just finished …

Honor Killing–David E. Stannard

Earlier this summer, S/O and I went out to dinner with the tenants who rent our townhouse. They highly recommended a book that I had not heard about called Honor Killing: How the Infamous “Massie Affair” Transformed Hawai’i. I have to say, I need to get book recommendations from my tenants more often because it is definitely my pick for the most gripping non-fiction read of the year to date. As it turned out, the author was actually my American Studies professor when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Hawaii.

In the 1930s Hawai’i was controlled by a powerful white business elite. Although numerically a small minority, they used their influence to control the native Hawaiian and non-white majority made up largely of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and Portugese immigrants (the Portugese immigrants to Hawaii, interestingly enough, were not considered to be white or “haole”) both economically and politically. The “Massie Affair” came about because a young white socialite who emmigrated to the islands with her Navy officer husband claimed that she had been abducted and raped by a carload of “Hawaiian men.” According to the author, historical records indicate that medical professionals who examined Thalia Massie at the time of her attack actually had serious doubts that a rape had actually taken place. Circumstances along with the political and social climate of the time, however, lead to the arrest of a group of local men who were charged with the abduction and rape of Thalia Massie. The jury in the rape trial was unable to come to a unanimous verdict and a mistrial was declared. Local authorities set about seeking additional evidence for a re-trial. Thalia, however, was the daughter of a very socially prominent couple from the East coast and the idea that a jury in Honolulu was unable to reach a verdict on her daughter’s rape galled Grace Fortescue to the point that she decided that something must be done in order to assure justice for her daughter.

Grace Fortescue hatched a plan to abduct one of the defendants and extract a confession for the rape at gunpoint. She had been assured that if one of the defendants confessed (even at gunpoint) the confession would hold up in court so long as there were no visible signs of coersion such as bruises or black eyes. Unfortunately, things went awry and the defendent that they abducted ended up getting shot and killed. On the way to dump his body in the Holona Blowhole on the east end of Oahu, a police officer pulled the group over and discovered the body in the back of the car. Grace Fortescue, and her cohorts, where then tried for murder, but actually convicted of man slaughter. Their sentences of ten years hard labor were, however, commuted to to just 60 minutes in police custody after which they left the islands. The resulting outrage over, what the non-white population, percieved to be a gross injustice changed the social and political climate in Hawaii for decades to follow.

Having grown up in the islands I had a natural attraction and interest in the story, but even those without a natural connection to the place will find the story and the book absolutely rivetting!

Easily the most entertaining and engrossing non-fiction book that I’ve read this year!!! Don’t miss this one!!!

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