What Did Pershing Really Do in the Philippines?

President Trump recently told a story about Pershing’s involvement in the Philippines. To understand the story, it is important to know why Brigadier General Pershing was in the Philippines in the first place.

He had to deal with the consequences of perceived broken American promises at the end of the Spanish-American War. Based on what they regarded as American commitments, the Filipinos and Moros (a Muslim ethnic group in the southern Philippine islands) expected the U.S. to grant independence to the Filipinos and preserve the autonomy of the Moros. But, President William McKinley and the U.S. Congress approved an Annexation of the Philippines over the objections of a considerable anti-imperialist movement in the U.S. (see Mark Twain’s classic satirical essay: “To the Person Sitting in Darkness”).

Annexation resulted in a Filipino Insurrection for independence and a Moro Rebellion initially for autonomy. The U.S. Army was sent to put these down. Pershing played a role in accomplishing an end to the Moro Rebellion.

However, his preferred M.O. was the exact opposite of the st ory told by President Trump. He attempted whenever feasible to negotiate. Indeed, his military Governorship of the Moro region from 1909-13 put in place a healthy list of lasting positive reforms including a transition from a military to a civilian government.

During his governorship, it is true that the Army continued its practice of burying each Moro rebel who had been killed in battle in pig skin to encourage the Muslims to put down their weapons. This policy helped stop the rebellion, but the greater credit should go to Brigadier General John J. Pershing who carried out his already stated policies along with a carefully constructed plan to disarm the rebels with a minimum of bloodshed.

The U.S. Army did not shoot unarmed prisoners of war to carry out Pershing’s successful policies and plan.

What is a takeaway to this recorded history? The U.S. willfully participated in the late 19th Century binge of imperialism already being indulged in by the European powers (an example would be the Berlin Conference of 1884-5 regarding dividing up Africa). Not surprisingly, the Person Sitting in Darkness in the Philippines was not going to cooperate. Their efforts to achieve independence for one group and autonomy for the other would not be successful.

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