Just a few hours after a van drove into a crowd of pedestrians in Barcelona, Donald Trump resurrected a long debunked tale about General John J. Pershing and condoned an appalling act of violent, religious discrimination to tackle “radical Islamic terror.” He tweeted that Spaniards should “study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!” Trump first repeated the tale on his presidential campaign trail in South Carolina on 19 February 2016. “He took 50 bullets and he dipped them in pig’s blood,” Trump said. “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.”
Trump was repeating a story from the early 20th century when General Pershing, the governor of the Philippines after the Spanish-American war, is said to have executed Islamic insurgents with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood. To Muslims, pigs are unholy so General Pershing’s actions would deny the fighters entry into heaven. For fear of hell, the fighters halted their tactics and Islamic terrorism was wiped out from the region for several decades.
Donald Trump’s tale, however, has been completely dispelled. There is no proof of the attack and Politifact describes the parable as “pants on fire.” Pershing led efforts to suppress the Filipino Insurrection during the Philippine-American war in the late 19th century. But “there is no evidence that Pershing himself” used pigs as a tactic against Muslim insurgents, Politifact noted in 2016. “There is nothing said about the use of 50 bullets dipped in pig’s blood, and most important, there is no evidence to support Trump’s claim that this tactic was effective in stopping violence — or that it would provide a useful policy today,” the site wrote.
For many historians, the notion that Pershing’s actions eliminated “radical Islamic terror” in the region was more troubling than Trump’s lie, according to Politifact. “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 told Politifact. The region “remained in constant unrest during the period of American rule and into the period of independence, right down to the present.” David Silbey, a historian at Cornell University agreed with Hunt. “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.”
The barbaric, violent tale would be a stain on the American conscience if it were true. The tale is a work of fiction and, perhaps more significantly, a dangerous one. The idea that the barbaric act was a successful anti-terror tactic needs to be stopped in its tracks. The challenge of countering violent extremism requires globalism and tolerance to build a sustainable peace. With that said, condoning war crimes, suggesting discriminatory and hateful rhetoric, and encouraging division will lay the foundation for future violence.
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