Opinion: The real story behind Trump’s lie about General Pershing

SHARE Opinion: The real story behind Trump’s lie about General Pershing

On Friday in South Carolina, Donald Trump told a story of how General John J. Pershing executed 49 Muslim prisoners in the Philippines.

In the early 1900’s, Trump said, Pershing “caught 50 terrorists that did tremendous damage and killed many people.” So Pershing “dipped 50 bullets in pig’s blood” and executed 49 of the men. Then he released the 50th prison to tell others what had happened. Trump’s point was that America needs to get tough on terrorism.

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


A Chicago Daily Tribune article from 1927 reports the true story that Pershing was holding prisoners from the Moro Rebellion in the Philippines. The Moros were Muslims who resisted American or any other occupying force. The Moros included swordsmen, called Juramentados, who were killing Christians in the uprising. It had to be stopped.

The Tribune story reports that 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. And, according to the Tribune story, “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. The general met with the Moros and read from the Koran with them. Pershing wanted to build bridges. An illustration accompanying the story shows the general in peace talks in the jungles of the Philippines.

Trump would do better to tell true stories about the great General Pershing, who commanded American forces during the First World War. While Pershing was a tough military leader, he also was a man who wanted to build peace.

That is so often the case with great military leaders; they are the first to call for building peace because they understand the horrors and limitations of war. Pershing also understood something that more people need to realize, that famine is the inevitable aftermath of war.

After the First World War, Pershing teamed up with Herbert Hoover to raise funds to feed hungry children in Europe. Hoover and Pershing co-hosted’ “invisible guest” fundraising dinners. They would place an empty setting at the table, representing the starving children.

Why haven’t we heard that Pershing story at campaign rallies instead of Trump’s false and violent story?

If Pershing were around today, he likely would be advocating for food for hungry child refugees, of which there are unprecedented numbers because of the war in Syria.  Nobody talks about hunger during presidential debates, but it’s a top foreign policy issue, one that Pershing and other great leaders understood.

Pershing appreciated as well the dangers of excessive armament. Were he alive today, he might have some questions for those like Trump who talk about pouring on the military spending.

The last thing this world needs is more people talking up violence, especially people running for president.

William Lambers is an Ohio-based journalist. He partnered with the UN World Food Programme on the book “Ending World Hunger.”Follow the Editorial Board on Twitter: Follow @csteditorials

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