Last week, Public Policy Polling asked the following question in a survey: “Do you agree or disagree with the statement ‘The Bowling Green massacre shows why we need Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration’”? Fifty-one percent of those who voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election agreed, 23 percent disagreed, and 25 percent were unsure. The problem is that it never happened. It was the imagination of Kellyanne Conway, the same person who put out the idea of alternative facts. I guess this is one of her alternative facts. When confronted with the false statement, she claimed that she accidently misspoke. In fact, two Iraqi citizens living in Bowling Green, Ky., admitted to using improvised explosive devices (IEDs) against U.S. soldiers in Iraq, attempting to send weapons and money to Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) for the purpose of killing U.S. soldiers in 2011. This is not the first nor will it be the last time that the president or those in his administration play loose with the facts.
This is not the first time in American history where something is widely reported as a massacre when it was not. Unlike in this fictitious Bowling Green massacre, people were killed in the other incidents.
This is not the first time in American history where something
is widely reported as a massacre when it was not
A massacre is defined as “the act or an instance of killing a number of usually helpless or unresisting human beings under circumstances of atrocity or cruelty.”
An example of a shooting that was not really a massacre is the Boston Massacre, which occurred in 1770. There is a famous picture by Paul Revere that shows British soldiers in formation firing on unarmed civilians who are not doing anything wrong. The truth is different. It is debated as to who was at fault. However, based on testimony at the time, it is clear that the picture is false. In reality there was an unruly crowd that surrounded a group of soldiers who then used lethal force on them. The debate was whether the force was excessive in light of the circumstances. The soldiers claimed that they feared for their safety and fired in self-defense, while the colonists argued that it was unnecessary force and a slaughter of helpless civilians. John Adams, who later became the second president, represented the soldiers involved. All except two were acquitted and they were convicted of a lesser charge.
A comparable situation to the Boston Massacre is the killing of four students in Kent State University on May 4, 1970. At Kent State, the Ohio National Guard, while in riot gear, indiscriminately fired on a group of protesting students, killing four. Not one person from the National Guard was prosecuted. Polls at that time found that a majority of Americans supported the actions of the National Guard. When anti-war protestors came to New York City to protest the killings, they were attacked by construction workers. The incident that occurred at Kent State has not commonly been referred to as a massacre but as a shooting.
Another example of a misnamed massacre is the Little Big Horn Massacre. On July 1, 1876, the New York Times, under the headline Little Horn Massacre, stated that “On June 25, Gen. Custer’s command came upon the main camp of Sitting Bull, and at once attacked it, charging the thickest part of it with five companies, Major Reno, with seven companies attacking on the other side. The soldiers were repulsed and a wholesale slaughter ensued. Gen. Custer, his brother, his nephew, and his brother-in-law were killed, and not one of his detachments escaped. It is the opinion of Army officers in Chicago, Washington, and Philadelphia, including Gens. Sherman and Sheridan, that Gen. Custer was rashly imprudent to attack such a large number of Indians, Sitting Bull’s force being 4,000 strong.”
What both “massacres” have in common is that those who referred to them as massacres used these incidents for propaganda purposes to support a particular agenda. Years later they are still referred to as massacres. Few people know or really care what really happened. These are just two examples of what happens when people play loose and fast with the facts and mischaracterize events for political purposes.
Warren S. Hecht is a local attorney. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org