Words That Men Live By
Bernard M. Baruch (1946)
UNITED NATIONS HEADQUARTERS, N. Y., June 14, 1946 - Bernard M. Baruch, unofficial adviser to, and confident of, each President from Woodrow Wilson to Dwight D. Eisenhower, summarized today in these dramatic words the great question of the Twentieth Century.
Speaking as United States Representative to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission, Mr. Baruch said bluntly that discovery of atomic fission basically gives the world a choice between self-destruction in wartime or undreamed-of development through peaceful harnessing of this force.
Immediate reaction to the speech was one of optimism. However, there remained the question as to what Soviet reaction would be. At the time of this meeting only the United States had demonstrated conquest of the atom, and therefore is in the position to be generous in its offers, with no question as to its sincerity. But there are rumors that the German scientists who were captured by the Soviet armies in the last days of the war were even a year ago far advanced in their own progress toward the same goal; that their skilled added to Russian scientists work may bring this other power into the picture before much time elapses.
Of great importance in today’s presentation was the personality of this vigorous 76-year-old man who held posts of the highest responsibilities in World War I and II, and who wrote a report on postwar plans, in 1944, at the special request of former President Roosevelt. Many observers also recall the long years prior to World War II when Mr. Baruch, at his own expense, made searching inquires into the defense needs of the United States, only to see his recommendations shelved as soon as they had been delivered.
With today’s report, speaking as he does with the unanimous backing alike of the White House and the Congress, there is hope the result will be different.
We are here to make a choice between the quick and the dead.
That is our business.
Behind the black portent of the new atomic age lies a hope which, seized upon with faith, can work our salvation. If we fail, then we have damned every man to be the slave of fear. Let us not deceive ourselves: We must elect world peace or world destruction.
Science has torn from nature a secret so vast in its potentialities that our minds cower from the terror it creates. Yet terror is not enough to inhibit the use of the atomic bomb. The terror created by weapons has never stopped man from employing them. For each new weapon a defense has been produced, in time. But now we face a condition in which adequate defense does not exist.
Science, which gave us this dread power, shows that it can be made a giant help to humanity, but science does not show us how to prevent its baleful use. So we have been appointed to obviate that peril by finding a meeting of the minds and the hearts of our peoples. Only in the will of mankind lies the answer.
In this crisis we represent not only our governments but, in a larger way, we represent the peoples of the world. We must remember that the peoples do not belong to the governments, but that the governments belong to the peoples. We must answer their demands; we must answer the world’s longing for peace and security.
In that desire the United States shares ardently and hopefully. The search of science for the absolute weapon has reached fruition in this country. But she stands ready to proscribe and destroy this instrument – to lift its use from death to life – if the world will join in a pact to that end.
In our success lies the promise of a new life, freed from the heart-stopping fears that now beset the world. The beginning of victory for the great ideals for which millions have bled and died lies in building a workable plan. Now we approach the fulfillment of the aspirations of mankind. At the end of the road lies the fairer, better, surer life we crave and mean to have.
Only by a lasting peace are liberties and democracies strengthened and depended. War is their enemy. And it will not do to believe that any of us can escape war’s devastation. Victor, vanquished and neutrals alike are affected physically, economically and morally.
Against the degradation of war we can erect a safeguard. That is the guerdon for which we reach. Within the scope of the formula we outline here, there will be found, to those who seek it, the essential elements of our purpose. Others will see only emptiness. Each of us carries his own mirror in which is reflected hope – or determined desperation – courage or cowardice.
There is famine throughout the world today. It starves men’s bodies. But there id a greater famine – the hunger of men’s spirit. That starvation can be cured by the conquest of fear, and the substitution of hope, from which springs faith – faith in each other; faith that we want to work together toward salvation; and determination that those who threaten the peace and safety shall be punished.
The peoples of these democracies gathered here have a particular concern with our answer, for their peoples hate war. They will have a heavy exaction to make of those who fail to provide an escape. They are not afraid of an internationalism that protects; they are unwilling to be fobbed off by mouthings about narrow sovereignty, which its today’s phrase for yesterday’s isolationism.
The basis of a sound foreign policy, in this new age, for all the nations here gathered, is that: anything that happens, no matter where or how, which menaces the peace of the world, or the economic stability, concerns each and all of us.
That, roughly, may be said to be the central theme of the United Nations. It is with that thought we gain consideration of the most important subject that can engage mankind – life itself.
Now, if ever, is the time to act for the common good. Public opinion supports a world movement toward security. If I read the signs aright, the peoples want a program, not composed merely of pious thoughts, but of enforceable sanctions –an international law with teeth in it.
We, of this nation, desirous of helping to bring peace to the world and realizing the heavy obligations upon us, arising from our possession of the means for producing the bomb and from the fact that it is part of our armament, are prepared to make our full contribution toward effective control of atomic energy.
But before a country is ready to relinquish any winning weapons, it must have more than words to reassure it. It must have a guarantee of safety, not only against the offenders in the atomic area, but against the illegal users of other weapons – bacteriological, biological, gas – perhaps – why not? – against war itself.
In the elimination of war lies our solution, for only then will nations cease to compete with one another in the production and use of dread “secret” weapons which are evaluated solely by their capacity to kill. This devilish program takes us back not merely to the Dark Ages, but from cosmos to chaos. If we succeed in finding a suitable way to control atomic weapons adaptable to mass destruction: when a man learns to say “A” he can, if he chooses, learn the rest of the alphabet too.
Let this be anchored in our minds:
Peace is never long preserved by weight of metal or by an armament race. Peace can be made tranquil and secure only by understanding and agreement fortified by sanctions. We must embrace international cooperation or international disintegration.
Science has taught us how to put the atom to work. But to make it work for good instead of for evil lies in the domain dealing with the principles of human duty. We are now facing a problem more of ethics than physics.
The solution will require apparent sacrifice in pride and in position, but better pain as the price of peace than death as the price of war.
~ Postlogue ~
The first high hopes aroused by international reaction to the American proposals put forward by Mr. Baruch soon withered. The wartime lessons of even the first atomic bombs’ potency in usage against Hiroshima and Nagasaki had not been enough to induce true respect for the bomb, and other developments abroad were not known at the time.
These other developments were Russian progress in research, with a speed that soon obliterated the time in which the United States could guard with peaceful intent its own exclusive atomic developments.
Tension increased rather than decreased, as this research both in the United States and in Russia broadened to encompass the harnessing of the hydrogen bomb, a far more powerful weapon than the atomic bomb.
Ironically in all the intervening years, no really new thought had been introduced to supplement the stark picture laid down by the aging and thoughtful Mr. Baruch.Printable version