Friday, June 29, 2012

June 15, 1946 – Baruch Plan Determines Americans will give up The Bomb

World War II ended abruptly with the American use of the newly created atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  After V-J Day, new issues arose in the world order dividing occupation zones between Anglo-American and Soviet influences.  President Harry Truman of the United States set Under Secretary of State Dean Acheson onto the task of answering the question, “What to do with The Bomb?”

The idea of splitting an atom (once believed to be the indestructible unit of matter) arose in the early twentieth century as scientists such as Ernest Rutherford and Niels Bohr described a tightly packed, high-energy nucleus.  In the discoveries of radioactivity by Henri Becquerel and Marie Curie, it was shown that the nucleus could break, giving off a powerful burst of energy.  Scientists in Germany began forcibly breaking up nuclei by bombarding them with neutrons in the late 1930s.  Jewish scientists fearing a Nazi atomic bomb, Leo Szilard and Albert Einstein, wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt about the possibility of a bomb and the necessity of beating Hitler to it.  In 1940, Otto Frisch and Rudolf Peierls of the University of Birmingham wrote a memorandum calculating “the possibility of constructing a ‘super-bomb’ which utilizes the energy stored in atomic nuclei as a source of energy. The energy liberated in the explosion of such a super-bomb is about the same as that produced by the explosion of 1000 tons of dynamite.”  Atomic weapons, which had been largely science fiction, became terrifyingly plausible.

Committees were established, eventually leading to the creation of the Manhattan Engineering District in the Army Corps of Engineers.  Secret laboratories at Oak Ridge, TN, and Los Alamos, NM, produced plutonium from uranium-fed reactors and developed it into an implosion-design device called “the gadget” that exploded at the Trinity test site July 16, 1945, with a yield of 20,000 tons of TNT.  President Harry Truman approved the use of atomic weapons on Japan in hopes of avoiding a bloody invasion, and, on August 6, the gun-type uranium-235 “Little Boy” fell on Hiroshima with another plutonium device, “Fat Man”, striking Nagasaki on August 9.  Japan surrendered on August 15, citing not only the bomb but the declaration of war by the Soviet Union, which was now clearly a rival to the Anglo-Americans as a superpower.

To ensure global law following World War II, the victors created the United Nations in 1945.  The organization would act as a forum in which nations could resolve their disputes and carry stronger action than the League of Nations, which had been organized along similar lines at the end of World War I but had proven ineffectual.  The first resolution passed called for a UN Atomic Energies Commission "to deal with the problems raised by the discovery of atomic energy."  It requested proposals, and Truman tapped Bernard Baruch to present one.

Baruch, who had made his fortune in the stock market before turning to politics and philanthropy, had served as an economic advisor since 1916.  He was dubbed a “park bench statesman” due to his habit of sitting in Lafayette or Central Park and discussing government business with whoever happened to sit beside him.  Baruch took the report created by Acheson and David Lilienthal, chairman of the TVA, upon advice from men such as General Leslie Groves and Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, as the groundwork for his proposal, dubbed “The Baruch Plan.”  In it, he outlined the sharing of scientific knowledge to all nations, international control of resources such as uranium, elimination of atomic weapons, and the need for inspection and punishment for those possessing or manufacturing illegal weapons.  The UN would create the International Atomic Development Authority to guide research and police atomic affairs.

Controversially, Baruch announced that the United States had already begun to dismantle its weapons program after fighting hard with Truman to agree to it as Commander-in-Chief.  The Soviets jumped at the measure, seeing an opportunity to pull America back from its lead.  Many Americans balked at giving up the Bomb, which had cost nearly $2 billion to develop.  However, through the urging of Baruch, Oppenheimer, and others, Congress passed legislation confirming the end of American atomic weapons, though it was believed to have cost Truman the ‘48 election.  The IADA came into effect in 1947 and quickly established its facilities at all known uranium and thorium deposits guarded by the expanded United Nations Police, which had been a small institution created October 1945.  Since 1945 and its expansion under the IADA, UNPol has swelled to include investigative teams working alongside Interpol and national agencies as well as peacekeeping forces against terrorism in some of the most dangerous warzones on Earth.

Although nuclear proliferation has been avoided, humanity still faces war.  Numerous territorial and ethnic wars erupted after decolonization, and the West fought the spread of Communism in Greece, Korea, Egypt, Southeast Asia, Latin America, Africa, Israel/Egypt in 1973, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan.  In 1962, JFK’s blockade of Cuba due to construction of Soviet missile silos caused Khrushchev to threaten war, but intervention by IADA inspectors proved no nuclear weapons were present, and the bases were allowed as a match for NATO bases in Italy and Turkey.  Eventually the Soviet Union collapsed, and Chinese Communism reinvented itself.  Many historians speculate whether atomic weapons could have prevented bloodshed, echoing the words of English author Wilkie Collins, “I begin to believe in only one civilizing influence—the discovery one of these days of a destructive agent so terrible that War shall mean annihilation and men's fears will force them to keep the peace,” written 1870 at the time of the Franco-Prussian War.

Meanwhile, nuclear energy has spread as a cheap source of power, primarily electricity, with nearly 200 plants worldwide.  While many of these are in industrialized nations, several developing countries have been granted their own plants, spurring economic growth.


In reality, many Americans felt the nation had come by the atomic bomb legitimately and had no need to give it up until the nations agreed to outlaw atomic weapons.  The Soviet Union disagreed with the idea, and the Baruch Plan was set aside.  Instead, the USSR successfully created its own atomic bomb in 1949, leading to the Cold War arms race.  Through the 1950s, the doctrine of Mutually-Assured Destruction became widespread, coming to head during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 where deterrence by nuclear threat proved effective.  While there have been a number of smaller wars, the time since 1945 has been free of world wars and is often dubbed the Pax Americana.


  1. What "Soviet missile silos"? Absent nuclear weapons, missiles would be a far less serious threat, and aerial photography would be able to prove there was no large arsenal of non-nuclear missiles in Cuba. What could the silos have been housing?

    1. Biological or chemical warheads, or fuel air explosives that have as much explosive power as available to ordinary chemicals. Just picture a V2 missile from 1944 that could deploy a FAE and devastate an area of ten city blocks in size.

  2. we reverse this scenario somewhat in our redux blog article June 22st, 2015 - destruction of the Baruch Monument on the Today in Alternate History web site.


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