Year
1946

The United States presents the Baruch Plan

The United States presents the Baruch Plan for the international control of atomic weapons to the United Nations. The failure of the plan to gain acceptance resulted in a dangerous nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

In August 1945, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, becoming the first and only nation to use nuclear weapons during wartime. The successful use of the bombs not only ended World War II, but also left the United States with a monopoly on the most destructive weapon known to humankind. As Cold War animosities between the United States and the Soviet Union began to develop in the months after the end of the war, a sharp discussion ensued in the administration of President Harry S. Truman. Some officials, including Secretary of War Henry R. Stimson and Secretary of Commerce Henry Wallace, argued that the United States should share its atomic secrets with the Soviets. The continuing U.S. monopoly, they argued, would only result in growing Russian suspicions and an eventual arms race. Others, such as State Department official George F. Kennan, strenuously argued against this position. The Soviets, these people declared, could not be trusted and the United States would be foolish to relinquish its atomic “ace in the hole.”

The battle between these two groups was apparent in early 1946, when the United States proposed the formation of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission (UNAEC) to establish an international control over the spread and development of nuclear weapons and technology. Bernard Baruch, a trusted adviser to U.S. presidents since the early 20th century, was tapped to formulate the American proposal and present it to the United Nations. Baruch sided with those who feared the Soviets, and his proposal reflected this. His proposal did provide for international control and inspection of nuclear production facilities, but clearly announced that the United States would maintain its nuclear weapons monopoly until every aspect of the proposal was in effect and working. The Soviets, not surprisingly, rejected the Baruch Plan. The United States thereupon rejected a Soviet counterproposal for a ban on all nuclear weapons.

By 1949, any discussion of international control of nuclear weapons was a moot point. In September of that year, the Soviets successfully tested a nuclear device. During the next few years the United States and Soviet Union raced to develop an ever-more frightening arsenal of nuclear weapons, including the hydrogen bomb, MIRV missiles (missiles with multiple nuclear warheads), and the neutron bomb (designed to kill people but leave structures standing).

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Battle of Petersburg begins

During the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Potomac and Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia collide for the last time as the first wave of Union troops attacks Petersburg, a vital Southern rail center 23 miles south of the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. ...read more

U.S.-Canadian border established

Representatives of Great Britain and the United States sign the Oregon Treaty, which settles a long-standing dispute with Britain over who controlled the Oregon territory. The treaty established the 49th parallel from the Rocky Mountains to the Strait of Georgia as the boundary ...read more

Richard Petty makes 1,000th start

On this day in 1986, driving legend Richard Petty makes the 1,000th start of his National Association for Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) career, in the Miller American 400 in Brooklyn, Michigan. He became the first driver in NASCAR history to log 1,000 career starts. Petty grew up on ...read more

Magna Carta sealed

Following a revolt by the English nobility against his rule, King John puts his royal seal on the Magna Carta, or “Great Charter.” The document, essentially a peace treaty between John and his barons, guaranteed that the king would respect feudal rights and privileges, uphold the ...read more

U.S. planes bomb North Vietnam

U.S. planes bomb targets in North Vietnam, but refrain from bombing Hanoi and the Soviet missile sites that surround the city. On June 17, two U.S. Navy jets downed two communist MiGs, and destroyed another enemy aircraft three days later. U.S. planes also dropped almost 3 ...read more

River excursion ends in tragedy

More than 1,000 people taking a pleasure trip on New York City’s East River are drowned or burned to death when a fire sweeps through the boat. This was one of the United States’ worst maritime disasters. The riverboat-style steamer General Slocum was built in 1890 and used ...read more

Lincoln calls for help

On this day in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln calls for help in protecting Washington, D.C., America’s capital city. Throughout June, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was on the move. He had pulled his army from its position along the Rappahannock ...read more

Delaware declares independence

On this day in 1776, the Assembly of the Lower Counties of Pennsylvania declares itself independent of British and Pennsylvanian authority, thereby creating the state of Delaware. Delaware did not exist as a colony under British rule. As of 1704, Pennsylvania had two colonial ...read more