Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Mon, Mar 18th, 2019

In a Pig’s Bloody Eye

It is tempting, oh so tempting, just to ignore the insanity of President Donald Trump’s torrent of tweets. When someone accumulates a set of lies in less than three years that is rapidly on its way to 1,000, what else is there to be said? Perhaps it is useful to reflect with an old adage: “in a pig’s eye.” This fits what most of us thought about the possibility of Trump getting elected in the first place, and we were oh so wrong. The phrase refers to something that in no way will happen. But then there are times when excreta (think of a term that rhymes with “kit”) hits the fan. Trump and his fans fan this item ad nauseum. Among the targets of this rhetorical effluvium are Muslims.

Not long after Trump started his term, he tweeted a comment about the involvement of the United States in the Philippines during the Spanish American War. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, who in 1900 was a First Lieutenant, but rose to General during World War I, served in the Philippines when there was an insurgency by Filipino Muslims against the U.S. invasion. In his autobiography, Pershing wrote that to deter “Muslim” attacks, the army would bury dead Muslims in graves with pigs to prevent them from going to heaven and thus deter their “terrorism.” From this a story arose that he himself would dump hog guts on the dead bodies of 49 dead men and let the 50th go free to warn his fellows not to fight. This is the solution that Trump was touting in his tweet.  Like so many other of his tweeted and repeated falsehoods, this “in a pig’s eye” story is deemed false by historians. 

Dredging up the U.S. invasion of the Philippines is hardly a tribute to America’s greatness. This was a colonialist expansionist move, not unlike that of the defeated Spanish. Teddy Roosevelt, who later rode his Rough Riders heroics into the White House, “evoked a “superior people theory” to justify American incursions in Cuba and the Philippines and said “the most ultimately righteous of all wars is a war with savages” which establishes “the foundations for the future greatness of a mighty people.” Roosevelt “called the Filipinos ‘Tagal bandits,’ ‘Malay bandits,’ ‘Chinese half-breeds,’ and ‘savages, barbarians, a wild and ignorant people, Apaches, Sioux, Chinese Boxers.’ His vocabulary of negative epithets outdoes even Trump.

The stupidity of the American involvement halfway across the world in the Philippines had its opponent in the Colbert of the day, Mark Twain. In a 1901 essay, published in the North American Review, Twain wrote:

The more we examine the mistake, the more clearly we perceive that it is going to be bad for the Business. The Person Sitting in Darkness is almost sure to say: ‘There is something curious about this — curious and unaccountable. There must be two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive’s new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on; then kills him to get his land.’

In a scathing attack on the warmongering of politicians and military men at the time, Twain sums it up:

And as for a flag for the Philippine Province, it is easily managed. We can have a special one — our States do it: we can have just our usual flag, with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and cross-bones.

In 1906 Twain followed up with an account of a massacre by U.S. forces of some 900 men, women and children that was hailed as a great victory for “civilization.” About the massacre, he writes:

The naked savages were so far away, down in the bottom of that trap, that our soldiers could not tell the breasts of a woman from the rudimentary paps of a man—so far away that they couldn’t tell a toddling little child from a black six-footer. This was by all odds the least dangerous battle that Christian soldiers of any nationality were ever engaged in.

Given this historical baggage, it should not be surprising that recently Secretary of State Pompeo justified American support for the Saudi Coalition in its war against Yemen as an effort of promoting human rights. “If you truly care about Yemeni lives, you’d support the Saudi-led effort to prevent Yemen from turning into a puppet state of the corrupt, brutish Islamic Republic of Iran,” he told reporters. Even seven Republican senators found the administration’s billion-dollar-baby-the-Saudis approach too much too swallow in voting for the senate bill to stop our military support and sales of weapons, given the thousands of Yemeni citizens killed and maimed, as well as the spread of disease and famine from the blockade. But did Trump support what a majority of both houses passed. “In a pig’s eye,” you say.  But here is an etymological tidbit too precious not to share. If you wonder what the eye of a pig has to do with the meaning, know that it is a euphemism for the original British “In a pig’s arse.” Unfortunately, this is an apt description of the current thrust of America’s asinine foreign policy in the Middle East. 

About the Author

- Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Varisco is currently the President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Senior Fellow at the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of Bonn University, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.