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Finneran: Two Roads Diverged In A Yellow Wood

Friday, September 22, 2017


Take heed. A poem lurks ahead.

Literary readers will recognize the words above. They are the first line in Robert Frost’s ode “The Road Not Taken”.

There is a curious timing in my life which renders the poem apropos to the immediate moment. I’ll explain.

I am just back from a working visit to Eastern Europe. My wife and I arrived home in the States last Sunday evening.  It so happened that we got home in time to catch the first episode of filmmaker Ken Burns’ documentary on the Vietnam War on PBS.

As of the writing of this column there are fifteen more episodes to go. It is worthy of your time. It is heartbreaking, thoughtful, enraging, and instructive. The great American ship of state hit a massive submerged rock in Vietnam. It has proved to be a collision which violently shook and changed our society and the world at large.

While the goal was noble---saving South Vietnam from an aggressive Communist takeover--- the cost was immense. Immense in lives lost. Immense in treasure spent. Immense in trust squandered.

American Presidents lied to the American people. Repeatedly. Military leaders lied, to themselves and their civilian bosses. Young men died by the thousands, a ransom paid to the campaigns of the politically ambitious. No wonder that long black wall in Washington D.C. evokes tears. The simple courage of the dead belittles the political calculi of the leaders.

One of the many perverse outcomes of the war was the college campus elevation of Ho Chi Minh to the status of noble revolutionary. “Uncle Ho” was a thug, a politically clever savage carrying out the norms of Communist rule---firing squads, indoctrination, re-education camps, secret police, show trials, massive corruption, property confiscation, and the total suffocation of individual freedoms. The list goes on and on.

I’ve often wondered whether any of the campus acolytes of Uncle Ho ever experienced any regret for his butchery. Photos of the boat people of South Vietnam fleeing the loving outreach of Ho’s commissars of murder should torture the souls of his campus admirers.

It’s not that the Diem brothers and family members of South Vietnam were worthy of any admiration. They presented themselves as legitimate Catholic leaders of the nation. They were none of the above---not legitimate, not leaders, and certainly not Catholic. Their colossal corruption and ineptitude lost the war as much as Ho Chi Minh won it. They tormented and impoverished their own people, assaulting every norm of human decency. Their shame is boundless.

My recent travels brought me to the countries of Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, all lands and people who until fairly recently lived under the boot of Communism. God do they hate Communism. God do they cherish the “velvet revolution” of 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet bullies went home. There is no squishy moral equivalence in these countries. They like freedom and independence. They hate Russia. They do not embrace the endless “dialogues” of Brussels regarding exquisite diplomatic vocabulary. They have learned to utter the word “NO” in response to nonsense or threats. It is a very important word to master. It is refreshing to hear it.

Back to the road not taken..........these distant lands in Asia and Eastern Europe are chock full of history, chock full of choices. One can only gape at the countless episodes of man’s ruthless inhumanity to man. One wonders about roads not taken.......by Diem, by Ho, by Kennedy, by Johnson, by Stalin, by Mao.

Is humanity to be forever tortured by gangster statesmen? That there were choices to be made is not to suggest that there were good, easy, or obvious choices. Public life is usually filled with lousy choices, the lesser of evils one might say.

But there are choices to make and roads to take, and roads not taken...........

Tom Finneran is the former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, served as the head the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, and was a longstanding radio voice in Boston radio.


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