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It's going to cost us
On the words of "1984", the costs of war, and the tolls of peace
In the book "1984", one of the recurring themes is the tale that "Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia" (or Eurasia, as served those who needed it to do so). By the use of that plot device, George Orwell was making a nod to the notion that if people were kept blind to history and ignorant of reality, they could be made to believe anything, even those things that were patently untrue.
■ It isn't just ignorance that can lead us into false belief; so can can wishing too much for a thing to be true. Looking from afar at the Kremlin's war of aggression against Ukraine, it is all too easy to let hope drive the imagination that a clear and binding peace treaty will be implemented sometime in the near future. How heartbreakingly unlikely that really is.
■ Russia has not "always been at war" with Ukraine, but even putting aside the historical violence it has committed against its smaller neighbor, Russia most certainly has been making war there for almost a decade.
■ It was for precisely the kind of defensive weaponry that America is now shipping to Ukraine in huge volumes that Volodymyr Zelenskyy was asking when then-President Donald Trump attempted to extort Ukraine for political help. What is happening now is just a hotter phase of a long-simmering conflict.
■ Indeed, the fact that the war on Ukraine has motivated both Finland and Sweden to set aside decades of neutrality or non-alignment and initiate the process of joining NATO should be warning enough that this is a problem that will be around for the long haul. The Kremlin's thundery reaction tells us it has no quiet ambitions.
■ Even if peace were to break out spontaneously tomorrow -- and it will not -- the trauma of the war alone will resound deafeningly for at least a generation to come. A country cannot lose thousands of lives (4,577, by the latest count) to a depraved and barbaric invader and then merely forgive or and forget. Nor, for that matter, will any amount of Russian state propaganda erase the anguish of thousands of Russian mothers who will never see their sons again. The blame lies squarely at Putin's feet.
■ For a generation to come, the Russian military will contain within its ranks vicious murderers who will, tragically, never be individually held to account for their crimes. The scars of war will remain on the Ukrainian land and people for many decades to come. And the 44-year-old president of Ukraine can be certain that no matter the diplomatic outcome of the war, Russian agents will be trying to poison him for the rest of his natural life.
■ All of this would be true if the war were to end 15 minutes from now. But it won't. Like a cancer that has already metastasized, this problem will persist for the long haul. And there won't be a clean bill of health at the end like we probably wish there would be.
■ We have to make peace with the uncomfortable reality that there will not be a satisfying peace anytime in the foreseeable future. Even if hostilities de-escalate, there will still be plenty of war ahead.
■ American public opinion isn't well-suited to unsatisfying conclusions. Americans want the signing of surrender documents on a battleship in Tokyo Bay. That isn't forthcoming.
■ The essence of leadership will consist of telling Americans that we're in this for the long haul -- and painting a picture of what that long haul will be. "The peaceful self-determination of all free peoples" isn't a concept that rolls gently off the tongue. But it's the one that has to be defended and promoted loudly.
■ In too many ways, we mistook the end of the Cold War to mean the end of great-power influence and self-serving international conflicts. A peaceful world with triumphantly advancing living standards is extremely desirable, but it isn't inevitable. Essential, but not inevitable.
■ It can only be sustained by a combination of un-self-conscious promotion (in culture and in political rhetoric) and the hard-nosed construction of the rules-based global order that makes a peaceful coexistence possible.
■ In the words of business author Jim Collins, people need to believe in a "big, hairy, audacious goal". The rhetoric must lead towards that goal -- peace, freedom, and prosperity for the entire world -- but it must built on an infrastructure that invests both in the maintenance of the peace and the promotion of the rules that keep the peace.
■ These are costs we will face aplenty not just now, but for many years to come. The sooner we bring credibility to the long road yet to travel, the tolls that must be paid along the way, and the worthiness of the destination, the better.