In the big scheme of things, Trump’s consistent faith in violent racist historical myths is perhaps not our greatest problem. But it certainly contributes to it. Of course, Trump’s embrace of Treason in Defense of Slavery memorials is perhaps the most important in terms of domestic politics. That Trump can’t help but contradict himself constantly is amusing in terms of black humor.
— Old Hoss Radbourn (@OldHossRadbourn) August 17, 2017
But it’s still distressing.
After today’s horrible attack in Barcelona, Trump decided to weigh in (just a few days after lying that he hadn’t responded to Charlottesville for 2 days because he needed all the facts. Uh huh) with a tweet that absolutely mystified me.
Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2017
Is Trump sending U.S. troops into northern Mexico to catch Muslim terrorists? It would be about as effective as Pershing’s chase of Pancho Villa.
But, no, it turns out that Trump believes Pershing committed mass murder with an ugly anti-Islamic tinge while in the Philippines. And while it sounds like something the U.S. military might do in the Philippines, a war that rivals Vietnam and the genocide against Native Americans for sheer racist ugliness, it’s a complete myth. I am hardly in the habit of approvingly quoting Max Boot, but we live in strange times.
The average person probably has no idea what Trump is talking about. But this is a reference to a historical myth that he repeated constantly on the campaign trail in spite of valiant efforts by historians and journalists to correct him. He is referring to efforts by Gen. John Pershing, later commander of U.S. forces in France during World War I, to suppress a Muslim revolt in the Philippines in the early years of the 20th century, at a time when that country was an American colony. This is the story as Trump told it last year:
“General Pershing was a rough guy, He caught 50 terrorists who did tremendous damage . . . and he took the 50 terrorists and he took 50 men and dipped 50 bullets in pig’s blood. You heard about that? He took 50 bullets and dipped them in pig’s blood. And he has his men load up their rifles and he lined up the 50 people and they shot 49 of those people. And the 50th person, he said, you go back to your people and you tell them what happened. And for 25 years there wasn’t a problem.”
There is, in fact, no evidence that Pershing ever committed any such atrocity in his battles against the so-called Moros — the ancestors of the Muslim fighters who continue to fight against the central government in Manila to this day.
“This story is a fabrication and has long been discredited,” says Brian McAllister Linn, a Texas A&M University historian who is one of the foremost scholars of the Philippine War. “I am amazed it is still making the rounds.”
While some U.S. troops did commit atrocities in the Philippines such as the use of the “water cure” (i.e., waterboarding), Pershing was known for being more enlightened and more successful. As I wrote in “The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power,” “Captain Pershing preferred to win over the Moros with outstretched hand rather than mailed fist. So successful was his campaign that he was made a datto, or chieftain.”
So basically Trump approved of the mass murder of Muslims thanks to a falsified story of religious and racist terrorism by occupying U.S. troops crushing an independence movement. I mean, if this is what Trump supports, he might as well just cite the genocidal campaigns against Native Americans. It’s not like he wouldn’t approve of Wounded Knee. That wouldn’t put our nation in any better of a space, but at least it would annoy me 1% less.