The Cost of War

We know the bitter costs of war — lost lives,  broken bodies, physical devastation and untold human anguish. But what — actually — does a war cost, in dollars? During World War II, it was one of Luther Gulick’s jobs with the War Production Board  to scope out the military budget for President Roosevelt. A document from July 1942, stamped, “Secret”,  forecast the “Total war program” for the year as costing $63.7 billion — equivalent to $929 billion in today’s dollars. For 1943 the forecast went up to $104.4 billion — $1.43 trillion today. And the war had almost two more years to run.


Three months later, another document in Gulick’s War Production Board files offered slightly scaled down objectives for 1943 — $92.2 billion, or $1.35 trillion today, including FDR’s “must” list estimated at $48.8 billion, or $712 billion today. That included $37 billion for aircraft ($540 billion today) and $2.7 billion (almost $40 billion today) in aid to the Soviet Union, then bearing the brunt of the Nazi onslaught.


In all, according to the Congressional Research Service, World War II cost the US $4.1 trillion in today’s dollars. Since 9/11, Congress has appropriated one-quarter as much — about $1 trillion — for the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.



Luther Gulick in the Land of the Rising Sun

Luther Gulick was born and spent a large part of his youth in Japan, an experience that helped mold his character and would serve him well later on in life.

A short-tempered child, Gulick began to change when he was taken under the wing of the grandfather of the family’s maid. The man used to be a retainer of the local Shogun when Japan was still a closed society; as Gulick recounted:

“… he showed me his old ceremonial sword. He said a good retainer was brave, able to ignore pain, and never lost his temper because that was not only a sign of weakness but handicapped a man in meeting any challenge. These Zen virtues, and his tales of old Japan, made a great impression on me.”

A lack of suitable schools left Gulick to be privately tutored;  however, the boy had great difficulty at first, until it was discovered that he could not see properly. At the age of eight, Luther was sent to Tokyo for an eye exam and to acquire his first set of eyeglasses; eye problems would be a recurring factor for much of his life. While in Tokyo, Gulick took the opportunity to pick-up his first bicycle, proudly reporting that he was able to ride through Tokyo’s traffic — which at the turn of the 20th century consisted of rickshaws, oxcarts, and pedestrians — with “only one spill.”

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Christmas Card and Calendar Sent to Gulick from Japan

Fluent in English,  Japanese, and later German, Gulick was sometimes called on to act as an interpreter for visiting westerners. In one case he recalled acting as a translator for the writer Jack London:

“My first exposure to Western prudery came when I managed persuade the managers of the Dogo Hot Springs to let Jack London use the most sacred bathing pool for his bath. As he lolled in the translucent and steaming water, in came a maid with tea service. Such a panic and scramble for cover. ”

Gulick’s fluency allowed him access to areas where other foreigners living in Japan normally did not have permission to enter. In one case Gulick was able to walk into a Russian prisoner of war camp where POWs of the Russo-Japanese War were kept. Becoming friendly with the Russian officers confined there, Gulick promised to mail their letters for them, much to the horror of Sidney Gulick, Luther’s father, who had the correspondence burned.


Luther Gulick’s Speech, Partially Given in Japanese.

In 1904 Gulick’s father was offered the position of professor at Doshisha Theological Seminary. He accepted with the stipulation that he be allowed to engage in studies for two years in Europe and the United States, taking Luther and the entire family with him. While many were sad to see the elder Gulick leave, his son’s hijinks were less missed. One of the missionaries working with his father was purported to remark: “Yes, Dr. Gulick’s departure will be a great loss to the Mission. But after all, he will take Luther with him.”

Luther Gulick would eventually return to the land of his birth but it was to be a defeated, broken Japan. Gulick will be among those working to try and rebuild that nation, but that is a story for another post.



The United Nations Before the United Nations

Before there was a United Nations, there were “United Nations” joining us in the “Fight for Freedom” in 1942 — 30 of them! Two — Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia — no longer exist. And others like “Soviet  Russia” (really the U.S.S.R then) and Great Britain are vastly diminished. We found this great vintage poster in the Gulick war files.



Buddy, Can You Spare a Typewriter?

In this time of plenty, it’s hard to remember that during World War II, rationing restricted Americans’s access to a long list of consumer goods, including automobiles, shoes, meat and butter and …typewriters. With writing machines urgently needed for the military, people needed authorization from the Typewriter Rationing Board of the Office of Price Administration even to rent one. Forget trying to buy a new one — production halted on Oct. 31, 1942.

It reached the point where, in November, 1942, an associate of Luther Gulick’s — Ethel Warner, Director of the Academy of Political Science at Columbia University– urgently appealed to him though his connections at the War Production Board to pull strings at the OPA so someone would sign her application for a precious typewriter. “I am just stuck without it,” she lamented.

Alas, Gulick returned it blank suggesting she use it to reapply “through regular channels.”

He concluded archly: “Have you tried begging, borrowing or stealing a used machine?”

Here’s the correspondence:







typewriter rental certificate


Processing a Box part 2: Getting Your Hands Dirty

When you’ve done a brief survey of the contents of a box, you know what sort of material you’ll be working with. To process a box, you work through, folder by folder (or, if no folders are present, loose paper by loose paper!). Each folder’s contents should be taken out and inspected for preliminary preservation issues. In particular, with this collection, we are focusing on removing paper clips and any rusty staples we encounter.

It is important that we maintain any groupings of papers that had been stapled or clipped together, so once we remove the fastener, we wrap the grouping with a folder slip made with acid-free paper. While this does not hold the grouping together permanently, it indicates that the papers belong together, and also allows a researcher to leaf through the grouping without risking a tear of the papers where they had been stapled or clipped.
We also note the presence of newsprint. Newspapers are printed on highly acidic and fragile paper, which has a tendency both to crumble with age and to stain paper next to it. To address this, we either photocopy the news clipping onto acid-free paper and dispose of the original, or interleave it with acid-free paper.
Each folder present in the original box is replaced with an archival-quality folder, which helps ensure long-term preservation of the papers inside. If we need to expand the folder to accommodate a wider packet, we use a special tool called a bone folder to crease the bottom of the folder. (This is one of my favorite things to do!)
Similarly, if a report is bound using a comb binder or other folder like the one below, we remove it and place it in a new archival folder.
The folders are labeled with the collection title, the folder’s title, and dates (if available). Since this is such a large collection, for some series we are placing each processed folder in a large archival banker’s box, in case we need to do some rearranging before we establish the folder’s permanent location. Eventually, we will place all the folders in archival boxes like this:
In the next part of the “Processing a Box” series, we’ll discuss how we process a box when no folders are present and we have to establish groupings ourselves.