A history of “history nerds”

JB, a friend from high school, just had a piece published in The Concord Bridge titled “The Watergate Nerds: Fondly recalling a high school reenactment.” Here’s his lede:

“On June 17, 1976, on the fourth anniversary of the Watergate break-in, seven students at Concord-Carlisle Regional High School re-enacted the operation by bungling a break-in at the principal’s office. I was one of them….”

You can read JB’s piece to find out what happened to us when the vice-principal caught us.

Now, JB contends that in many ways, times were more innocent in the 1970s. There’s some truth in that contention. For example, while many of today’s high schools have armed cops patrolling the hallways, all we had was a couple of unarmed undercover narcotics agents. On the other hand, there was that race riot at our high school in our senior year (an event I want to write about some day, when I can find the time to research it more fully). Or if you were gay, as one of my close friends was, that high school could get ugly.

But more to the point, it may be that time has blurred our memories of the utter venality of Richard Nixon and his henchmen. Yes, the Watergate break-in was less violent than the armed insurrection at the Capitol building on Jan. 6. But if you really think about it, the extent of Nixon’s criminality, and his naked desire for raw power, still have the capacity to astonish us.

Happy Watergate Day

A friend from high school reminded me that yesterday was Watergate Day. On Saturday, June 17, 1972, five burglars paid by CREEP (Committee to Re-Elect the President) broke into the Democratic National Convention headquarters at 2600 Virginia Avenue, Washington, D.C., in the same building as the Watergate Hotel. They placed hidden microphones — bugs — and took photos of sensitive material. It eventually turned out that then-President Richard (“I Am Not A Crook”) Nixon authorized and had direct knowledge of the burglary; he resigned rather than face impeachment proceedings.

The Watergate scandal shaped the political consciousness of my immediate age cohort. People a few years older than my age cohort talk about the assassination of Robert Kennedy and Malcolm X as defining moments in their political awareness, but for us the defining moment was criminal activity by the President of the United States.

A few years after the Watergate scandal, I think in 1977, some friends of mine and I re-enacted the Watergate break-in in our high school: we walked in to the office of one of the principals, dumped dead insects on his desk, and informed him that we were bugging his office. I don’t remember suffering any punishment for this act of street theatre. At least we weren’t selling drugs, one of the things our high school was known for (the school had its own undercover narcotics agents), and at least we showed that we knew something about U.S. history.

I have never commemorated Watergate Day since then. But maybe I should, under the theory that those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. The current presidential election campaign has already descended to mud-slinging and name-calling, and outright criminal acts may be following close behind.