Welcome to Interesting If True, the podcast that makes you think… things like “wow, I wish an actual 10-year-old had been running the country for the last four years…”
I’m your host this week, Aaron, and with me are… sound effects. The other hosts all send their best wishes… and past selves… to you this week. While I’m happy to say that everyone is feeling much better than they were for our last archive show we’re not entirely back up to full production-speed just yet.
I’m sure we’ll be back with new and amazing weirdness next week, but until then, let’s roll that beautiful, remastered (shameless, I know), archive audio. Jenn, take it away:
International Diplomacy and Goodwill: the little girl edition
I’m dipping my toes back into tales from history this week. Not a ‘weird history’ one, sad to say, but one that I’ve always liked and not everyone may be familiar with. Today I’m going to be discussing the story of Samantha Smith, often referred to as ‘America’s Youngest Ambassador’. I picked this story to share today because international tensions are again on the rise, with diplomacy) at least on the American end, is currently at a depressingly loooow point. This is a reminder that small things and normal people can sometimes make great things happen. (Unless Trump is re-elected and then we’re all doomed.)
The setting of the story is the tense later-Cold War days of the early 80s. Samantha herself was born June 29th, 1972, in Maine, and was a general contemporary of Steve. Being a school child during this time of heightened nuclear war fears, obviously, she was curious about why there were talks of war and made-for-TV movies about society’s annihilation (seriously, Amazon Prime carries ‘Testament’ and I’m really glad I didn’t see that as a kid). From her own words:
“Actually, the whole thing started when I asked my mother if there was going to be a war. There was always something on television about missiles and nuclear bombs. Once I watched a science show on public television and the scientists said that a nuclear war would wreck the Earth and destroy the atmosphere. Nobody would win a nuclear war. I remembered that I woke up one morning and wondered if this was going to be the last day of the Earth.
I asked my mother who would start a war and why. She showed me a news magazine with a story about America and Russia, one that had a picture of the new Russian leader, Yuri Andropov, on the cover. We read it together. It seemed that the people in both Russia and America were worried that the other country would start a nuclear war. It all seemed so dumb to me. I had learned about the awful things that had happened during World War II, so I thought that nobody would ever want to have another war. I told Mom that she should write to Mr. Andropov to find out who was causing all the trouble. She said, “Why don’t you write to him?” So I did.”
And yes she did. In 1982 at the age of 10 she wrote a letter to the newly elected, heavily titled General Secretary of the Central Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Yuri Andropov. Now, Samantha was nothing if not precocious. She had previously written a letter to Queen Elizabeth at the age of 5 to tell her how much she admired her (and probably to get tips on how to become a future world leader, as the kid had moxy), so her next focus turned, of course, to the Iron Curtain.
The refreshingly direct letter:
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 share and take care of. Not to fight over or have one group of people own it all. Please let’s do what he wanted and have everybody be happy too.
Surprisingly (or not, since I’m telling a story about it), the letter drew the attention of Russian officials and, once it was published in the Russian newspaper Pravda, everyday citizens. Samantha was pleased it was published but was not about to let Andropov off the hook and penned another letter to the Soviet Union’s Ambassador to the United States demanding to know if he planned to answer her directly. Called out by a pre-teen girl, Yuri sent back a lengthy and charming letter in April of 1983. Some excerpts:
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 nearby. 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.
Samantha took him up on his offer and that July she and her parents visited Russia and the Artek camp. From her website:
Smith family’s tour was broadcast on the two available Soviet channels, and the Soviets were glued to the TV screens following the girl’s every move. For many in the Soviet Union Samantha and her family put a human face on the U.S. On the other side of the ocean, Americans got a rare glimpse of the Soviet Union.
The goodwill tour of the USSR helped humanize both sides to the other. It also led to Samantha having multiple media appearance like the Tonight Show, a subsequent goodwill tour of Japan, an autobiographical book Journey to the Soviet Union and, incongruously, a recurring role on Charles in Charge (fuck off, Scott Baio). While in Japan she attended the Children’s International Symposium in Kobe where she suggested to the leaders of the US and Russia they exchange granddaughters for two weeks every year. Her rationale being each “wouldn’t want to send a bomb to a country his granddaughter would be visiting”.
Sadly, Samantha and Yuri Andropov were destined to never meet. At some point during their correspondence, Andropov became gravely ill and recused himself from the public eye. The two did speak on the phone. He died in early 1984 of renal failure after only 15 months in office. The wheels of global change were beginning to turn, however, and his successor, Konstantin Chernenko, lasted only 13 months, and under his successor, Mikhail Gorbachev, the next casualty would be the Soviet Union itself.
Tragically, despite all early indications, Samantha was not destined to become our supreme leader and usher in an era of world peace. On August 25th, 1985, at the age of 13, Samantha was in a plane crash with her father while returning home to Maine. All 8 occupants aboard were killed. She was eulogized in Moscow, with a personal message of condolence from Gorbachev,
“Everyone in the Soviet Union who has known Samantha Smith will forever remember the image of the American girl who, like millions of Soviet young men and women, dreamt about peace, and about friendship between the peoples of the United States and the Soviet Union.”
President Reagan sent a letter of condolence to her mother:
“Perhaps you can take some measure of comfort in the knowledge that millions of Americans, indeed millions of people, share the burdens of your grief. They also will cherish and remember Samantha, her smile, her idealism and unaffected sweetness of spirit.”
Dog sniffs out prehistoric 250,000-year-old wooly rhino bone
Dinosaurs have gone to the dogs!
Or another pithy intro about dogs and bones and such. I dunno. Enjoy this beagle.
Apparently woolly rhinos are a thing… or were, about 250,000 years ago.
Our story follows four-year-old Crystal, a beagle who has been trained to sniff out fossils and the remains of prehistoric creatures by her paleontologist owner Jamie Jordan.
“Beagles are well known for their sense of smell, and if they can be trained to sniff out drugs, weapons, and bombs. why not try fossils?” he said.
Jordan, who runs a museum and educational center Fossils Galore and totally isn’t trying to fund his research sniffing out the aforementioned drugs and bombs and shit. He’s having the pooch sniff out bones from the Ice Age, which apparently, “have a very organic, very pungent and clay-like smell” which is not what I’d expect from a quarter-million-year-old rhino with wet fur.
Crystal’s biggest find came in 2016 when she sniffed out the wooly rhino leg bone, which was not connected to a wooly rhino shin bone. The rhino has been dubbed “Stompy” because everyone in this story has a cute name.
The dog gets a treat whenever she makes a discovery. Sadly, it’s not the bone she found, which feels a bit shitty, but until bone sniffing dogs unionize what are ya gonna do?
“If they’re on the surface she’ll sniff it out and howl to alert us, but if the bone is underground Crystal will just dig down,”
Jordan told SWNS, inadvertently admitting to forcing his four-legged companion to do the manual labor too – and she has to use the wee-tiny brushes. Those are hard for dogs to hold.
Jordan was inspired by the pioneering Victorian paleontologist Mary Anning, who hunted for fossils with her dog Tray on a stretch of the U.K.’s southern coastline dubbed the “Jurassic Coast” – which was a lot more fun until the wooly Britains got out of their cages and gave everyone spotted dick.
Anning’s remarkable life is depicted in the upcoming movie “Ammonite” which stars Kate Winslet as the fossil hunter fated to seek revenge on the fossils who killed her parents… I think.
Woolly rhinos first appeared about 350,000 years ago and existed until about 10,000 years ago when they just gave up and quit, according to the International Rhino Foundation. “Their fossils are fairly common and have been discovered throughout Europe and Asia,” it explains, on its website. “Well-preserved remains have been discovered frozen in ice and buried in oil-saturated soils.”
But how do dogs sniff out fossils?
Well, according to the Institute for Creation Research they can’t. See, you can’t smell something that’s been decomposing over millions of years because it would just smell like more rock. They invite you to test this by smelling rocks and, as you’ll surely notice, rocks smell the same. So there ya go. But what about the wooly rhino? Well, you can smell something that’s died within the last say… 6000 or so years – or the age we all know the Earth actually is. Therefore, dogs prove creationism, no questions please, end sentence.
On the other hand, if we talk to people who have read more than one book…
Australian dog trainer Gary Jackson of Multinational K9 has trained a black lab mix named Migaloo as the world’s first “archaeology dog,” able to locate bones that are hundreds of years old. See, they got permission from the Aboriginal tribal elders to use some ancestral bones from the South Australian Museum’s collection. What they saw was that the dog was able to find a buried bone from about ten feet (three meters) away, even if it’s as small as a fingernail. As a test, Migaloo was invited to search an ancient Aboriginal burial ground in South Australia. She immediately turned up a 600-year-old grave. It should be noted that they knew more or less where it was, but the dog and owner didn’t, hence the “test.”
To the concerns about the dog digging up the bones, handler Jackson says “No, Migaloo only digs if I don’t reward her right away. And she has no interest in the bones other than finding them. She just wants the ball!”
I’m Aaron, and I’d like to thank all our listeners, supporters, and my co-hosts…
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Music for this episode was created by Wayne Jones and was used with permission.
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