25
Apr
09

On This Day, April 25: Yuri Andropov

April 25, 1983

Andropov writes to an American fifth-grader

The Soviet Union releases a letter that Russian leader Yuri Andropov wrote to Samantha Smith, an American fifth-grader. This rather unusual piece of Soviet propaganda was in direct response to President Ronald Reagan’s vigorous attacks on what he called “the evil empire” of the Soviet Union.

In 1983, President Reagan was in the midst of a harsh rhetorical campaign against the Soviet Union. A passionate anticommunist, President Reagan called for massive increases in U.S. defense spending to meet the perceived Soviet threat. In Russia, however, events were leading to a different Soviet approach to the West. In 1982, long-time leader Leonid Brezhnev died; Yuri Andropov was his successor. While Andropov was not radical in his approach to politics and economics, he did seem to sincerely desire a better relationship with the United States. In an attempt to blunt the Reagan attacks, the Soviet government on released a letter that Andropov had written in response to one sent by Samantha Smith, a fifth-grade student from Manchester, Maine.

Smith had written the Soviet leader as part of a class assignment, one that was common enough for students in the Cold War years. Most of these missives received a form letter response, if any at all, but Andropov answered Smith’s letter personally. He explained that the Soviet Union had suffered horrible losses in World War II, an experience that convinced the Russian people that they wanted to “live in peace, to trade and cooperate with all our neighbors on the globe, no matter how close or far away they are, and, certainly, with such a great country as the United States of America.” In response to Smith’s question about whether the Soviet Union wished to prevent nuclear war, Andropov declared, “Yes, Samantha, we in the Soviet Union are endeavoring and doing everything so that there will be no war between our two countries, so that there will be no war at all on earth. This is the wish of everyone in the Soviet Union. That’s what we were taught to do by Vladimir Lenin, the great founder of our state.” He vowed that Russia would “never, but never, be the first to use nuclear weapons against any country.” Andropov complimented Smith, comparing her to the spunky character of Becky from the Mark Twain novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. “All kids in our country, boys and girls alike, know and love this book,” he added. Andropov ended by inviting Samantha and her parents to visit the Soviet Union. In July 1983, Samantha accepted the invitation and flew to Russia for a three-week tour.

Soviet propaganda had never been known for its human qualities. Generally speaking, it was given to heavy-handed diatribes and communist cliches. In his public relations duel with Reagan-the American president known as the “Great Communicator”-Andropov tried something different by assuming a folksy, almost grandfatherly approach. Whether this would have borne fruit is unknown; just a year later, Andropov died. Tragically, Samantha Smith, aged 13, died just one year after Andropov’s passing, in August 1985 in a plane crash.

“Andropov writes to an American fifth-grader,” The History Channel website, 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=2648 [accessed Apr 25, 2009]

On This Day

1792 – The guillotine was first used to execute highwayman Nicolas J. Pelletier.

1846 – The Mexican-American War ignited as a result of disputes over claims to Texas boundaries. The outcome of the war fixed Texas‘ southern boundary at the Rio Grande River.

1859 – Work began on the Suez Canal in Egypt.

1862 – Union Admiral Farragut occupied New Orleans, LA.

1864 – After facing defeat in the Red River Campaign, Union General Nathaniel Bank returned to Alexandria, LA.

1898 – The U.S. declared war on Spain. Spain had declared war on the U.S. the day before.

1915 – During World War I, Australian and New Zealand troops landed at Gallipoli in Turkey in hopes of attacking the Central Powers from below. The attack was unsuccessful.

1952 – After a three-day fight against Chinese Communist Forces, the Gloucestershire Regiment was annihilated on “Gloucester Hill,” in Korea.

1959 – St. Lawrence Seaway opened to shipping. The water way connects the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean.

1962 – The U.S. spacecraft, Ranger, crashed on the Moon.

1971 – The country of Bangladesh was established.

1980 – In Iran, a commando mission to rescue hostages was aborted after mechanical problems disabled three of the eight helicopters involved. During the evacuation, a helicopter and a transport plan collided and exploded. Eight U.S. servicemen were killed. The mission was aimed at freeing American hostages that had been taken at the U.S. embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979. The event took place April 24th Washington, DC, time.

1983 – The Pioneer 10 spacecraft crossed Pluto’s orbit, speeding on its endless voyage through the Milky Way.

1990 – The U.S. Hubble Space Telescope was placed into Earth’s orbit. It was released by the space shuttle Discovery.

April 25, 1945

Americans and Russians link up, cut Germany in two

On this day in 1945, eight Russian armies completely encircle Berlin, linking up with the U.S. First Army patrol, first on the western bank of the Elbe, then later at Torgau. Germany is, for all intents and purposes, Allied territory.

The Allies sounded the death knell of their common enemy by celebrating. In Moscow, news of the link-up between the two armies resulted in a 324-gun salute; in New York, crowds burst into song and dance in the middle of Times Square. Among the Soviet commanders who participated in this historic meeting of the two armies was the renowned Russian Marshal Georgi K. Zhukov, who warned a skeptical Stalin as early as June 1941 that Germany posed a serious threat to the Soviet Union. Zhukov would become invaluable in battling German forces within Russia (Stalingrad and Moscow) and without. It was also Zhukov who would demand and receive unconditional surrender of Berlin from German General Krebs less than a week after encircling the German capital. At the end of the war, Zhukov was awarded a military medal of honor from Great Britain.

“Americans and Russians link up, cut Germany in two,” The History Channel website, 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=tdihArticleCategory&id=6433 [accessed Apr 25, 2009]

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