President Donald Trump’s tweeted claim that modern governments should study the actions of U.S. Gen. John Pershing when fighting Islamic extremism references repeatedly debunked claims about Pershing’s tactics, according to Politifact, Snopes and the Associated Press.
Here’s what he tweeted:
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
Thursday wasn’t the first time Trump had referenced Pershing, who served as governor of the southern Phillipines’ mainly Muslim Moro province for four years. The United States had won the country in the Spanish-American War and declared it an American colony -- something the Moro people violently and repeatedly resisted. Pershing largely dispelled their uprising in a June 1913 battle that killed over 500 Moro fighters.
Trump brought up this resistance to the Washington Post in February 2016, referring to the Moro uprising as “terrorism problems” and claiming Pershing had deterred them thus:
“He took the 50 terrorists, and he took 50 men and he dipped 50 bullets in pigs’ blood -- you heard that, right? He took 50 bullets, and he dipped them in pigs’ blood. And he had his men load his 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. Okay? Twenty-five years, there wasn’t a problem.”
Those 25 years became 35 in the tweet, but the story didn’t become any more true.
The story about Pershing using pig’s blood is “a fabrication … long since discredited,” according to historian Brian McAllister Linn.
Pork is taboo in Islam due to its association with uncleanliness, and Pershing referenced in a memoir that another U.S. commander had at least once “seen to it" that Muslim insurgents’ bodies were buried in the same grave as a dead pig to serve as a warning to others, but did not claim to have done anything similar himself.
The premise that the Moro insurgents were religiously motivated is also flawed, according to historians interviewed by Politifact. The Filipino people’s resistance to American rulership was fueled by many different motivating factors; religion certainly was among them, but it would be incorrect to characterize the uprising as “radical Islamic terror” of the kind the Islamic State has perpetrated in recent years.
And then there’s the fact that the tactics -- hog-related or otherwise -- employed by Pershing’s compatriots didn’t actually work.
"Even if the tale is true, the pacifying effect that Trump claims is nonsense," said Michael H. Hunt, an emeritus historian interviewed by Politifact According to him, the Moro province "remained in constant unrest during the period of American rule and into the period of independence, right down to the present.”
On Tuesday, Trump defended his refusal to directly condemn white supremacists and neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, by insisting “before I make a statement, I like to know the facts.”
Perhaps some of that caution would have come in handy Thursday afternoon.