gorbachev he described the breakthrough in his talks with Ronald Reagan coming when Reagan asked how the USSR would respond to the U.S. being threatened by a meteor. It was a childish topic, Gorbachev said, but children are frank and honest and trustworthy. We should learn from children, the former Soviet leader said.
Indeed we should.