Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Black Jack Pershing and the 'Terrorists'

There is a very prevalent internet story that moves around in certain circles, rearing its head from time to time to stand for the proposition that the best way to end the war in Iraq and Afghanistan is to 'terrorize the terrorists.'  I first came across this story my junior year of college.  I was interested to see if it was true so I decided to go to the library and do some research.  I mean what was I going to do otherwise?  Actual homework?  Suffice it to say, the story (as told) is entirely false.  Here is the typical gist of the tale, although I have seen at least 5 or 6 different forms of it:

"HOW TO STOP ISLAMIC TERRORISTS...... it worked once in our History...
Once in U.S. history an episode of Islamic terrorism was very quickly stopped. It happened in the Philippines about 1911, when Gen. John J. Pershing was in command of the garrison. There had been numerous Islamic terrorist attacks, so "Black Jack" told his boys to catch the perps and teach them a lesson.
Forced to dig their own graves, the terrorists were all tied to posts, execution style. The U.S. soldiers then brought in pigs and slaughtered them, rubbing their bullets in the blood and fat. Thus, the terrorists were terrorized; they saw that they would be contaminated with hogs' blood. This would mean that they could not enter Heaven, even if they died as terrorist martyrs.
All but one was shot, their bodies dumped into the grave, and the hog guts dumped atop the bodies. The lone survivor was allowed to escape back to the terrorist camp and tell his brethren what happened to the others. This brought a stop to terrorism in the Philippines for the next 50 years.

Pointing a gun into the face of Islamic terrorists won't make them flinch.
They welcome the chance to die for Allah. Like Gen. Pershing, we must show them that they won't get to Muslim heaven (which they believe has an endless supply of virgins) but instead will die with the hated pigs of the devil."

Sith Lord Black Jack Pershing

That is the general gist of the tale, but as I said, I have seen it in various forms.  For reasons I am confused about, or possibly in denial of, this story has made Pershing sort of a hero to some people.  If it is true, it is pretty horrific, and does not speak too well of the man, nor of our armed forces in general.  Fortunately it is false.  Pershing was a very intelligent leader, who took over the lead in the Southern Philippines against the Moro Rebellions not because he was ruthless, but because he was respected by many of the Moro tribes for his compassion and empathy. I decided to finally write about this because for some reason I have received this story 3 times in the last week.  I will address the backdrop of the tale first, and then address it's various components.

First of all, most of the time the story claims that Pershing was a native of Mississippi.  Not true, he was born in Missouri.  Ok, got that off my chest.

Contrary to popular belief, Missouri has given us more than Mark Twain and shitty beer

Second, the Moro Rebellions in the Philippines were not as much the result of 'Islamic Terrorism' as they were about a fundamental misunderstanding (see: failing to do homework) of the political structure of the Moro tribes, and a total set-up by the Spanish.  When the Spanish-American war ended, Spain ceded all of the Philippines to the United States including the Muslim minorities in the south.  What they did not mention was the fact that Spain had fought against nearly constant rebellion in that region during their attempts to colonize the area, and only signed a peace treaty sometime during the 1870s or early 1880s.  What they also neglected to mention was that as soon as they signed that treaty, they peaced out pretty quickly, and pretty much decided it was not worth the effort to exercise de jure control in the area.  The only garrison they had in the area was in the largest city in the south, Jolo, and they handed it over in 1899.  Probably while smirking and giggling.  So we quickly ran off to sign a treaty with the Sultan of Sulu, Kiram, to ensure Moro neutrality in Spanish American relations and that they would not side with Filipino insurrectionists in the south.  However, we discovered rather quickly that we had sort of been had.  The Sultan did not really have any authority to speak of in internal affairs of the Moro tribes; in fact he never had any.

We really are pretty good at doing that

So the predictable happened.  Individual tribal leaders (known as Datus) began to split up according to their individual interests.  Some sided with the Americans, some sided with the Filipinos, and some decided to continue to fight for an independent Moro state. 

In fact, Pershing's first appearance in Moroland was not to violently smash a rebellion of wacky Muslims.  Actually, it was to 'make nice' with some particularly influential ones.  Due to his high level of education, fluency in the local language, and impartial manner, he actually succeeded in getting many powerful Moro tribes to side with the United States.  He was officially declared a Datu by the Moro people, and was considered an essential cog in ensuring peace in the region through his diplomatically gained trust with the locals.  Not because he was in the habit of waging psychological warfare against the indigenous people.

Most of the Moro people in the south, at this point, did not have too much of a problem with the Americans.  While we were more involved than the Spanish, we respected the neutrality agreement, and the Moro loved Pershing.  But we had a problem in the U.S.  The Indian Wars were all over by 1901, and we had an excess of ex-cavalrymen and other veterans that had no more wars to fight in.  The answer was to turf them off to Moroland, to deal with another 'savage problem.'

Again, what happened was pretty predictable.  While many of the servicemen who came actually provided a boost, due to their familiarity with tribal politics, many others brought that same 'kill 'em and let god sort 'em out' mentality that resulted in such travesties as the Sand Creek Massacre.  All it took were some of the unfriendly tribes in the south to attack some American soldiers for all hell to break loose.

Pershing (what was this guy, some kind of hippie?????) insisted that the Americans should not take unilateral action against the offending tribes.  Rather, they should partner with friendly natives in discovering who was responsible for the attacks, who had been fostering anti-American sentiment, and make a point of only punishing the men who took part in the attacks.  The military governor of the Philippines answered with an emphatic "meh," and instead issued a proclamation that the Datus hand over the offenders or face American guns.  Predictably that didn't go too hot, and we found ourselves embroiled in a conflict with far more Moro tribes than had ever been necessary.  In any event, this led to a whole lot of mindless violence that must have had Pershing doing a serious facepalm.

Now we actually get to the supposed story of Pershing's bacon brutality.  The year is correct.  Pershing took over as the third governor of Moroland after two other governors during 1911.  But there are only two prevalent tales of the use of pork to terrorize the Moros, and neither of them involves Pershing.  The first was told by Rear Admiral Mannix who was a young officer in the Philippines.  He related a story to people later in his life about how some officers in the Philippines had taken to the practice of shoving pork meat into the mouths of dead Moros to attempt to frighten their comrades.  However, this story dated from around 1906 or 1907, and definitely did not involve Pershing.  The second comes from the British author of 'Jungle Patrol' named Victor Hurley.  Published in 1938, Hurley's tale involved Colonel Alexander Rodgers of the 6th Cavalry, who allegedly buried Moros in pig skins to intimidate them.

I have a major problem with the second story, primarily due to its conclusion.  Hurley contends that this ended the religious fanaticism of the Moros in areas controlled by Rodgers, but at the same time acknowledges that the violence did not stop.  Instead, he claims, that the Muslim fanatics were simply replaced by (and now I'm quoting) "homicidal maniacs."  So it worked!  But it didn't.  Somehow people who were religiously inspired to fight the occupation changed overnight into just good ol' fashioned psychopaths.  And all it took was a little pig blood.  I honestly have to say that that is the most deluded conclusion I have ever read in my life.

Things have certainly improved, no?
In any event, Pershing was certainly responsible for quelling the Moro Rebellions, but he did not do it by slaughtering the population.  Here are some of the things he did:

1.  He convinced the US government to donate land for the building of mosques (OMG HE WAS A FUCKING TERRORIST)

2.  He streamlined the legal system which had been a big problem since the occupation began.  How boring right?

3.  He scaled down the size of military units, and focused on the quality of their training and mobility.  This allowed them to access deeper into the jungle interior, and is similar to certain things we have done in Afghanistan.

4.  Allowed a limited system of slavery (a prevalent Moro practice) which we had previously abolished.  Our abolishment of that system was one of the biggest problems we had in dealing with the Moros. 

That wasn't all he did, but those reforms were huge (and frankly the only ones I really remember and can easily verify).  But how did he deal with combat?  Well in 1911 he was faced with a massive Moro uprising, where several thousand of them holed up in an inactive volcano called Bud Dajo.  Interestingly, this was the second time they had done this, and the first time of the 1,000 odd Moros who went into the crater, only 6 survived.  They were terrified of us, obviously.  However, the first battle of Bud Dajo was a nightmare for the United States.  Yes, we completely slaughtered all belligerents (and a lot of women and children), but the brutality turned friendly Moros against us.  Pershing was determined to avoid another setback.  The following is a word-for-word excerpt from Pershing's account of the event:

"There was never a moment during this investment of Bud Dajo when the Moros, including women, on top of the mountain, would not have fought to the death had they been given the opportunity. They had gone there to make a last stand on this, their sacred mountain, and they were determined to die fighting . . . It was only by the greatest effort that their solid determination to fight it out could be broken. The fact is that they were completely surprised at the prompt and decisive action of the troops in cutting off supplies and preventing escape, and they were chagrined and disappointed in that they were not encouraged to die the death of Mohammedan fanatics."

So as opposed to giving them any reason to erupt in religious furor against the American forces, Pershing just surrounded them and let them chill out.  That does not seem to be in accord with the sort of thinking that would lead someone to brutally slaughter P.O.W.'s to instill fear in his enemy.  Think about this:  If Pershing's greatest interest was avoiding conflict entirely by granting enemy requests, dealing generously with the Moro people, and engaging in diplomacy with any willing Moro leader, what sense would it make to engage in an activity which would strike any of these individuals as barbarous beyond belief?  That question answers itself.

It would have been stupid.  Major league stupid.

Here is why I am writing about this from a larger perspective:  There is some sort of longstanding pseudo-wisdom which is constantly harkened to which leads some people to believe that simply brutalizing the utter hell out of your opponent is the way to win.  History traditionally tends to show that brutal tactics are more often then not actually a good way to win a war.  In fact, they are a great way to prolong an armed conflict.

I will pose this question to anyone who thinks that these tactics are a good idea:  Let's instead imagine that Muslims invade Kentucky, and begin to brutalize anyone who dares stand in their way. 

I'm not sure why they would invade Kentucky, but let's just say they do

 Let's imagine that they take 50 Christian prisoners and beat the living hell out of them.  Before executing them, they force them to renounce their faith, and say the Muslim Shahada, ensuring that they 'go to hell.'  They then carve pentagrams all over their bodies and cast them into a mass grave.  They relase one guy to go tell everyone what happened.  What do you do?  Do you cower in the corner?  Or do you grab a gun and get after it?

Patrick Swayze knows what we would do

So what in the world makes anyone think that other people around the world are any different? Honestly, I have absolutely no idea.  Pershing's efforts to stabilize the Southern Philippines were largely successful, but it had absolutely nothing to do waging a psychological warfare based on the fear of hell.  It had to do with diplomacy and understanding his enemy.  Interestingly, these are the two least popular battle tactics in the American population at large.

So in summation:  While there is no way to guarantee that the apocryphal tale is false, it is extremely unlikely that it is true.   The gross oversimplification it presents is an incredible misrepresentation of a very complicated conflict.


  1. Your analysis smells of the pussy, Leftist piece-of-shit thinking like the Hildebeast and Panetta are having shrunken sphincters right now over the Marines who supposedly pissed on some dead Taliban bodies.

    Either your enemy respects you, or he doesn't. Throwing a nice tea party with jelly cakes like most Democraps have to do will earn you the derision you deserve.

  2. Well I must say that America brutalized the hell out of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (civilians not the military) and we did win that one hands down and ever since then America has not fought a war in that manner and we are always getting our asses handed to us. Either get in it to win it or stay the fuck out, but no mamby pamby.

    1. "It is fatal to fight a war without the will to win it." -General Douglass MacArthur

  3. Diplomacy may have worked with the Moros but it won't with today's Islamist savages that's for sure.