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Tuesday, July 07, 2015

July 7, 1983

The first Tuesday Timeline for July is here, and I have to say that this could be one of the last ones that I get to do for a while.  With the big move fast approaching, I don't know when my hiatus from here will take place, or how long it is going to last.  When I know, I will update you all.

And for those Tuesday Timelines I end up missing this year, I will have to make them up next year at some point.  Again, I have no idea when this hiatus will start, so bear with me here.

For now, let's take a look at what happened in the world on the seventh day of the seventh month.

1456 - A quarter-century after she was burned at the stake, Joan of Arc is acquitted of heresy charges

1777 - American forces retreating from Fort Ticonderoga during the American Revolutionary War are defeated in the Battle of Hubbardton

1863 - The first military draft is enacted by the United States - exemptions cost a whopping three hundred dollars!

1865 - Four people who were conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln are hanged

1898 - William McKinley signs the Newlands Resolution, annexing Hawaii as a territory of the United States - it would become the fiftieth official state just 61 years later

1911 - Open-water seal hunting is banned in the United States, Russia, Great Britain, and Japan following the signing of the North Pacific Fur Seal Convention of 1911

1919 - Jon Pertwee (d. 1996) - the Third Doctor - is born in Chelsea, London

1928 - Sliced bread becomes available for purchase for the first time

1930 - Henry J. Kaiser begins construction on the structure that would come to be known as the Hoover Dam

1941 - Beirut is occupied by Free France and British troops during World War II

1946 - Howard Hughes nearly loses his life after accidentally crashing an aircraft prototype in the middle of Beverly Hills, California

1947 - The supposed crash of an alien aircraft takes place in Roswell, New Mexico

1953 - Che Guevara sets out on a trip through seven countries within Central and South America

1954 - Elvis Presley makes his radio debut on WHBQ Memphis

1973 - Actress/singer Veronica Lake passes away at the age of 50

1980 - The Safra massacre takes place, where 83 Tiger militants are killed during the Lebanese Civil War

1981 - Sandra Day O'Connor is sworn in as the first female member of the United States Supreme Court

1985 - At just seventeen, tennis player Boris Becker becomes the youngest person ever to win Wimbledon

1993 - Lead singer of The Gits Mia Zapata is murdered in Seattle, aged just 27

2005 - Fifty-six people are killed, and another 700 injured when four suicide bombers set off bombs across London's transport system

So, a lot happened on this date.  You know what else happened on July 7?  A lot of celebrity birthdays!  Join me in wishing Doc Severinsen, David McCullough, Ringo Starr, Carmen Duncan, Joe Spano, Jean LeClerc, Shelley Duvall, Billy Campbell, Vonda Shepard, Jennifer Gibney, Mo Collins, Jeremy Kyle, Jim Gaffigan, Amy Carlson, Jorja Fox, Christian Camargo, Lisa Leslie, Kirsten Vangsness, Troy Garity, Michelle Kwan, Ana Kasparian, Julianna Guill, Kaci Brown, and Dylan Sprayberry a very happy birthday today!

So, for today's Tuesday Timeline flashback, I thought that I would go back to a day in which a little girl wrote just one letter to a rather influential public figure at the time, and how her words ended up changing her life in ways that she never thought possible.  And although her life was cut tragically short, she made a huge impact on the world, and she is widely regarded as a hero in the eyes of many people.

The date we're going back to is July 7, 1983.  And the subject of this post happens to be a then eleven-year-old girl from Maine who was nervous about the world and hoped her words would convince people to stop fighting and start talking about how to make the world more peaceful.

Of course, the story of how Samantha Smith became one of the youngest Goodwill ambassadors the United States had ever seen begins a few months before July 7, 1983.  Don't worry.  I'll talk about why this date is so important a little later.

Samantha Smith had always been interested in world current events from a very early age.  She actually wrote a letter to the Queen of England to express her admiration to the monarch when she was five years old!  That's quite impressive, given that when I was five I wanted to write to Oscar the Grouch to ask him why he was always in such a bad mood!

(That story may or may not be true, by the way.  Well, the Oscar story, that is.)

Anyway, the story that leads up to the events of July 7, 1983 begins a few months earlier in November 1982.  At that time, there was a lot of tension going on with the United States and the Soviet Union as the threat of the "Cold War" lingered in the air.  It was one of the biggest fears of the world at the time - believing that if both nations went to war with each other, it would cause a nuclear armageddon that would bake our planet from the inside out, ending life as we knew it forever.  It certainly was a very scary time, and I suppose I was grateful to have been too young to understand just how much of a threat the Cold War really was.  And even though the Cold War officially ended in 1991, as long as nuclear weapons exist, that threat still remains in place.

Well, in 1982, when Smith was just ten years old, she decided to try and make an impact.  She composed a letter to the newly elected General Secretary of the Communist Part of the Soviet Union, Yuri Andropov, in an effort to fully understand why relations between the United States and the Soviet Union were so strained.

This is a copy of the very letter that Smith wrote in November 1982;

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.
Samantha Smith

Of course, few expected Andropov to respond to the letter at all.  Certainly it had been published in a Soviet based newspaper - Pravda - in 1983.  But when Smith had not gotten a response from Andropov himself, she took it upon herself to write another letter to the Soviet Union's Ambassador to the United States to see if he had gotten the letter.

Not only had Andropov gotten the letter, but he had taken the time to write Samantha a letter of his own.  This was the letter that Samantha received in April 1983.

Dear Samantha,
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 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 it use nuclear weapons first against any country. In general we propose to discontinue further production of them and to proceed to the 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

And, on July 7, 1983, Smith and her family were invited to stay in the Soviet Union for two weeks as Andropov's personal guests - which of course lead to a complete media circus in both the United States and the Soviet Union.  Before she left on her trip to the Soviet Union, Smith was interviewed by Ted Koppel and Johnny Carson, and she was the focus of network news reports for several weeks leading up to the trip.  In the Soviet Union, the news coverage was just as extensive.

And according to Smith and her family, the experience of visiting the Soviet Union was a positive one.  She was absolutely stunned at how friendly and open the people of Leningrad and Moscow were and declared at a press conference that the people of the Soviet Union were "just like us".  And when she visited Artek, Smith insisted on staying in the dormitories with the other girls in order to fully embrace the culture.  Again, the experience was a positive one, with Smith bonding with the girls and learning Russian songs.

Unfortunately, Andropov was unable to physically meet with the young girl, though he had a good reason.  He had been ill for some time when he had the letter, and he was suffering from renal failure.  He had retreated from the public eye as a result of his illness, but he did take the time to call Smith over the telephone. 

Upon the Smith family's return to Maine on July 22, 1983, Samantha was treated like royalty, and she unofficially earned the title of "America's Youngest Ambassdor".  She even wrote a book about her experiences in the Soviet Union - "Journey To The Soviet Union". 

Keep in mind...she had just turned ELEVEN!

Over the next two years, Smith would go on to Japan where she attended the Children's International Symposium in Kobe, where she made the suggestion that both American and Soviet leaders exchange granddaughters for two weeks each year - her argument being that no leader would want to bomb a country that their own granddaughter was visiting, and her visit helped inspire other children to become goodwill ambassadors for their own nations.  It truly was a beautiful thing to see.

Sadly, Samantha Smith's time on this earth was much too short.  In August 1985, she and her father were killed when their plane crashed in Maine while it was trying to land.  She was only thirteen years old.

But man...what a lot of accomplishments she made in those thirteen years.  A little girl who wrote a letter to the "enemy" soon discovered that maybe they weren't so bad after all.  In fact, maybe Samantha Smith had it right the whole time.  Sure, her ideas were formed from the brain of a child.  But sometimes it takes a child to get people to truly listen.

In this case, it took a child to get two nations to listen to a message of peace and goodwill.  

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