I liked the book but was in no hurry to see the movie version of David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars. As Pacific Northwest atmospherics it was great; as a mystery it was very good; as a story of star-crossed love it was not that interesting to me; and as a reminder of the racial injustices against Japanese-Americans in World War II it was worthy but I thought already got the point.


Now I realize: that was pre-9/11 thinking. (The movie came out in 1999.)

I was in a gym just now where Snow Falling was on the big-screen TV. A crucial early scene comes just after Pearl Harbor, when the hero-journalist played by Sam Shepherd (essentially Atticus Finch, in a different line of work) writes an editorial chastising fellow citizens in his small San Juan Islands town for turning indiscriminately against their issei and nisei Japanese-American neighbors. His son (Ethan Hawke) pounds it out onto a Linotype machine and reads it aloud as he types:


Let us live that, when it is over, we can look each other in the eye. And know we have acted honorably.


Now wouldn’t that be a useful thought to hear from time to time from our national leadership? I can think of three times since September 11, 2001, when leaders have tried to express anything of the sort:


  • When George Bush invited American Muslim leaders to the White House for an end-of-Ramadan ceremony in 2001;
  • When David Petraeus told his troops in Iraq last month that adherence to high moral standards is what “distinguishes us from our enemies.”
  • When Colin Powell said early this month “If it was up to me, I would close Guantanamo. Not tomorrow, but this afternoon.”

Of the three, Petraeus deserves the most credit. Unlike Bush, he has said it within the last five years. Unlike Powell, he made the point while he was in a position of authority.


To know we have acted honorably — that is a feeling Americans wouldn’t mind these days. Check out the flick.

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