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War and the Muses - The "Dragoon Vases" and the "Porcelain Dragoons"

Frederick Augustus (1670-1733), was an important force in the political and cultural life of Central Europe for decades, as Elector of Saxony (1694-1733) and King and Grand Duke of Poland- Lithuania (1697-1706 & 1709-1733).  Perhaps most famous for siring over 250 children, only one of whom was legitimate, which, along with his imposing physical presence (he was quite tall for his times, over 5’9”, and weighed in at over 200 pounds), earned him the nickname “the Strong,” he also managed to win considerable distinction as a patron of the arts, adorning both his capitals, Dresden and Warsaw, with palaces, churches, gardens, orchestras, and art collections.  Frederick Augustus was particularly fond of fine Chinese porcelain, which European connoisseurs had recently discovered and were buying up in enormous amounts, and he would ultimately collect over 20,000 pieces. 

In 1717, Frederick Augustus learned that King Frederick William I of Prussia (r. 1713-1740) had some particularly fine pieces in his own collection.  So he offered to buy them from his royal cousin.  Alas, Frederick William would not part with them, even when Frederick Augustus upped the price a couple of times.

So Frederick Augustus took another tack.  Knowing that Frederick William doted on his army, the wily Saxon made the Prussian an attractive offer; if Frederick William gave the 48 very fine pieces in question to Frederick Augustus, the latter would transfer the entire enlisted complement of a regiment of dragoons to the Prussian Army, 600 trained troopers, valued at 12,000 thalers.  The deal was made, and thus Frederick William acquired the cadre for a new regiment, the 6th Dragoons.

The Prussian 6th Dragoons, promptly nicknamed “Die Porzellan-Dragoner -- The Porcelain Dragoons,” served for many years in garrison at Konigsberg, and fought with some distinction during the campaigns of Frederick William’s son, Frederick the Great, in the Seven Years’ War, most notably at Zorndorf (August 25, 1758), where they were nearly wiped out.  During the disastrous campaigns against Napoleon in 1806-1807, under Frederick’s not-so-great successors, the regiment fought at Eylau (February 7-8, 1807) which led to the virtual dissolution of the Prussian Army.  The peace that followed caused the regiment to be broken up, with elements distributed among the regiments of the rump army that Napoleon allowed Prussia to retain.

Five years later, with the revival of Prussia in the German “War of Liberation” (1813-1814), the surviving fragments of the 6th Dragoons provided cadres for several new regiments, which would eventually become the 1st Dragoons, and the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th Cuirassiers of the new Prussian Army, of which the 3rd “East Prussian” Cuirassiers was dubbed the “Porcelain Dragoons.”  These regiments would serve in all of Prussia’s subsequent wars, until disbanded at the end of World War I, but .

As for the 48 porcelains, which of course have earned the nickname “Dragonervasen -- The Dragoon Vases,” despite the vicissitudes of nearly three centuries of wars and revolutions, they’re still on display, in the Kunstsammlaung in Dresden

 

Profile - The Massie Affair

In February and March of 1932 the U.S. Fleet engaged in extensive joint maneuvers with the Army in the Hawaiian Islands and then undertook Fleet Problem XIII.  Normally during cruises to Hawaii in connection with maneuvers, the men of the fleet would be given liberty.  But this time very few men, officers or enlisted, made it ashore to enjoy the attractions of the tropical paradise.  This was because of heightened racial tensions in Hawaii as a result of the “Massie Affair,” one of the most widely reported racial incidents of the early 1930s, about which the New York Times alone ran some 200 stories.

At about 1:00 am on the morning of September 13, 1931, the badly beaten Mrs. Thalia Fortescue Massie was found by a passing motorist wandering along a road in Honolulu.  Her husband, Navy Lt., j.g., Thomas Massie was summoned, and Thalia reported that after leaving a party at a Waikiki nightclub the previous evening, she had been abducted and raped by several Asian and Hawaiian men. 

Given her broken jaw and numerous bruises, the police accepted Thalia Massie’s story.  Five men “fitting the description” who had been arrested in connection with an altercation over a traffic incident during which a woman of Hawaiian-Asian background was struck in the face, were promptly charged with the crime. 

The five were brought to trial on November 16th.  The men were represented by some of the best attorneys in Hawaii, and these soon proved up to their reputations.  The defense pointed out numerous holes in Thalia Massie’s story.

The defense produced evidence that the Massie’s marriage was not a happy one.  Thalia, born to wealth and privilege, had married Thomas Massie when she was 16, shortly after he graduated from Annapolis in 1927.  She soon found the Navy boring, despising life of a Navy wife and looking down upon her peers.  There was evidence of extra-marital affairs and liquor-fueled public rows with her husband.  During the party in Waikiki on September 12th Thalia had been seen having a heated exchange with another officer, which culminated in her slapping his face and storming out of the nightclub. 

Two physicians who examined Mrs. Massie could find no physical evidence of rape.  In addition, despite her claim that she had been dragged along the ground, there were no scuff marks on her shoes nor was her clothing torn or soiled.  On top of that, the men had all been subject to a medical examination upon their arrest, and none showed evidence of recent sexual activity.  Then there was the problem of the timing, for the five men had an ironclad alibi; at the moment that Thalia Massie claimed the rape had taken place the five were involved in the auto accident that led to their initial arrest.

On December 6th the jury, an interracial panel, informed the judge that after nearly 100 hours of deliberations, they could not reach a verdict.  The judge declared a mistrial, and the accused were released on bond pending further proceedings.

This inflamed “white” opinion in Hawaii, and indeed across the nation, fueled by racist newspapers, political leaders, and even Rear-Adm. Stirling Yates, commanding the 14th Naval District, a man with Southern roots, who publicly called for the men to be lynched.  Within days of the verdict, a gang of sailors beat one of the accused, leaving him permanently injured.  Worse was to come, despite police attempts to protect the accused.

On January 8, 1932, Lt. Massie, his mother-in-law Grace Hubbard Fortescue, and two sailors whom Massie recruited from his ship, abducted one of the accused, Joseph Kahahawai, a native Hawaiian, from the steps of the courthouse in broad daylight.  Attempting to beat Kahahawai into confessing, they threatened him with a gun, which went off, killing him.  Apprehended by an alert police officer while trying to dispose of Kahahawai’s body, Massie and the others were promptly arrested.  Although the white community, and senior Navy personnel, praised the murderers, the Honolulu prosecutor’s office placed them on trial. 

The trial opened on April 4, with the celebrated Clarence Darrow representing the accused.  Despite Darrow’s eloquence, and a tearful performance by Thalia Massie, on April 29th Massie, his mother-in-law, and their two accomplices were convicted of manslaughter by a mixed race jury.  They were shortly sentenced to ten years imprisonment.  Outraged at this offense against white power, Territorial Governor Lawrence Judd reduced the sentence to an hour’s confinement in his office.  This naturally infuriated Hawaii’s non-white population.

Thus, since the fleet maneuvers took place at their height of racial tensions in the islands, senior naval personnel decided that giving thousands of white sailors liberty would result in race riots.

No second trial of the surviving accused men was ever held.  Lt. Massie later left the Navy, and the couple returned to the Mainland, where they eventually divorced.  Years later, Thelma Massie committed suicide. 

The Massie Affair affected race relations in Hawaii for decades – in his memoirs, written years after the incident, Yates Stirling still defended the murderers --  and continuing white suspicions of Asians played an important part in the disaster of December 7, 1941.

What Really Happened?  Thelma Massie is known to have had several affairs, among them with the officer whom she slapped at the nightclub, apparently seeking to end the affair.  Some historians believe he followed her out of the club and beat her.  Some other students of the matter believe she may have had a casual pickup with someone, and the things turned ugly. 

 

BookNote:  The most detailed account of this incident is David Stannard’s recent Honor Killing: Race, Rape, and Clarence Darrow's Spectacular Last Case .  Those interested in having a look at a fairly typical white racist take on the affair need look no further than Rear-Adm. Yates’ memoirs, Sea Duty: The Memoirs Of A Fighting Admiral , which has nearly 30 pages on the matter.

 


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