A fascinating slice of Hawaiian history, investigated with scholarly rigor by Stannard (American Studies/Univ. of Hawaii; American Holocaust, 1994, etc.).
Around one a.m. on September 13, 1931, Thalia Fortescue Massie, daughter of an East Coast socialite and wife of a naval officer, flagged down a car on Honolulu’s Ala Moana Road. She appeared to have been beaten up and claimed that a gang of Hawaiian men had abducted and raped her. The police quickly rounded up a group of suspects. Stannard argues convincingly that the men were innocent. The doctors and nurses who examined Massie believed she hadn’t been raped at all, the defendants had an airtight alibi and Massie’s testimony was clearly coached. The men’s trial resulted in a hung jury. Massie’s mother and husband then had one of the suspects killed. When arrested, Mom hired none other than Clarence Darrow as her lawyer. The trial became a national spectacle. Many Americans sided with the defendants: a white woman had been debased, and her mama and hubbie did the right thing. (Stannard points out that trumped-up rape charges and lynchings were not uncommon in Jim Crow America.) Despite Darrow’s storied eloquence, the defendants were found guilty of manslaughter, but the territorial governor soon commuted their sentence. Stannard’s suspenseful retelling is paced like the best paperback thriller—no wonder PBS is airing a documentary about the case on The American Experience in the same month as the book’s publication. More to the point, this is important, nuanced history that sheds light on the history of imperialism, race, criminology and gender. In Stannard’s view, the consequences of the Massie case were historic: nonwhites in Hawaii were bitterly alienated by its blatant injustice, and “cracks started to appear in what for years had been a monolithic social order.” One minor quibble: It is unfortunate that there are no illustrations.