The Pentagon is seen from Air Force One as it flies over Washington on March 2, 2022. Credit: Patrick Semansky / AP

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Gary B. Anderson is an artist, writer and activist living in Bath.

The dilemma of “peace at any price” is how one punctuates it. As a statement, it means peace is worth whatever the cost. Posed as a question, it infers there’s a cost at which peace comes at too high a price. The crux of the matter depends on what “peace” actually means, how it is defined, how durable it will be.

For me, peace is the essential issue of coexistence. Whether it’s achievable to everyone’s satisfaction is secondary to the cessation of war as a first step in arriving at a non-violent solution to the complexities of conflict. Like the idea of a just war, a just peace is a difficult concept on which to achieve consensus, whereas a ceasefire, unlike negotiations, is something clearly understood by all sides.

“Perfect is the enemy of the good” is always sage counsel. I have no problem with an imperfect peace that actually halts wholesale carnage. I’ve had the great good fortune to live all my life safely within my own country’s perpetually imperfect peace. A peace many believe due to an unquestioned superior military deterrence. Bearing arms is indeed one of America’s most valued freedoms. War was the midwife of our nation. A nation that now averages more than one mass shooting per day.

Those who believe in war as a way to peace most likely truly trust that to be so. The vast majority of people I’ve known sincerely hold that belief and think my anti-war views are at best wholly impractical in a real world where so much brutality reigns unchecked. That their belief in a continuous war footing comes at the cost of a near worldwide interventionism, often provoking deep enmity, is rarely considered. That such cost could be better spent in prevention of war’s causation rather than in endless readiness for its perceived inevitability is another nonstarter.

The U.S. spends nearly half of discretionary expenditures on defense versus less than 1 percent on foreign aid. We secure peace at home at the price of being, directly or indirectly, at constant war elsewhere. Concurrently, we are by far the world’s largest exporter of arms.

War is costly yet also very lucrative. Being the police of the world dovetails perfectly with being the ultimate purveyor of the means to violence.

The bottom line is that peace comes secondary to economics. The price tag of peace would be a lot cheaper if one cut out the middleman and spent money directly promoting harmony rather than on forcibly mitigating conflict after exacerbating its causation.

Imagine if the U.S. reversed the proportions of its expenditures on militarism and foreign aid. Imagine our “homeland” spending more on deterring crime than on law enforcement and incarceration.

We all know what the price of peace should be. Peace should cost nobody anything and everybody nothing. Peace shouldn’t be a commodity held for ransom but rather a freely shared commitment to nonviolent cohabitation based on simple fairness. “Shouldn’t,” however, continues to be drowned out by the drums of war and pledges of terribly misguided allegiances, by the clamor of adversarial commerce and anthems of tribal identity.

Many are understandably weary of Vladimir Putin’s endless rampage, his nuclear threats and his war’s immeasurable worldwide cost. Many believe that the war must end regardless of any fairness to Ukraine or equitable punishment of Russia. Their bottom line argues that the risk of a just peace is too high. Ukraine must appease Putin. That’s the only reasonable way to end Putin’s obsessive absolutism, they argue.

The trouble is that the price of appeasement is often further aggression. Ukraine now fully comprehends the lesson of Crimea and this even more existential moment. Real peace will not come by capitulation. Abject brutality cannot be placated into peacefulness.

Ukrainians are unquestionably making that statement, loud and clear, that real peace, sovereign and unyielding, is priceless. Our collective future depends on making that realization universally and non-violently manifest. We can afford war no more.