“War Is a Matter Not So Much of Arms as of Money.” – Thucydides

Whatever happened to the good, old-fashioned lemonade stand?

As we all know, wars are exorbitantly expensive. Not only in the physical and psychological sense, but they cost a lot of cold, hard cash. However, in the case of the war in Ukraine, regular citizens have found a way to chip in and give to the side of their choice.

A recent piece in The Economist reminds us that private donations have been used to fund wars for hundreds and hundreds of years. Even longer than that. The Romans had begun to build Hadrians’s wall in northern England around 122 AD. Near that wall, historians found an ancient tablet that noted gifts provided to the Roman Legions: practical things like underwear, socks, and sandals.

Fast forward to World War I, and our government reached out to civilians and asked them to knit sweaters to help keep our boys overseas warm in the trenches. In World War II, the government encouraged people to buy war bonds. According to the National World War II Museum website, you could buy a $25 war bond for $18.75. Ten years after you bought it, you could redeem it for the full amount. In the meantime, your money went to purchase ships, tanks, medicine, uniforms, food…you name it. Crowdfunding is nothing new.

World War II US Treasury poster promoting war bonds. Image Credit: The National Archives and Wikimedia Commons

On the other side of the pond, British citizens could contribute to the “Spitfire Fund,” named in honor of one of their best fighter planes. For a contribution of six old pence, a person could designate whether they wanted their money to go to a wing, engine, or machine gun. In the end, the fundraiser raked in about £ 13 million, enough to fund the construction of 1,000 high-performance aircraft.  

The Economist tells the story of how, last month, Aerorozvidka (the Ukrainian drone unit) was provided with four Chinese-made DJI Phantom 3 drones by a generous German donor. Late last April, Reuters reported on how DJI Technologies, the makers of the drones, decided to stop the sale of their products to both Ukraine and Russia to prevent their use in combat. But, of course, that does not preclude private drone owners from donating them.

It’s not only the Ukrainians that we’re told about; Russia, too, has its crowdfunding sources. There are many stories out there of how Russian troops sometimes lacked even the most basic of supplies. Buda-Shirap Batuyev, a communist with ties to Vladimir Putin’s party, has commented on attending the funerals of young Russian soldiers. He noted through The Economist that due to lack of supplies, entire units were “as helpless as blind kittens.” That’s a sad visual.

Ground roots civilian support groups have sprung up in Russia, often formed by the mothers of deployed soldiers. Care packages containing the essentials: toothpaste, snacks, clean socks, etc., are being sent to the front lines. In addition to the “goodies boxes,” items like body armor and radios are also being sent.