Reportage

The General Pershing Question

Does historical fact matter anymore?….

This week the President of the United States of America added his own unique voice to the terror attack in Barcelona by suggesting we look to the history books and General Pershing’s apparent way of dealing with terrorists. What Trump alluded to was the story in which Pershing rounded up fifty militants during a long campaign in the Philippines (1899-1913) dipped fifty bullets in pigs blood and shot forty nine of them before telling the remaining one to go back and tell his comrades what had happened.

Trump used this story on his campaign trail, to the right audience it makes for a ‘good story’ but for high office it simply won’t do, or does it? The tale has been regularly dismissed as fabrication, in fact it was Pershing who came to realise that increasing counterterrorist activity was proving unproductive and took active measures to de-escalate. No credible historical source gives credence to the Pershing story yet many, including, it seems, the US President choose to believe it.

So political points to one side, does historical fact actually count for much anymore? Should we bother applying historical content to anything if we live in the present and look only to the future? In the era of Trump et al does any of it matter in the digital age? How long before this tweet becomes lost in the mix? Do our political leaders ever consider history when viewing today’s problems and should they?

We can hold the view that the past is the past and therefore it is only what happens today and the next that matters and there is a decent argument to be had for that view. But I believe history does matter, it brought us to where we are today as we ourselves make future history in this very moment. What history has routinely shown us over the centuries is the futility of division created by religion and politics and yet it continues. Perhaps history is being deliberately ignored for convenience, ignorance is bliss for the purpose of promoting one’s belief but at some point in our human hierarchy someone has to believe in truth and fact. Someone ‘up there’ has to stand up for it, it’s why they are supposed to be there.

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