For an amateur student of history, it is a moment that was perhaps overdue. However, after being lent All the President's Men by a good friend, it could not be put off any longer; I started to read the story of how President Nixon betrayed the American public and risked the reputation of the Office of the President of the United States. Somewhat poignantly I was able to do so in the Watergate complex itself, living as I currently do across the street from the infamous address on Virginia Avenue. From my vantage point, and probably to the detriment of my already flagging imagination, I was able to follow Woodward and Bernstein's descriptions of the no longer 'futuristic' complex and was able to look up at the 'serpent's-teeth concrete balustrades' with my own eyes. While doing so, it struck me that in nearly 40 years, not much had changed at the Watergate.
Of course many things have changed since that time, and of course many things have changed even in the past ten years. Computer and cell phone capabilities are merely some of the most obvious proofs of this statement. The presidency has changed hands many times since Nixon gave it up, the Cold War has ended, nations have been destroyed, reformed and reestablished.
However, even in a rapidly changing world, the Watergate is not the only remnant of the past that rears its head from time to time. Of course, like the Watergate, many buildings remain from the early 70's. But some of the more obvious similarities to the early 70's have more to do with human nature than concrete complexes in Northwest DC. For example, this week provided us with a James Bond-esque blast from the past that points to mistrust and reminded us all that, even when some things change, many others remain the same.
For those who didn't hear, the FBI allegedly busted a Russian spy ring and charged its members with various crimes in Manhattan this week. Though prosecutors couldn't come up with anything sexier than acting as unlawful agents of a foreign country, and though some of the evidence in the case would otherwise seem fairly innocuous (for example, there are no allegations of bribing officials or stealing information) it is nonetheless interesting to see a plot like this unravelled, despite all of the rehabilitation of a Cold-war torn relationship and soul-searching that has occurred in recent decades.
Of course America gathers intelligence on other nations, both friend and foe, as well. It is an important tool in foreign relations and military affairs. However the incidents of this week are nonetheless a sign that even in an ever-changing world the old maxim holds true, particularly when it comes to human nature; the more things change, they more they stay the same.