Book Review of Pacific Gibraltar by Makana Chai

Pacific Gibraltar: U.S.-Japanese Rivalry over the Annexation of Hawai’i, 1885-1898 (2011) by William Morgan is a book that has mostly flown under the radar in Hawai‘i, or has received negative reviews such as that in the 2012 Hawaiian Journal of History. Although there are problems with the book, beginning with the title, sub-title, and cover, the strength of this book is as a compendium of primary source documents particularly on the movements of the USS Boston and its troops, the correspondence of U. S. minister John Stevens, the Blount and Morgan reports, and the Congressional debates about annexation. Written by a professor at the U. S. Marine War College, this book changed my understanding of history.

The author does criticize Lili‘uokalani for not having a standing army given the clear threat posed by the anti-royalists. However, he also concludes that Stevens violated even the loose diplomatic standards of the times in involving himself in the overthrow. For me, the most touching episode was his recounting of the shooting of Leialoha, a Hawaiian police officer, by haole revolutionaries. Somehow this incident never made much of an impression on me before, but as Morgan tells it, it seems to be a pivotal moment where neighbor shoots neighbor and the question of bloodshed is no longer an academic one. Another interesting aspect of the book, though one sure to be controversial, is his dismissal of the ku‘e petitions as irrelevant to the discussions in Washington. Whether or not I agreed with his conclusions, his extensive quotations of the source documents provided valuable information for me to make my own decisions. I highly recommend it.

Makana Risser Chai

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