Trump says to study Pershing. I did, and the lessons are the complete opposite of what he thinks

Mark Perry writes: There was a time in U.S. history, and not so long ago, when General John “Black Jack” Pershing was the most famous American alive.

Feted by presidents, revered by soldiers, celebrated as a military genius by his followers and the subject of salacious gossip columnists (he was handsome, a widower—and available), Pershing was a legend in his time. Large numbers of Americans would have been able to recite the Missouri farm boy’s life story: A West Point graduate, Pershing was an officer in the African-American 10th Cavalry Regiment during the Indian Wars, participated in the Battle of San Juan Heights (where Teddy Roosevelt served as a Rough Rider), served as a key officer during the Moro Rebellion in the southern Philippines (from 1909 to 1913) and served a governor there, chased Pancho Villa around northern Mexico (starting in 1914), then led the American Expeditionary Force to victory in World War One.

In 1919, after Pershing returned from Europe to public acclaim, the Congress named him General of the Armies – only George Washington still outranks him.

Ironically, Black Jack, whose fame has faded in the seven decades since his death, is still celebrated among military scholars, but not for what he did – but for what he didn’t: and he most certainly didn’t take fifty bullets, dip them in pigs blood and execute 49 Muslims in retaliation for Islamic terrorism, as Donald Trump has repeatedly told us. Trump’s claim, first aired at a Feb. 19, 2016 campaign rally in South Carolina, cited Pershing as “a rough guy” – a personality trait that, it seems, the president very much admires. After this week’s attack in Barcelona, Trump tweeted: “Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!”

It was an allusion to a fictional yarn the president told on the campaign trail. According to candidate Trump, during his time fighting the Muslim Moro tribesmen in the southern Philippines, Pershing “caught 50 terrorists who did tremendous damage . . . and he took the 50 terrorists and he took 50 men and dipped 50 bullets in pig’s blood. You heard about that? He took 50 bullets and dipped them in pig’s blood. And he had his men load up their rifles and he lined up 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.” The fable, like all such, gets more grandiose with the telling: During a campaign rally in March of 2016, Trump’s initial 25 years became 42.

The story seems to have been kicking around the fever swamps of the internet for years. [Continue reading…]

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2 thoughts on “Trump says to study Pershing. I did, and the lessons are the complete opposite of what he thinks

  1. Louis Proyect

    The attempt to provide a “balanced” view of Pershing is rather limited. On the positive side of the ledger, he is seen as a success for helping to break down tribal customs., a lesson he learned fighting American Indians. What is positive about that?

  2. hquain

    I’m actually shocked by the extreme inaccuracy of Perry’s account of US participation in WWI, which manages to match up in attitude with Trump’s. (Let’s put aside his glossing over of the Moro campaign, which featured massacre of civilians in large numbers.)

    Here’s the well-known facts, as concisely summarized in Wikipedia, “United States in World War I.” For detailed accounts along the same lines, there’s Keegan’s or Strachan’s books, both titled The First World War.

    “The Americans helped the British Empire, French and Portuguese forces defeat and turned back the powerful final German offensive (Spring Offensive of March to July, 1918), and most importantly, the Americans played a role in the Allied final offensive (Hundred Days Offensive of August to November). However, many American commanders used the same flawed tactics which the British, French, Germans and others had abandoned early in the war, and so many American offensives were not particularly effective. Pershing continued to commit troops to these full- frontal attacks, resulting in high casualties against experienced veteran German and Austrian-Hungarian units. Nevertheless, the infusion of new and fresh US troops greatly strengthened the Allies’ strategic position and boosted morale. ”

    What does Perry tell us? Rather like Trump, he mythologizes the blunt, forceful American and completely falsifies what happened.

    “When British and French commanders insisted that U.S. troops be disbursed among European units (they had little regard for the green “doughboys,” but liked the idea of using their numbers to succeed in doing what they’d failed to do for three years), Pershing dug in his heels. He eschewed the constant frontal assaults preferred by his European peers and not only insisted that U.S. troops be commanded by Americans, but that the U.S. be given its own front on the allied lines—where they would attack the Germans as a single American Army.”

    Beyond embarrassing, really.

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