“This story is a fabrication and has long been discredited. I am amazed it is still making the rounds.”  Brian McAllister Linn, historian and author of Guardians of Empire: The U.S. Army and the Pacific, 1902-1940.

With the usual mix of fascination and incredulity I watched part of the live broadcast of Donald Trump’s address to the Californian Republican Convention on 29 April*.

The presumptive (presumptuous?) Republican candidate displays expressive body language, more impressive than his verbal language. His metronomic right hand makes him appear an expert signer but the hearing disabled would also struggle to find coherent meaning.

Trump repeated to a receptive audience a bloodthirsty anecdote that he had earlier recounted at a Feb. 19, 2016, rally in North Charleston.  Set in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War of 1899-1902  it featured United States Army General John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing and was an “anti-terrorist” parable from the post war years  when the United States sought to exert its authority over the South East Asian archipelago which it had “won” from Spain.

The occupiers faced armed opposition and a three-year war which led to the deaths of more than 4,200 American combatants, more than 20,000 Filipino combatants, and up to 200,000 Filipino civilians.

After the war, Pershing served as military governor of the heavily Muslim Moro Province between 1909 and 1913, years, marked by continuing intransigent insurgencies.

The Parable

According to an account in the Washington Post of the February rally, Trump referred approvingly to the purported actions of Pershing in handling Muslim dissidents in the Southern Philippines province:
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? He took 50 bullets, and he dipped them in pigs’ blood. 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. Okay? Twenty-five years, there wasn’t a problem.”

(You can watch the April video version on YouTube.  The claimed period of  post-porcine  peace doubles*).

After Trump told the story in February, critics called it apocryphal, misleading or outright false. The facts and rumour checking site* considered the evidence and called it a “legend.” (Snopes has been tracking Internet-based rumours of this sort since 2001, and a California National Guard facility removed a poster telling the apocryphal Pershing story in 2005).

Under the banner Pershing the Thought Snopes concluded that “U.S. General John J. Pershing did not effectively discourage Muslim terrorists in the Philippines by killing them and burying their bodies along with those of pigs.” *

Pulitzer Prize winner* went further and checked with historians specialising in the period to see what they thought of the story. Overall the eight scholars were highly sceptical that the specific story ever happened. On the flaming pantometer on Politifact Trump’s pants were shown as highly combustible*.

The Parallel

“Even if the tale is true, the pacifying effect that Trump claims is nonsense…,” The region “remained in constant unrest during the period of American rule and into the period of independence, right down to the present.”  Michael H. Hunt author of Arc of Empire: America’s Wars in Asia from the Philippines to Vietnam

Facts aside, several of the historians argued that Trump’s larger point was wrong anyway. The idea that Pershing’s blood-smeared bullets pacified “terrorists” is actually an even bigger problem with Trump’s parable than its dubious provenance.

More than a century later, on the island of Mindanao, the Moro conflict is ongoing and Muslim rebel groups are still very active.

The pig parable may strike a respondent chord with ill-informed Trump supporters in a dumbed down populist Primary campaign now about to evolve into the presidential race.

To others it seems like an obvious attempt to sell a pig in a poke, but it’s no joke. The smoke and parabolic mirror musings, from someone aspiring to high office lacks all credibility and inspires even less confidence.

Unreality Show

Trump is the undoubted star of a political unreality show which could have real and dangerous consequences domestically and internationally.

While the bemused world watches on it is now up to American voters in November to decide whether to hire or fire someone who hasn’t bothered doing his political apprenticeship but expects to vault from hog cabin to the White House.

It will be a real test of the wisdom of crowds and the flawed but essential democratic process.

*Blinks  Donald Trump Speaks at California Republican Convention 29 April 2016  Pershing the Thought  25 Numbers That Define Donald Trump How Donald Trump Answers A Question [or not]  Hillary Clinton’s attack ad on Donald Trump 4 May 2016  Scroll down to the exchange on health between Rubio and Trump!  A Kiwi satirical offering

#Lyall Lukey 7 May 2016  My other (slightly) more serious blog


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