Bernard Baruch: Magnate, Statesman, And Atomic Commissioner

Bernard Baruch was a man whose name might well echo through the hallowed halls of some scholarly minds.

Unfortunately, the depth and scope of his influence are generally not appreciated or understood by a wider audience.

Bernard Baruch was born on August 19th, 1870 in Camden, South Carolina, to the great physician Simon Baruch and his wife, Belle. Dr. Baruch the elder would be himself known to history as perhaps the foremost advocate of the urban public bathhouse to benefit public health in the United States.

After graduating from the City College of New York in 1889, Baruch would work as a broker and then, finally, as a partner with the vaunted brokerage firm of A.A. Houseman and Company.

With his earnings, he bought himself a seat on the New York Stock Exchange for $19,000 (a little over $500,000 in today’s value). It was here that the sugar market would prove to be extremely lucrative for Baruch and he amassed a fortune before the age of 30 and he became one of the most successful and notorious figures on Wall Street.

By 1903, long before Jordan Belfort, Barruch earned the enviable nickname of “the lone wolf of wall street”, due to his refusal to join any financial house.

In 1906, Baruch flex his entrepreneurial muscles by founding and incorporating the Intercontinental Rubber Company of New York, which came to become a rubber market superpower both in the U.S. and with a commercial presence in Mexico. Fellow travelers in this endeavor would include prominent Republican senator Nelson Aldrich, who would be well known to history as one of the “Big Four“, as well as the infamous oil magnate John D. Rockefeller Jr.

It’s particularly worth mentioning that long before the infamous crash of 1929, Baruch foresaw the crash as early as 1927 and spent most of the year and 1928 selling his stock short. He was one of the very few wall street brokers who came out of the crash unscathed.

So, it was in 1916 that Baruch turned his gaze to the political landscape.

According to Brittanica.com, Baruch was appointed by Pres. Woodrow Wilson to the Advisory Commission of the Council of National Defense, and during World War I, he became chairman of the War Industries Board. In 1919 he was a member of the Supreme Economic Council at the Versailles Peace Conference and was also a personal adviser to President Wilson on the terms of peace.

As an expert in wartime economic mobilization, Baruch was employed as an adviser by Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II, although he did not hold an administrative position.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt won the nomination he decided to give him his support. On 2nd July, Baruch visited Roosevelt at the Congress Hotel. At the end of the meeting, it was agreed that Baruch would work closely with the Brains Trust in the campaign against Herbert Hoover during the 1932 Presidential Election. At the time the group included Raymond Moley, Rexford Guy Tugwell, Adolf Berle, and Basil O’Connor. Roosevelt felt that this new spirit could help his campaign.

After the war, Baruch played an instrumental role in formulating policy at the United Nations regarding the international control of atomic energy

In 1946, President Harry Truman named Baruch the United States’ representative to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission (UNAEC.) As a representative, he deviated sharply from the ideological tenets of the Acheson-Lilienthal plan for international control of atomic energy. Going against the sentiments of Robert Oppenheimer and the scientific community, Baruch instead advocated to the UN for an American monopoly on atomic energy.

With this in mind, as atomicarchive.com states, Baruch unveiled the United States plan in a speech to the newly-created United Nations Atomic Energy Commission on June 14, 1946. Baruch proposed the establishment of an international atomic development authority along the lines proposed by the Acheson-Lilienthal report, one that would control all activities dangerous to world security and possess the power to license and inspect all other nuclear projects. Once such authority was established, no more bombs should be built and existing bombs should be destroyed. Abolishing atomic weapons could lay the groundwork for reducing and subsequently eliminating all weapons, thus outlawing war altogether.

The Baruch Plan, in Baruch’s words “the last, best hope of earth,” deviated from the optimistic tone of the Acheson-Lilienthal plan, which had intentionally remained silent on enforcement, and set specific penalties for violations such as illegally owning atomic bombs. Baruch argued that the United Nations should not allow members to use the veto to protect themselves from penalties for atomic energy violations; he held that simple majority rule should prevail in this area. As on enforcement, the Acheson-Lilienthal report had studiously avoided comment on the veto issue.

This plan, devised with the assistance of some of Baruch’s Wall Street associates, was vetoed by the Soviet Union. As the Cold War intensified and nuclear weapons swiftly proliferated around the world, Oppenheimer and others roundly criticized Baruch’s presentation to UNAEC. American Secretary of State Dean Acheson said of the plan, “It was his [Baruch’s] ball and he balled it up…He pretty well ruined the whole thing.”

On 20th June 1965, at the age of 94 of a heart attack at his apartment on 66th Street.

On June 21st, 1965, then-President Lyndon B. Johnson put out a statement:

Bernard Baruch was in the robust tradition of the philosopher-politician: one who thought and cared mightily about the course of his country but who did not shrink from actively doing what needed to be done to keep his country on course.

He loved his Nation and he lived for his Nation and that was enough to enroll him in an aristocracy of humanity.

 

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