The more things change, the more they stay the same wrote, French novelist Alphonse Karr in 1849.

Some 120 years later, the innocence of 1950s Ellsworth was long ago and far away as I drove to classes at George Washington University, past the smoldering ruins of neighborhoods along New York Avenue.

Martin Luther King and John Kennedy had been assassinated. Television brought those images into our homes, along with others that made the death, destruction and savagery of the far away Vietnam War real in ways the sanitized and glamorized 1950s newsreels never did.

Gloria Steinem was arguing that men were irrelevant. The nightly news carried images of riots against the war, against the Democrat Party Convention, and for “civil rights” and “Black Power,” whatever those were. A man landed on the moon. The sexual revolution was drawing up terms of surrender for the Maryland Board of Movie Censors, the Catholic Decency League, and even the practice of men and women living in separate dorms.

I was wondering if, once I completed grad school, I could transfer to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Today’s youth, if they’ve been taught about those changes, are, I suppose, underwhelmed. But to me they were profound: The world was going to be nothing like what it had been. All rules were changing, and I still didn’t know much about how to live by the old ones. I’d never heard of Alphonse Karr.

Things did change. I received a security clearance and FBI counter-intel briefings detailing that Soviet “agents” were present in our country and the techniques they used to “recruit” unsuspecting Americans. I learned the U.S. engaged in overt, covert and clandestine operations in other countries that were doing the same to us.

A gun control bill passed in 1968 making the first major changes since 1938. It became illegal to buy rifles and shotguns by mail; felons, drug users and the mentally incompetent were prohibited from buying guns. Later, lead based paint was restricted, vehicle emissions were regulated, DDT was banned, lead was removed from gasoline, the Chesapeake Bay cleanup began, New York City stopped dumping sewage in the Atlantic, and smoking in the workplace and public places ceased.

I learned that, for decades, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had been assembling dossiers on political figures, that the news media had conspired for years to hide the indiscretions of Presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy and that Richard Nixon had an “enemies list” and used the power of his office to punish these enemies.

I learned that the Catholic Church had, for decades, bribed sexual abuse victims to remain silent and hidden the fact that some priests were perverted sexual predators. I also learned that Lee Harvey Oswald, a well known Communist sympathizer, had been able to buy a gun, have it delivered by the U.S. Post Service, and use it to murder a president despite being well known to the FBI.

Other books documented terrible truths about infiltration, subversion and disinformation in America. “The Venona project” detailed the extent to which the Soviets had infiltrated our society and our government during and before World War II. “Deep Black” detailed the truth behind the Soviet Missile Crisis.

Today, 50 years after New York Avenue burned, we’ve learned that yet another president weaponized the FBI, Justice Department and IRS against his “enemies.”

We know that, despite the women’s movement, sexual abuse of both men and women continued in Hollywood, government and corporate settings. Poverty and hunger have, despite the billions spent to eradicate them, increased.

America is, apparently, “stunned” to “discover” that Russia meddled in our 2016 election.

Despite the riots, busing, affirmative action and legislation, we are told we — America — remain racist and unfair to minorities. Despite the EPA successes and tens of thousands of regulations, we’re told our food, water and air remain unsafe, even toxic.

I cannot but wonder what my grandchildren might write 50 years from now, and whether they — too — will ponder Alphonse Karr’s observation.

Another View is a weekly column written collaboratively by Dale Landrith of Camden, Ken Frederic of Bristol, Paul Ackerman of Martinsville and Jan Dolcater of Rockport.


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