Trump strikes again

Trump strikes again

It’s not often that the name of John Pershing is heard in contemporary politics, but the long-dead soldier has been reported on heavily in the last few days.

Nevada’s Pershing County was named for him in 1919, when he was riding high after World War I, during which he commanded the U.S. Allied Expeditionary Force, and he was being mentioned as a Republican presidential candidate. In 1922, Pershing recommended routes to Congress for highways around the U.S., with his Nevada route coming close to the current configuration of Interstate 80.

The new dispute around Pershing originated, to no one’s surprise, with Donald Trump. On Aug. 17, following the Barcelona attack, Trump tweeted this message: “Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!”

This referenced his earlier, Feb. 19, 2016 claim in North Charleston, S.C., which went like this: “They were having terrorism problems, just like we do. And he caught 50 terrorists who did tremendous damage and killed many people. And he took the 50 terrorists, and he took 50 men and he dipped 50 bullets in pigs’ blood—you heard that, right? … 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.”

It’s hard to know where to start with this. Trump was describing the Philippine uprising against the United States, which invaded under the pretense of liberating that nation from Spain and then refused to leave, later purchasing the Phillipines from Spain for $20 million and colonizing it. Then there is Trump’s description of Filipino patriots as terrorists. But most of all, Pershing did not commit the atrocity Trump describes. These stories appeared many years later and historians consider them false. Trump probably knew it was false in his latest usage, because his earlier usage was corrected by Politifact and Snopes in 2016.

There are some other marks on Pershing’s career—in World War I when African Americans joined European armies to avoid the racism of U.S. forces, he warned French officials that blacks were “given to the loathsome vice of criminally assaulting women,” a claim the French ignored except to avoid inflaming U.S. soldiers by praising blacks’ performance.