The story of U.S. commander John J. Pershing executing Muslims with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood — a tale that has been generally discredited — is back in the news. A 1917 article from the Post shows that Pershing may have taken a much more measured approach to the confrontation in the Philippines.
As author George Patullo writes in “’Go-Getter’ Pershing” in the June 23, 1917, issue of the Post, between 12,000 and 15,000 Moros had gathered on a mountain on the island of Jolo in the Philippines. The Moros were a group of Muslim tribesmen who had a reputation for piracy and fierce fighting. The Philippines had come under American rule after Spain ceded control of the islands to the U.S. following the Spanish-American War, and Pershing found himself facing a potentially bloody campaign.
Pershing first asked for a parley, where he invited the Moros to lay down their weapons and accept amnesty. The Moros turned him down.
As Pattullo tells it, Pershing was reluctant to order his 4,000 troops to assault the Moros. For one thing, a large number of villagers had gathered with the Moros, lured by promises of protection. Another reason for Pershing’s hesitation was his resistance to pitting his men against fighters who would welcome death in a holy war.
So Pershing did the unexpected. He retreated. The villagers eventually abandoned the Moro militants once the threat from Americans receded. Pershing was then able to engage this smaller force and defeat the Moros. By the end of the campaign, Pattullo writes that the surviving Moros elected Pershing their chief.
Rather than repeating other generals’ mistakes, Pershing had shown a “remarkable gift of patience in attaining his ends.”
Featured image: Painting of The four-day battle of Bagsak Mountain on Jolo Island in the Philippines (U.S. Army Center of Military History)