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The Massie Affair

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  • Pages: 5
  • Word count: 1011
  • Category: Murder

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  1. Introduction

            The Massie affair was a sensational murder trial case in Hawaii in 1931.  It involved not just the immediate actors and stakeholders, like the convicted murderers of Joseph Kahahawai, but also the larger native Hawaiian community and institutions like the US Navy, the Office of the Governor, the President of the United States, and other “white” led government and private establishments who sided with the “aggravated” couple, Tommy and Thalia Massie, and Thalia’s mother, Grace Fortescue.

            The backdrop of the story was 1931 Hawaii.  The island territory’s natives still remember how their nation was practically stolen by the white men who started coming in the guise of being benevolent missionaries. At this time, there were about 20,000 US navy personnel and their wives and families in the island.  Much of the businesses in Hawaii depend on the US Navy’s contracts, and businesses were spurred by these businesses and the export of sugar to the US mainland.  The socio-political water in 1931 Hawaii was a brewing laboratory ripe for erupting.

  1. Thesis Statement:

            The Massie affair was a test of human decency and dignity, more than it was a test of how justice was dispensed.  Ultimately, all the participants in the murder of Joseph Kahahawai,, with the exception of Grace Fortescue, got what they deserve.

III. Body:

(List the five figures that you believe to be the most critical to an understanding of the case. In what ways do the principal individuals involved in the Massie case represent larger communities and interests?)

            There were a lot of stakeholders and interest groups in the Massie case.  However, for purposes of the presented thesis, let us focus on five of the individuals who were directly affected by the case, as much as they were participants.  These are Grace Fortescue, Tommy and Thalia Massie, Joseph Kahahawai and Admiral Yates Stirling.

            Grace Fortescue is the mother of Thalia Massie.  She belongs to the Bell and Hubbard family, both sides being influential, rich and more importantly, white.  Her marriage to Roly Fortescue was a marriage of convenience, or so she thought.  Other than her name, at the time of the trial, Grace Fortescue had nothing much left.  Her husband had squandered whatever inheritance he had, and stayed a bum all his life.  However, Grace’s name and her family belong to the elite and predominantly white and rich society of New York.  It was this group that Grace represented in the whole Massie affair – their money ad their influence.

            The next major actor in this case is Thalia Massie.  It was she who started the whole thing by accusing “several men” from Ala Moana, of kidnapping, beating her up and raping her repeatedly.  Thalia Massie, as her psychological profile revealed, was a highly psychotic individual with abnormal belief in her delusions and a very “vivid imagination”, according to one psychologist that tried to help her.

Thalia was a young US navy wife whose husband, Tommy has threatened to divorce her because of her growing paranoia and troublesome personality.  Nobody liked Thalia, even among the circle of her husband’s US Navy friends and family.  Thalia represents the spoiled and troubled young women who married into the US Navy institution and get stationed in an island like Hawaii, and craves all the attention they could get in whatever way they could have it.

            Meanwhile, Tommy Massie, Thalia’s husband was an officer of the US Navy.  He participated in the killing of Joseph Kahahawai at the behest of Grace Fortescue.  Tommy represents the cuckolded husbands who go on duty while their wives betray their marriage vows.  His participation in the crime was coerced by the fact that there were a lot of peer and outside pressure for him to do something about “avenging” his wife’s damaged honor.  His guilt and his conscience ate at him through the rest of his bitter life.

            Joseph Kahahawai is one of the group of men accused of raping and brutalizing Thalia Massie.  Joseph is a native Hawaiian, and represents the larger native Hawaiian society who despite being subjugated, remain passive through all indignities suffered.  His murder at the hands of Grace Fortescue’s recruited group of young white navy men also represents the broader historical truth about the island and its forceful annexation to the US mainland.

            Lastly, Admiral Yates Stirling represents the rest of the white supremacist group still present in US society then and now.  He boasted of his killing spree in the Philippine Islands a few years back and thought nothing of the colored natives of Hawaii either.  He is unrepentant of his beliefs and issues inflammatory statements during those tumultuous days in 1931 Hawaii.

  1. Conclusion:

            The five personalities discussed above represent American society during that time and at a certain extent, is still reflective of US culture and society today.  While the Massie affair brought out the worst in the US government and white culture, it also brought out the best in the jurors that decided the case and of the attorney general that held nothing back in prosecuting Grace Fortescue’s group despite extreme pressure from all fronts.

The jurors in the Massie case who convicted Grace Fortescue, Tommy Massie and the two sailors who participated in the murder and lynching of Joseph Kahahawai, looked upon their conscience on deciding the case. Despite extreme pressure and odds, they administered justice as they saw fit. Grace and her cohorts were convicted of the murder of Joseph Kahahawai.

The governor commuted their sentence from ten years to one hour, after succumbing to pressure from various interest groups. However, fate has a way administering its own brand of justice.  What happened to the convicted murderers with the sole exception of Grace Fortescue, after they were released, more than compensated for the ten years they were supposed to serve in jail.  The natives of Hawaii were right after all.  The spirits of justice will get them.

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