First Contact

By Maya Petzoldt, TIWP Student

February 23rd, 2022, 10:36 pm.

I can’t sleep, I just can’t. I can roll over in my bed as many times as I want, I won’t fall asleep. I try going to the bathroom, I try getting water. Hell, I even try getting up and running around to see if it will make me tired. Not even push ups can help me. I sigh outloud a few more times before I finally resign myself to what I know will only make me more restless, my phone. I open it, and begin to text Sumter.

February 21st, 2022, 7:46 pm.

I happily ping Sumter on Discord, and wait for them to come online. Once I see the small red dot next to their name I quickly hit video call. And so begins our deep night of conversations. We start to tell eachother about our day. I explain why I’m at a different house, my homecoming dance on Friday, my platonic soulmate that I found. They also rave to me about their platonic soulmate, about how their school is going. Together we sigh wistfully about how our lives might change in the future, about where we’ll grow up to be. Will we still live with our platonic soulmates? Will we get to marry them? We don’t know, but we’re running out of topics. I suggest something familiar to us, youtube.
And so together we begin to watch Extra Credits: History’s “Otto Von Bismark” series. We laugh at the episode about Wild Man Bismark, we cheerfully chirp to each other the phrase ‘Bismark always has a plan,’ and begin to gossip about what the world would be like if Bismark had stayed in power for longer, or if he dreamed of a Germany without him. The longer we talk about these things the further we drift off. After passing the topics of the Concert of Europe, WW1, WW2, and the Cold War, we land on the topic of the present day. Sumter expresses their concern for Ukraine, and how they are doing after the 2014 incident where Russia annexed Crimea. I respond easily, and with confidence-
“Yeah, but we don’t have to worry, Russia can’t do shit.”
Sumter is curious, and raises an eyebrow.
“How so?”
I easily maneuver myself to sit up straighter, and begin to open my maps app on my phone. I zoom in around Russia, and begin to explain myself.
“Well, while Ukraine isn’t a part of NATO, Turkey is and the two countries share borders through the Black Sea, so Turkey could come to the defense of Ukraine if needed. Plus, today’s politics really aren’t built on expansionism. On that note, what would Russia want Ukraine for? So they’re surrounded by nations with a vendetta against expansionist policies, what can Russia do?”
Sumter nods at this, but also brings up a few other good points.
“But have any nations gone to help Ukraine in the past? What if it’s just appeasement all over again, what if we don’t do anything?”
I nod at this, they bring up a good point.
“Well, we could try to beef up some countries on Russia’s border. Like we could actually give aid to Ukraine, and I think America has helped Estonia in the past? So we could help them. Plus Finland has never liked Russia, so they would be against them. So the only two nations Russia could expand into are Lithuania and Belarus.”
Sumter scratches their chin, leaning back with their phone.
“That’s smart, but what if Russia doesn’t plan for a land invasion? I mean, we know they have nuclear weapons. They could just shoot us from above.”
“Yeah, but we can shoot them from above as well. And from the Cold War I pretty much remember that America has better Nuclear missiles than Russia, so we can do better than them there.”
Sumter still looks a little worried, and more than a little lost in thought.
“You know, this reminds of that Bismark quote. ‘It’ll be some damn thing in the Balkans,’ right?”
I laugh a little.
“I don’t think Ukraine is in the Balkans.”
“True, but it’s close enough. What if Russia starts WW3, and it’s a Nuclear war?”
I laugh Sumter off, but chose to sooth them anyway.
“Well, not only can Russia not do shit, but it’s not common policy for any nation to do shit. Do you know the MAD DOG theory? I may be naming it wrong, but I think it goes something like-”
Sumter interrupts me.
“You don’t have to use your nuclear weapons, you just have to make people think you’re crazy enough to use them.”
I nod.
“Yeah, and guess what, even if we were crazy enough to use them, there are enough people in power and in America in general that would say ‘no’ to Nuclear weapon usage. So we won’t shoot at all.”
I think I only made Sumter more worried.
“Well yeah, there are enough people in America that would say ‘no,’ but are there enough people in Russia that will say ‘no’?”
This makes me think harder.
“Hey, we don’t need to worry about that anytime soon. Russia’s in a pickle, and can’t do shit, plus Putin plays into the MAD DOG theory too, and he’s only gonna pretend to push the button, alright?”
Sumter nods their agreement, but I can tell they still look uneasy. To be honest, their uneasiness is making me uneasy. I can’t help but mutter to myself-
“But, as General Moltke so famously said-”

February 23rd, 2022, 9:21 pm.

I happily talked with my Mom about how tonight’s Friends dinner went. While the power at our house had gone out for an hour, my Mom and I were still able to pull off the weekly dinner at my Aunties house. We talk about how I’m going to thank Grandma in the morning, she lives on the east coast so I outta wait till she’s awake to text her, for the chicken recipe she lended to use. Everybody loved it.
“I’m really proud of you Harper, Uncle Richie was definitely man-splaining to you and you both shut him down, proved him wrong, and somehow continued the conversation without him noticing it at all!”
My Mom laughs, and I laugh with her, smiling.
“Oh yeah, I was like- ‘Really, you’re handing me a whole-ass theory on human evolution and expansion with only one source? As good as the argument is, it’s gotta be backed up with more than one guy with a publisher-”
My Mom and I continue to talk about Uncle Richie, who’s techinlucly my in-law cousin twice removed, and about his arguments on water politics here in the west coast. We continue to talk about even more political topics, like how making it easier for people to Immigrate to America and become citizens would boost our economy and help out the farmers, and how farmers are in reality the biggest environmentalists in the world, and-
I just can’t stop thinking about Sally, my platonic soulmate. I got to see her again tonight, and we talked about getting matching Corsages, and my new gel nails and make-ip. I honestly can’t wait to spend my life with her. She’ll be a lawyer, psychologist, botanist- she hasn’t decided yet- and I’ll be a traveling paleoanthropologist. We’ll live in a tiny house with a big garden like my Auntie, and we’ll live a perfect, lesbian life.
I bet the future holds nothing but the best for her and me.

February 23rd, 2022, 10:38 pm.

I quickly text Sumter.

[Hey Sumter]
[Remember what we talked about the other night]
I then send them a picture of a screen shot I took. It’s from my youtube recommendations page. I took a screenshot of two videos. The first one is from 12 News, and it’s thumbnail is a picture of an explosion happening in the afternoon. It’s bright and orange over the dark horizon of a city I don’t recognise. The title of the video is- “Explosions rock Ukraine as Putin announces military invasion.” The second video is from ABC News, and it’s a picture of a whilte building at night, with gold roofs that I don’t recognise. It’s title is- “SPECIAL REPORT: Russia begins military operations in Ukraine.” Both videos were posted an hour ago. I begin to text again.
Sumter texts back.
I sent another picture. I just typed into my Safari search bar ‘russia invading ukraine’ and got many results. The top stories are referred to as ‘News about Russian’ and you can see two article titles. CNN says “Live updates: Russia Attacks Ukraine, NATO condemns attack, Zelensky introduces martial law.” The next article is from the New York Times, and you can only see part of it. “Russia-Ukraine Crisis- News Updates.” Below those two articles are two more I don’t pay attention to, something about Russia’s economy dropping and the Ukrainian President. I keep texting Sumter.
[It not good]
[NATO condemns?]
They text back.
{It very not good}
I keep texting,
just frantic at this point,
and hoping to get this off my chest and off my mind.
[How did we literally talk about this two days ago and then it happens!?!?!?!]
[The fuck is this shit!!??!?!?!??!?!]
Sumter finally sends a longer message,
seemingly getting over their shock as I embrace mine.
{I literally discussed this with my Euro teacher this morning and he said that an invasion was unlikely}
I begin a stream of words in text form,
my thoughts just falling into my phone like some kind of brain vomit.
[Eat those words]
[We all ate those words]
[Remember how I said Russia can’t do shit?]
Sumter types back furiously.
As I finally feel my panic subside,
perhaps at not being the only one panicking,
I text out one more thing to Sumter as I begin to fall asleep.
[Remember how after that I mumbled what General Moltke said?]

February 24th, 2022, 7:33 am.

As I blink myself awake, after having hit the snooze button nine times, I scroll through youtube again. This time I click on a youtube video, and watch it. I watch as the President of Ukraine addresses his people, and tells them to stand strong. I feel scared, not a good feeling to be your first in the morning, because I wonder what else Russia could have done to Ukraine in the eight or more hours I was asleep. I sleepily try to remind myself that there was nothing I could have done, and probably nothing I could do to change any of it anyway.
After getting dressed and attending to my morning routine, I do the first thing I can think of. I travel across the hall and into my moms room and tell them about last night.
“Have you read the news yet?”
My Mom looks over at me from her desk, where she had already begun working for the day, and gives me a deadpan expression.
“You mean about Putin invading Ukraine? The start of World War 3? Yeah, I know.”
I feel a little silly thinking she wouldn’t know. My Mom’s always been on top of the news, so there’s no reason she wouldn’t know when she wakes up hours before me. I laugh a little.
“Yeah, I found out last night. Texted Sumter about it a bit, they said their Euro teacher thought an invasion was unlikely.”
My Mom scoffed, going back to work.
“Tell them their Euro teacher is full of shit, and needs to recheck their degree if they missed this coming.”
I don’t comment any further, almost agreeing and yet not agreeing about it. I travel downstairs to begin making breakfast for myself, my Mom will make her breakfast later, when she’s hungry. I mean, I thought it was impossible as well, so I’m wrong. But I’m 17 and I’m just starting college level classes and learning about Neanderthals, so of course I’m wrong, I know nothing about this. But should Sumter’s teacher have known about it? I mean, maybe. Historically this seems right up Russia’s ally, but in modern context it seems impossible. I guess General Moltke was right-

February 24th, 2022, 9:23 am.

I sit in my bed and begin to work on my homework. I’m taking a mythology course and have to annotate creation myths. Yesterday, when I was doing the assigned reading for this, this seemed super fun. But it really doesn’t right now, I can’t seem to get the Ukraine situation off of my mind. I should get it off my mind, I have work to do after all, but I can’t seem to forget about it. It’s not really going to impact me, is it?
I’m not old enough to be drafted if there is a war, and I live near Sacramento, I’m not a target. I’m a 17 year old girl, what do I have to worry about, I’m not a target. Why am I repeating that I’m not a target? Why am I treating this like it’s already a nuclear war? World War 3? Defcon 1, cocked pistol? Maybe I should call my Dad. He’s a Navy Captain, he’ll have more insight on this than anybody else I know. So I do.
“Hey Cub Scout, how’s it going?”
I can see my Dad over the facetime screen, standing at his standing desk and eating a bagel with cream cheese and salmon.
“Hey Pops, have you seen the news?”
“Oh, you mean the Ukraine Attack? Yeah, pretty serious, isn’t it?”
I gulp a little, not what I was hoping to hear.
“How so?”
“Well, it looks like we’re on the edge of another Cold War, or maybe another Russian Revolution. I give it a 50/50 chance of either.”
That, was not what I was expecting to hear. I expected to hear that my Dad would be called away from his teaching baby midshipmen job and back into active service on a submarine. I thought he would be telling me I was staying at Mom’s house and we were giving up the Orinda one so he could be out there full-time, manning a submarine in a blockade all around Russia. So why is this serious if that’s not what’s happening?
“So, what’s kinda happening with this stuff? I wanna hear your opinion.”
My Dad finishes chewing a bite of his bagel before he responds, using plenty of hand-gestures that I find very familiar.
“So, Putin has invaded the Ukraine, and plans to take it over, right? But the question is why is he doing that? And the answer is that he’s an Autocrat with the same problems that all Autocrats have: they can’t coexist with democracies when they turn into Dictators, and Putin has become a dictator. The existence of Democracies on his doorstep will make his people, the Russian people, look over their border and see a better way of life. Now don’t get me wrong, democracy has its failings, but it’s like what Churchill said- ‘Democracy is the worst form of government, except when it’s compared to all other forms of government.’
“So Putin would likely lose power, the power he’s been centralizing and turning himself into an Autocracy, if the Russian people pushed for a democracy. So he’s pushing out, likely towards the borders of the old USSR, to prevent that. He’s taking out, or trying to take out, the democracies on his doorstep.”
I cut in here.
“But wouldn’t that just put him on the doorstep of all of the other democracies in Europe?”
My Dad nods.
“Yes, it would, but this is where I think I’ve got something figured out about Putin. He’s tactically smart, but stratigecly dumb. He can make a good, small plan to take over Ukraine. He knows nobody will come to their aid, they don’t have allies. He knows he has the power to do it. But he can’t see the long-term consequences. The President had a meeting this morning at 6:00 Am to discuss the sanctions that they plan to put on Russia to basically cut off their ability to arm, feed, and fund their military. Putin thinks he can outlast that, but he is already being proven wrong. The Rubel, the Russian dollar, has dropped to its most historic low, and while our stock market lost about 2% this morning when the sanctions were put in place, Russia’s stock market went down 45%.
“Putin isn’t going to be able to last a Cold War, and he knows he’s disadvantaged enough that he can’t survive a conflict with NATO, and so I think it’s likely that there will be another Russian Revolution, or at least a cou, when the people get tired of suffering.”
I sigh sadly.
“So we’re just boxing them in? We’re just gonna make the Russian people suffer until Putin surrenders?”
My Dad nods sadly.
“It’s tightening the iron curtain. It’s a sad reality, but it’s most likely what’s gonna happen.”
“But what about the people, can’t we Berlin Airlift them food and stuff?”
“Harper, I know you want us to help and be humanitarian in this, but we can’t. We need the Russian people to hate Putin and overthrow him, not us.”
“But what if the people hate us for sanctioning them?”
“They might, they very well might, but they won’t be able to do anything to us. They will realize the only way for them to change things is to change their leadership.”
I pout a little.
“I kinda wish Russia still had a Tsar, and like the Duma and stuff.”
“I think Russia would do fine with a free democracy, and the Duma still exists, they just can’t do anything. They don’t have any power.”
I nod at this, but I still have more questions.
“Could we still have a nuclear war? I mean neither side would use Nuclear weapons, right?”
“That’s hard to say. Unless Putin attacks a NATO nation, which he might if he wants to build a land-bridge between Russia and that little piece between Lithuania and Poland, but both of those and the rest of the Baltics are a part of NATO. Attack one of them, and we all come to their rescue.”
“What about Belarus? Wouldn’t he have to go through Belarus?”
“Belarus is fully on Russia’s side, and they have already let Russian troops cross through their lands to attack Ukraine. Belarus is not our ally in this.”
I grimace a little, I had hoped all the nations on Russia’s border could be allies.
“At least we won’t shoot nuclear weapons, right? He’s just playing into the MAD DOG theory, right? He’s not actually crazy enough to launch nuclear warfare, right?”
This time, my Dad Grimaces.
“Well, Harper, that’s the thing. We can’t and don’t know. Putin did issue a threat at the beginning of this for other nations to not interfere, and he also said that he would do things, or could do things, that we the world had never seen before. And Harper, the pandemic was tough on that man. He stayed in extreme isolation in his fear of catching Corona. His mental state might not be what we think it is right now.”
I nod with my dad, considering the information we’ve talked about. He brings up how NATO will still likely provide weapons and munitions to any Ukrainian resistance. How the president of Ukraine was an actor once, and sometimes you have to act like a president more than be one, when the situation arrives. We talk about how we might end up in a similar situation with China and Taiwan, and have to do the same sanctioning thing again. We talk about much more until my Dad has to return to doing work, and I have to return to doing homework. I can’t help but think of that quote again, the one by General Moltke.

February 24th, 2022, 12:46 pm.

I have just finished a massive Discord Discussion thread with my D n’ D friends on their server. We talked about a lot there. We talked about all the information we knew as a whole, what’s happening in other places around the world, what kind of military armor Russia has, and about what different presidents would have done during that time. That last one was the hardest, as I found myself politically opposed to my friend and trying to tow the line so he wouldn’t figure it out. He thought if Trump was president he would have brought the nation to war for a righteous cause, I think if Trump was president he would have given in to Putin’s every demand no matter his power to do so.
But to each their own, I suppose. The Discord Discussion stopped when we all had to go our separate ways. But then I got into a private discussion with my friend, and she was very worried about being bombed with Nuclear Weapons from Russia. Her worries were not unfounded, but sounded so alien to be. She lives really close to Washington DC, and that is likely a target. But I couldn’t bring myself to see it from her perspective. I had grown up learning and knowing how Nuclear Weapons work, and where they are usually targeted at, but I didn’t fear them because I knew if I was close to impact I’d be dead in seconds and I don’t like to fear fast deaths. But she did, and so I found myself lying.
I told her that if a Nuclear weapon struck the white house, the capitol building, or even the pentagon she would be safe. I was lying there, if one struck the pentagon, well that was on her side of the river and she would feel the radiation contamination and probably have lasting health problems the rest of her life. It would be a slow death. That had been when I started to see things from her perspective, and when I started to put things into perspective.
After eating lunch and watching the President, our President Biden, talk about the sanctions he was implementing and watching the News people talk about how Finland might be an ally, I began to think.
Just last night, when this all happened, I was coming back from a dinner party with friends. Just two days ago I was talking about this exact situation with Sumter. Just a month ago me and my Dad were talking about how awesome it would be to visit Russia. Oh, how things have changed, and so rapidly too.
Would my friend in DC really be in danger? This makes me think of another Moltke moment, and one from the Otto Von Bismarck Series to boot. Where the German Federation had captured the president of France, and then had no one to get a full surrender from. There was a pseudo-government, but it didn’t work out too well. So why would Russia take out the leadership of America and then have to deal with 50 basically countries with their own militias and individually get surrenders from them? It would be a dumb plan, but as my dad had said, tacitly smart, stragicgly dumb.
I also began to think of what Putin said, about doing something nobody had ever seen before. I wish more people in power and war thought before introducing weapons. We introduced Nuclear warfare and then had a 40 year period, age of anxiety, that followed it! What if Putin does use whatever he has, and introduces a new type of warfare, then what! He’s changed war forever and for the worse, more people die and we have either another world war or cold war over it!
This makes me think back to after I had that conversation with my mom in the car, where we talked about farmers and policy and all I could think about was a future with my platonic soulmate. After that conversation I had a whole idea about what I would do if I was president. What I would change, how I would do it. But now, if I ever get to be president, the world could be changed so much by that time that whatever plans I’ve made will be mute. It makes me think that General Moltke was right. It’s his famous quote after all.
“Plans never survive first contact with the enemy.”

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