How War Bonds Funded a War

I love used bookstores and have visited tons of them on my travels. My home town of Boulder is blessed with some good ones, but they’re clean, modern used bookstores, not the classic musty fire hazards that are the mark of a truly great store run by a bibliophile, typically an old guy who’s retired and just loves books.

Last time I was up in Montana visiting my son I spotted what looked like a prime used bookstore, Blacktail Books, but it wasn’t until my recent Christmas visit that we had a chance to go in and check it out.

And oh, it should be in a movie. It’s an absolutely iconic used book store, as this photo shows:

used book store aisle overflowing with books, kalispell montana

When you can’t move around because it’s so stuffed with books, that’s a good used book store!

What I usually make a beeline for are the oldest books in the store, and this place didn’t disappoint, with some great books from the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, including this somewhat battered Ngaio Marsh thriller

1945 printing, 'colour scheme' by ngaio marsh

I’ve heard of the author — she stands among peers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers for her 32 books about Inspector Alleyn of the Criminal Investigation Department, Metropolitan Police, London — but wasn’t really sure what this particular book was about. Still, just the feel and smell of old books. Yeah, I’ll probably be that creepy old guy with my own used book store in 30-40 years!

In fact, a bit of research revealed that the novel takes place in New Zealand during World War II and the plot involves suspected Nazi activity at a hot springs resort on the coast of New Zealand’s Northland region and a gruesome murder whose solution by Inspector Alleyn exposes the spies. Sounds like a great story, doesn’t it?

What really intrigued me, however, wasn’t the book but what was on the back of the dustcover:

buy war bonds, back of book printed in 1945

That got me thinking about War Bonds. If you don’t know, it was basically how the United States government funded the extraordinary expenses associated with our entry and involvement in World War II.

And boy was it successful! According to the Library of Congress, the War Finance Committee sold over $185 billion dollars worth of War Bonds to 85 million American citizens. Adjusted for inflation, that converts to $2.4 trillion dollars in bonds (assuming 3.75% annual inflation for 70 years)

buy war bonds, before it's too late (from the collection of the WWII museum)Now War Bonds were really more of a loan than a donation, because just like savings bonds, you would buy a bond for a certain amount of money and when it “matured” after a few years, it would be worth more. That $100 savings bond might have cost you $78 but for three years the money was tied up. Times a trillion dollars.

What got me thinking was whether we could ever pull off something like this ever again. If there ever is a World War III, will the government raise the trillions of dollars needed by selling bonds and will we Americans buy them? Sure, the modern version might look like a really big KickstarterΔ campaign, but would you invest some of your hard-earned dollars to fund the war effort and save our children ‘before it’s too late’?

See? This is what’s amazing about books and bookstores. They are but drops in the ocean of our minds, ready to send ripples in all sorts of amazing directions…

Oh, and it’s a good bet that Inspector Alleyn would have bought a few War Bonds in his time too, as would Ms. Marsh.

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