President Donald Trump attributed his initial screaming silence following the Charlottesville terror attack to a desire to “know the facts” and “be correct” when he speaks. However, the president repeated a lie he first told during the 2016 presidential campaign while responding to Thursday’s terrorist attack in Barcelona, Spain. “Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught,” Trump tweeted. “There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!”
Trump was rehashing a tall tale told on the campaign trail last year. Referring to Pershing, who governed the heavily Muslim Moro province of the Philippines during the brutal, bloody US conquest of the former Spanish colony following the 1898 Spanish-American War, Trump speciously said the general “caught 50 terrorists… [and] dipped 50 bullets in pigs’ blood.” He continued:
“[Pershing] 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.”
The only problem with Trump’s story, aside from the ever-enduring American portrayal of anyone who resists US imperialism, invasion and colonization as “terrorists,” is that it simply isn’t true. In fact, the nonpartisan fact-checking site PolitiFact rated it as a “Pants On Fire” lie.
The truth is far more horrifying.
Having conquered the North American continent and exterminated or subjugated its native peoples, US leaders were not content to let Manifest Destiny end at the shores of the Pacific as the 19th century came to a close. After the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown by American robber barons, the US itch for empire was stronger than ever. Theodore Roosevelt, then assistant navy secretary, confided to a friend that he “should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one.” The Washington Post perfectly captured the turn-of-the-century zeitgeist:
A new consciousness seems to have come upon us — the consciousness of strength — and with it a new appetite, the yearning to show our strength… Ambition, interest, land hunger, pride, the mere joy of fighting, whatever it may be, we are animated by a new sensation. We are face to face with a strange destiny. The taste of Empire is in the mouth of the people even as the taste of blood [is] in the jungle.
While Americans think of the Spanish-American War as a quick and relatively painless affair, the “Splendid Little War” of our high school history textbooks, the truth is rather different. Yes, America defeated Spain in short order, conquering its colonies of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines in what was basically one fell swoop. But despite America’s high-minded talk of liberating far-flung peoples from Spanish tyranny, Filipinos realized that President William McKinley’s Proclamation of Benevolent Assimilation, under which “the future control, disposition, and government of the Philippine Islands are ceded to the United States” and Filipinos were forced to “accept the supremacy of the United States,” simply meant exchanging one colonial overlord for another.
Filipinos inevitably resisted their new overlords, and the US waged one of the most brutal military campaigns in its history to crush the uprising. American “scorched earth” policy saw entire towns and villages destroyed. General “Hell-Roaring Jake” Smith ordered his men to turn the island of Samar into a “howling wilderness” and to kill everyone over the age of 10. “I wish you to kill and burn, and the more you kill and burn the better it will please me,” Smith commanded a subordinate. Wrote one soldier from New York:
Last night one of our boys was found shot and his stomach cut open. Immediately orders were received from General Wheaton to burn the town and kill every native in sight; which was done to a finish. About 1,000 men, women and children were reported killed. I am probably growing hard-hearted, for I am in my glory when I can sight my gun on some dark skin and pull the trigger.
Racism and notions of divine favor were an ever-present component of the US war. Sergeant Howard McFarland of the 43rd Infantry described his wartime exploits:
This is a very rich country; and we want it. My way of getting it would be to put a regiment into a skirmish line, and blow every nigger into a nigger heaven. On Thursday, March 29, eighteen of my company killed seventy-five nigger bolo men and ten of the nigger gunners. When we find one that is not dead, we have bayonets.
There were concentration camps, called reconcentrados, into which hundreds of thousands of Filipinos were forced. Overcrowding and disease led to tens of thousands of deaths; in some reconcentrados, as many as 20 percent of the population perished. In some areas, any Filipino caught outside of the camps was summarily shot.
Torture — by both sides — was commonplace. While resistance fighters sometimes buried US troops alive up to their necks in ant hills with their mouths propped open and stuffed full of sugar, a favorite American torture was the “water cure,” known today as waterboarding. Like President George W. Bush would do a century later, President Theodore Roosevelt dismissed the interrupted drowning torture as a minor ordeal. Unlike today, US troops were punished for “water curing” insurgents in the Philippines.
By the time US troops emerged victorious, some 220,000 Filipinos and 4,000 Americans were dead. A congressional inquiry concluded that “the destruction of Filipino life during the war has been so frightful that it cannot be explained as the result of ordinary civilized warfare.” War Secretary Elihu Root, however, argued that the campaign was fought “with self-restraint and with humanity never surpassed,” an absurd assertion repeated by US leaders in various 20th and 21st century wars in which millions of innocent men, women and children were killed.
So, what of Trump’s “bullets in pigs’ blood” claim? Here, too, the truth is far worse than the president’s lie. As CA148 NEWS wrote here yesterday, Muslims in the southern Philippines — the Moro people — did not lay down their arms when the insurrection ended in 1902. With primitive weapons and fierce courage, the Moro resisted US colonization for over a decade. On March 7, 1906, US forces massacred nearly a thousand Moro who were literally holed up in a volcanic crater at Bud Dajo. The victorious Americans proudly posed in photos with slain “savages;” Mark Twain railed against the “Christian butchers” while war secretary (and future president) William Howard Taft decried the “wanton slaughter” of women and children. There were no bullets dipped in pigs’ blood and, at Bud Dajo and elsewhere, there were no survivors left to warn others of the horrific barbarism of their new colonial overlords.