Once Again, Trump Lies And The Truth Dies

President Trump's reaction to the terror attack in Spain included an easily debunked lie about one of America's most decorated Generals.

Donald Trump Shrug

As I noted in my post about today’s terror attack in Spain, President Trump reacted to the tragedy fairly quickly after the incident was first reported. One of those posts on Twitter included this claim against General John Pershing, who for a time commanded American forces in The Phillippines in the years shortly after the United States took control over the island nation after its victory over Spain in the Spanish-American War:

During the time that Trump is referring to, Pershing and the forces he commanded were forced to deal with pro-independence rebels who were resorting to attacks on the civilian population and on American targets in a war that had started when Spain still controlled the territory. This all took place at the turn of the 20th Century, a decade or more prior to the World War One, which is when Pershing would become nationally famous due to his leadership of the American expeditionary force that fought alongside the British and French against Germany and the remaining Central Powers until the war ended in November 1918.

According to legends that appear to have started long after Pershing’s death, and which started to become widely circulated among conservatives in the year after the September 11th attacks, Pershing dealt with these terror attacks, which were largely committed by groups that arose out of the Muslim population of The Phillippines, by ordering his troops to dip their bullets in pigs blood and to bury the bodies of executed terrorists with pigs, which is supposedly some sign of disrespect that was meant to horrify the terrorists. The legend goes on to claim that the terror attacks largely ceased after the groups committing them got wind of what Pershing was doing.

As it turns out, there is absolutely no historical evidence to substantiate this apparent myth:

The idea of subduing militant Muslims by threatening to bury them with pigs has held currency for many years. Just a few weeks before the September 11 terrorist attacks on America in 2001, Deputy Israeli police minister Gideon Esra suggested in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot that Palestinian suicide bombers be buried in pig skin or blood. In the 1939 film The Real Glory, Gary Cooper portrays Dr. Bill Canavan, an American Army doctor in 1906 Manila who “tries to protect the native population from ruthless invaders” (i.e., “Muslim fanatics”). At one point in the film, the Dr. Canavan character drapes a captured Muslim in a pigskin and proclaims that henceforth all slain Muslim rebels will be buried in pig skins, thereby discouraging their “savagery” by threatening to prevent their entry into paradise. And, of course, the above-cited anecdote about General Pershing’s handling of terrorists in the Philippines has circulated widely on the Internet ever since 9/11 and even made the rounds at the top levels of U.S. government

(…)

Suffice it to say that General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing was part of the process as Governor of the troublesome Moro Province between 1909 and 1913. We found no references to this alleged incident in Pershing biographies, however, nor does it match the way Pershing is generally recorded as having dealt with the Moros in 1911. When they refused to obey Pershing’s order banning firearms by surrendering their weapons, his response was to draft a letter to the Moros expressing sorrow that his soldiers had to resort to killing them to enforce the order:

I write you this letter because I am sorry to know that you and your people refuse to do what the government has ordered. You do not give up your arms. Soldiers were sent to Taglibi so that you could come into camp and turn in your guns. When the soldiers went to camp a Taglibi, your Moros fired into camp and tried to kill the soldiers. Then the soldiers had to shoot all Moros who fired upon them. When the soldiers marched through the country, the Moros again shot at them, so the soldiers had to kill several others. I am sorry the soldiers had to kill any Moros. All Moros are the same to me as my children and no father wants to kill his own children …

When negotiations stalled and matters came to a head, Pershing was still reluctant to be responsible for any more loss of life than was necessary:

[Pershing] went to his offices on [14 December 1911] only to hear a message from the Sulu district governor: hundreds of hostiles gathered on Jolo’s Bud Dajo! The message had dread portent. Mount Dajo, awesomely high and capped with the creater of an extinct volcano, meant sacred things to Moros. It was the refuge against fate, the last bastion of the hopeless, the place where their ancestors stood off great waves of enemies. Once on the mountain, esconced in its big cotta, Moros would die gladly, as Leonard Wood had grimly learned. Retreat to Dajo meant a clear declaration of war.

Sobered and depressed, Jack wrote of an overriding worry: “I am sorry these Moros are such fools, but … I shall lose as few men and kill as few Moros as possible.” Memories of Wood’s massacre of men and families on Dajo rankled in the army and still bothered the chief of staff. Obviously another such slaughter in the winter of 1911 could adversely influence the 1912 elections in the States.

Pershing’s strategy was to surround the Moros and wait them out while attempting to induce them to surrender, a strategy that worked effectively: the Bud Dajo campaign ended with only twelve Moro casualties. But in his report Pershing seemed keenly aware that the best approach was not to take any action that would encourage religious fanaticism:

There was never a moment during this investment of Bud Dajo when the Moros, including women, on top of the mountain, would not have fought to the death had they been given the opportunity. They had gone there to make a last stand on this, their sacred mountain, and they were determined to die fighting … It was only by the greatest effort that their solid determination to fight it out could be broken. The fact is that they were completely surprised at the prompt and decisive action of the troops in cutting off supplies and preventing escape, and they were chagrined and disappointed in that they were not encouraged to die the death of Mohammedan fanatics.

The Snopes article linked above does go on to note that there were some contemporaneous reports that at least part of the legend may be accurate in that some Moro rebels were buried with pigs and Pershing was apparently aware of this practice via reports from junior officers. However, there is absolutely no evidence that the practice had any impact at all on the attacks by the rebels, or that there was even any correlation between the practice and the eventual reduction in terror attacks that was apparent by the time Pershing left The Phillippines in 1913. Instead, that drop off appears to be related to a combination of efforts to resolve the rebellion by peaceful means and simply the fact that many of the rebels gave up their fight as the reality of American rule over the islands, which was at least far less severe than the way Spain treated the native population, sank in during the decade after the Spanish-American War ended. 

This isn’t the first time that Trump has made this claim, of course. He cited the legend several times during the course of his campaign, prompting historian William Lambers to look into the matter and concludes  that there was no merit to Trump’s claims:

During a campaign rally in South Carolina, [Donald] Trump told his audience a story about General John Pershing executing Muslim prisoners in the Philippines. Trump said Pershing, in the early 1900’s, “caught 50 terrorists that did tremendous damage and killed many people and he took the 50 terrorists and he took 50 men and he dipped 50 bullets in pig’s blood.”

Trump went out to describe a mass execution shooting of 49 of the prisoners, with the last one being sent to tell the others what happened. It was Trump using this “story” to demonstrate that America needed to get tough on terrorism, using brutal methods, and that he would be the man to do it.

But the story is not true. There was no mass execution led by Pershing. That is a rumor created on the Internet.

Chicago Daily Tribune article from 1927 has a story where Pershing had prisoners from the Moro Rebellion in the Philippines. The Moros were Muslims who resisted American or any other occupying force.

The Moros had swordsmen, called Juramentados, who were killing Christians in this uprising. It had to be stopped. General Pershing was given this difficult task.

The Tribune article says Pershing sprinkled some prisoners with pig’s blood, which the Juramentados believed would condemn them for eternity. But then Pershing let the prisoners go. He issued a warning to others about being sprinkled with the pig’s blood. The Tribune article said “those drops of porcine gore proved more powerful than bullets.”

There were no executions as described by Trump.

In fact, Pershing was more inclined toward peace talks with the Moros rather than violence.

(…)

If Pershing were around today he would be advocating food for the hungry child refugees, which are at unprecedented levels today because of the war in Syria.  They never talk about hunger during the presidential debates, but it’s a top foreign policy issue, which Pershing and other great leaders have understood.  Pershing was also deeply concerned about high levels of military spending. He often spoke about achieving global arms reductions and disarmament. Nations could work together to achieve this noble goal.

As a man who understood more about warfare than perhaps anyone in our country’s history, Pershing knew well the danger of excessive armament. He might have some questions for Trump or others who talk about pouring on the military spending.

But instead of trying to learn from Pershing, Trump cites a false story in an attempt to sound tough and get a sound bite on TV. The last thing this world needs is more people talking or advocating violence, especially someone running for President.

Jake Tapper also talked about Trump’s lie in its report on the terror attacks:

So, once again, Trump is telling a lie, and he’s insulting the memory of one of most decorated Generals and war heroes in the process. Not that he cares about the truth, of course.

Update: The New York Times fact checked the story, and similarly found it implausible given the available evidence:

Various versions of this myth began circulating around the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, often in email chains and on discussion boards online. In one version, Pershing also buried the rebels with “hog guts dumped atop the bodies.” And in another, in a column published in National Review in December 2002, a few months before the invasion of Iraq, the act was attributed to unnamed troops under Pershing’s command.

“This is a repeated myth that has no basis in truth,” said James R. Arnold, the author of “Moro War: How America Battled a Muslim Insurgency in the Philippine Jungle, 1902-1913.”

Mr. Arnold’s view was echoed by eight other historians who were interviewed by PolitiFact when Mr. Trump made his original claim. (It earned him the website’s lowest rating, “Pants on Fire.”)

Further dispelling this event and the suggestion that it was highly effective and ushered in an enduring peace is its dubious timeline. Most versions of the tale say the episode occurred around 1911, but the Moro Rebellion officially lasted another two years. After 1913, Americans back home lost interest and United States troops withdrew.

Studying Pershing’s historically documented actions during the Moro Rebellion — generally “a carrots and stick” approach, Mr. Arnold said — confers no silver bullets on how to approach terrorism.

Pershing “understood the imperative of having American forces involved at the grass-roots level,” wrote Col. Robert M. Cassidy of the Army, a professor of strategy and policy at the U.S. Naval War College. But Pershing could also be brutal, killing women and children in one large battle, for instance.

To the extent that the Americans “won” over the rebels, Mr. Arnold attributes that to an outsize battle: The Moros had no outside support, were insulated on an island and were outgunned.

And, as noted above,  Politifact also examined the claim when Trump made it on the campaign trail:

he idea that pig’s blood could serve as a weapon against Muslims has been around in popular culture for decades.

For instance, a 1939 Hollywood movie, The Real Glory, stars Gary Cooper as a doctor on the Philippine island of Mindanao who drapes a captive in pigskin “to serve as an abject lesson to all would-be attackers,” Luis H. Francia, a Filipino-born professor of Asian American Studies at Hunter College, wrote recently.

Snopes has been tracking Internet-based rumors of this sort since 2001, and a California National Guard facility removed a poster telling the Pershing story in 2005.

But the only historical evidence that something like this actually happened appears to come from a letter written by a soldier who served in the Philippines.

“Mr. C.C. Booth of Dallas, Texas, who served in Mindanao under Pershing, recalls seeing him hang a Moro chieftain by the heels over an open grave, kill a pig, and then drop the Moro into the grave with the bloody animal,” according to a 1962 article by Donald Smythe in the Pacific Historical Review, an academic journal.

However, David J. Silbey, a Cornell University historian and author of A War of Frontier and Empire: The Philippine-American War, 1899-1902, raised red flags about its sourcing. This claim came from one letter — and one that was written in 1960, more than half a century after the events in question. (And for the sake of this fact-check, the details differ significantly from the story Trump told.)

Other historians agreed that the evidence is thin, to say the least.

“This story is a fabrication and has long been discredited,” said Brian McAllister Linn, a Texas A&M University historian and author of Guardians of Empire: The U.S. Army and the Pacific, 1902-1940. “I am amazed it is still making the rounds.”

Christopher Einolf, a professor at DePaul University and author of America in the Philippines, 1899-1902: The First Torture Scandal, added that he trusted the conclusion of the late military historian Frank E. Vandiver, who told About.com in 2003 that “I never found any indication that it was true in extensive research on his Moro experiences. This kind of thing would have run completely against his character.”

Indeed, other historians noted that Pershing pursued a less brutal approach to “pacifying” the rebels in the southern Philippines than Leonard Wood, one of his predecessors.

“He did a lot of what we would call ‘winning hearts and minds’ and embraced reforms which helped end their resistance,” said Lance Janda, a military historian at Cameron University. “He fought too, but only when he had to, and only against tribes or bands that just wouldn’t negotiate with him. He wasn’t solely committed to fighting as people like Trump who tell the pig blood story imply.”

Another wrinkle: Historians said the premise that the rebels would have been motivated by a fear of pigs is not as certain as Trump suggests. It’s unclear how religiously observant the insurgents were and whether such a policy would have made a difference in their actions.

“The Moros were fighting for a lot of reasons, not just because they were Muslims,” Janda said. “This is another fact that gets lost in many modern discussions of terrorism.”

The site also notes that, in the end, it was effectively an edict from the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire that persuaded the Moro rebels to lay down their arms:

“Even if the tale is true, the pacifying effect that Trump claims is nonsense,” said Michael H. Hunt, an emeritus historian at the University of North Carolina and author of Arc of Empire: America’s Wars in Asia from the Philippines to Vietnam. The region “remained in constant unrest during the period of American rule and into the period of independence, right down to the present.”

Silbey of Cornell agreed. “Where Trump’s remark becomes ridiculous is in the idea that this actually worked,” he said. “The Moro War did not end until 1913, and even that’s a bit of a soft date, with violence continuing for quite a while afterward. Defilement by pig’s blood isn’t — and wasn’t — some magical method of ending terrorism.”

If anything, a more complete account of the Moro insurgency involves some subplots that run contrary to Trump’s narrative.

“The Ottomans under Sultan Abdul Hamid II sent a letter to the Sulu Moros asking them not to resist the Americans at the start of the Moro Rebellion, and the Moros on Sulu complied,” Janda said. “It’s a nice example of diplomacy working to our advantage, and a reminder that then and now, not all Muslims or Moros are the same and that many were and are U.S. allies.”

As John Adams once put it, facts are stubborn images.

FILED UNDER: General
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Gobsmacked says:

    So much for getting all the facts before he speaks.

  2. James Pearce says:

    We elected my Uncle Jim to the presidency, guys.

  3. CSK says:

    Trump has no knowledge of history. He gets his “information” from crackpot blogs whose semi-literate paranoid authors adore him. He has no intellectual capacity to go beyond that. This is a man who boasts about not reading books. He doesn’t even read one-page briefing papers unless his name appears in them multiple times in bold-face type.

  4. Slugger says:

    Desecration of corpses is not an American value.

  5. Mikey says:

    @Slugger:

    Desecration of corpses is not an American value.

    It’s also a war crime, but apparently the Law of Armed Conflict is just another useless restriction as far as Trump and his idiot base are concerned.

  6. grumpy realist says:

    What I’d like to know is where we go from here? Trump has basically shot off both feet with his “both sides were equally at blame” rhetoric. The Economist, Time, and the New Yorker are putting him on their front covers with KKK hoods attached. The business community has bolted, completely. And the Republican Party must know that their chance of getting anything done before the end of the year on tax reform is approximately zero.

    Add to that the alt-right gleefully running more marches around the country, which will probably produce further sound and fury and backlash, meaning that Trump will be constantly demanded questions about how he feels about their activities (with further foot-in-mouth episodes). It’s going to be Nazi KKK Nazi KKK Confederacy Nazi for WEEKS, with The Donald trapped in the middle.

    What I hope is that the sane part of the Republicans realize that something needs to get done, get together with the business side and the Democrats, shove the extremists out of the way, and get working. Trump will sign anything that passes across his desk so that he can say he has a success.

    Maybe we can bumble through this safely, but it’s going to require everyone reasonable to stop the identity politics and kick the nuts out of the way.

    Putin must be grinning from ear to ear.

  7. Guarneri says:

    Petty.

  8. grumpy realist says:

    @Guarneri: No, it shows that Trump has no inclination to carry out Due Diligence before he utters what he thinks is a fact. Truth, for him, is whatever he feels it should be. It’s the mentality of a toddler.

    A similarly ill-sourced fact in any legal document would be enough to get the writer fired.

  9. grumpy realist says:

    @Guarneri: No, it shows that Trump has no inclination to carry out Due Diligence before he utters what he thinks is a fact. Truth, for him, is whatever he feels it should be. It’s the mentality of a toddler.

    A similarly ill-sourced fact in any legal document would be enough to get the writer fired.

  10. gVOR08 says:

    It happened in a movie. That was good enough for Reagan.

  11. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @grumpy realist: I’m not sure that “the sane part of the Republicans” is a big enough group to carry out your plan. Additionally, if my state is any example, the sane Republicans–giving you the benefit of the doubt on their existence–seem to stop running for higher office at the county council level.

  12. Daryl's other brother, Daryll says:

    @Guarneri:
    Yes…Trump is a petty little liar.

  13. Senyordave says:

    From Seinfeld: Just remember, Jerry. It’s not a lie if you believe it.

    And that is the problem, I believe. Trump believes his lies, he thinks if it came out of his mouth it must be true. And since he doesn’t read, he picks up his “facts” from his two favorite sources, Fox News and Twitter (Alex Jones and other conspiracy folks seem to be his favorites). Our president truly is someone who you ordinarily would dismiss as RWNJ.

  14. Daryl's other brother, Daryll says:

    I find this disturbing.
    But the reality is that Republicans have long formed policies around complete lies.
    Trickle-down economics, the Iraq War, life begins at conception, etc.
    All of its disturbing.

  15. I think this goes beyond simply being a lie. I think it is the promulgation of Inforwars-quality mythology into the broader public.

    It is, ironically, actual fake news.

  16. Timothy Watson says:

    Pershing dealt with these terror attacks, which were largely committed by groups that arose out of the Muslim population of The Phillippines, by ordering his troops to dip their bullets in pigs blood

    I was never in the military, but want person would think that a professional soldier would order his subordinates to foul their weapons in such a manner?

  17. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Once Again, Trump Lies And The Truth Dies

    You can’t kill that which is already dead and buried. Fox News killed the truth a long time ago.

  18. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Guarneri: Pathetic. You that is.

  19. @OzarkHillbilly: At some point it become crystal clear that all that matters to some people is party ID and nothing else.

  20. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Trump is a big, big fan of Alex Jones and Infowars. Infowars is his go-to site for all those rancid conspiracy theories he’s promulgated over the years.

    Jones claims that he advised Trump throughout the campaign and has had several phone conversations with Trump since Trump became president.

  21. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Cleek’s Law in action.

  22. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    It is, ironically, actual fake news.

    Yeah, that was my first thought as well.
    Unfortunately almost everything the guy says consists of “alternative facts”.

  23. Matthew Bernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    At some point it become crystal clear that all that matters to some people is party ID and nothing else.

    Honestly, I am increasingly taking a cynical view that its not party ID that matters — it’s the belief they are “attacking” (broadly defined) your enemies.

    The moment that performed attack stops, then regardless of party ID, they are enemies as well (the entire RINO attack is exactly that).

  24. al-Alameda says:

    Trump without end. The bar is low now, and it can go lower.

    I’m thinking that Trump and his advisors are extremely confident that most people will be worn down by the constant intentional (not inadvertent at all) misrepresentations and lies, and will come to accept this as just the way Trump conducts the affairs of business and politics.

    Every single day he advances his misinformation and doubles down in his reaction and response to the reality-based reporting on his words and actions.

  25. fredw says:

    The story may be fake, but it has the seed of a viable tactic to fight suicide attacks. As far as I understand it, if a muslim’s body is cremated he cannot get into heaven. What better way to dissuade suicide attackers who believe they will go straight to heaven than to cremate all remains of all attackers killed or convicted of terror attacks. This is not very different from what we did with Bil Laden;s body; I think that kind of burial at sea blocks him from heaven too. Can any INFORMED source out there confirm the view of cremation in Islam?

  26. Matthew Bernius says:

    @Matthew Bernius:
    To my point above, here’s Rich Lowery from an article today at the NR:

    So long as Trump has the right enemies, namely the mainstream media and PC culture, there is a floor to his political support.

    source: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/450579/donald-trump-charlottesville-response-diminished-him

    Trumps election win had a lot to do with party above all (and above Clinton). However what support he has left is focused on his continued “muscular conservative” approach.

  27. Electroman says:

    @fredw: Sure. Everything you’re saying is wrong. You’re welcome.

  28. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @fredw:

    it has the seed of a viable tactic

    You have the seed of a viable brain.
    Let me guess…you voted for the incompetent racist, with the phony orange tan, in the White House, and you still support him without question?

  29. Timothy Watson says:

    @fredw: Because that idea would have done an amazing job stopping the 9/11 hijackers, who were effectively cremated.

  30. fredw says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:
    Just because the man is an idiot, and the Pershing story is fake, it does not mean that story does not point at a viable tactic to dissuade suicide attacks. Cremating the bodies will not stop the attacks for 35 years, but it may give pause to some attackers. If we can, in their world view, punish them after death it could not hurt. They know how to use our cultural quirks against us. We should learn how ti use theirs against them.

  31. teve tory says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Putin must be grinning from ear to ear.

    He wanted to damage the US, and he got it.

  32. teve tory says:

    You can tell Trumpers by their lack of principles. Like how all the businesspeople quit, and just now the arts and humanities people also quit, but the evangelical ‘leaders’ are like Woohoo Trump’s Da Man!

  33. teve tory says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    : At some point it become crystal clear that all that matters to some people is party ID and nothing else.

    Literally yesterday on FB a guy concluded his shouting memes at me with “Your team lost!!! LOL PEACE”

  34. @fredw: To echo Timothy Watson‘s point: suicide bombers are blown up, if not incinerated. As such, the notion that cremation is some kind of deterrent makes no sense.

    Really, pigs blood bullets and so forth sounds a lot more like a solution a bunch of goofy teenagers would concoct than it does something that would really work in the real world.

    Further, I would note that most religions preach against murder yet members of various religions justify warfare in various ways. This is the kind of thing that human beings are really good at rationalizing. If fear of violent death is insufficient to stop a jihadist from fighting, I am guessing various pork related deterrents would unhelpful.

  35. Matthew Bernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Really, pigs blood bullets and so forth sounds a lot more like a solution a bunch of goofy teenagers would concoct than it does something that would really work in the real world.

    It seems to me that the idea that it would in any way deter future attacks fit into a broader attempt to frame your enemy as irrational savages completely beholden to a backwards belief system above all else.

    Imagine if some said that the British stopped the IRA by threatening to feed them rancid meat on Fridays, defiled sacrament, and ensuring their bodies were never given last rights.

    It’s bad revenge fetish about profaning the enemy. And as David French pointed out, it’s also endorsing war crimes.

  36. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @fredw: UBL’s body was handled and prepared according to Islamic practices and beliefs. He was buried at sea for the sole purpose of denying those who would idolize him a site for pilgrimage. Don’t know about Islamic views on cremation, but regardless, if Muslims see it as desecration we should avoid it. We don’t need to pour any more gasoline on the fire of hatred for America.