Kichiku on the Tigris: How Christians justify deadly force against ISIS

by Mark Coppenger, Guest Columnist |
Dr. Mark Coppenger | SBTS Photo

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Christian Examiner) -- Not that long ago, I was in a group meeting with an Israeli official, and he talked about the special difficulties one faced in countering Islamists. He said the West's Cold War struggles with the Soviet Union were easier since Russians didn't want to die. Not so the jihadists. Rather, they more closely resembled the Japanese of World War II, with their kamikaze attacks and unbridled atrocities.

I thought back to Iris Chang's book, The Rape of Nanking, and the movie, Nanking, which surveyed the horrors visited upon that city in the late 1930s – hundreds of thousands murdered, some mutilated; an epidemic of rape; scores of men tied together with rope, doused with gasoline, and set afire.

Some speculate that Chang's 2004 suicide stemmed from her work on the book, or perhaps it was the research for an upcoming book on the Bataan Death March (which included one of my uncles, who was so damaged that he became my father's lifetime ward).

I think also of Laura Hillenbrand's book on Louis Zamperini, Unbroken, recently put to film. It was there I first learned that 37 percent of the Americans in Japanese captivity died, compared to one percent of the POWs under German and Italian control.

Then there was James Bradley's book Flyboys, chronicling Japanese cannibalism toward both civilian and military captives. It got so bad that one general felt he had to draw a line within the practice of dining on kichiku, non-Japanese beasts or devils unfit for humane treatment: No more "black pigs," such as the locals on New Guinea; but "white pigs," such as captured Australians, were kosher.

Meanwhile, in Europe, Hitler's bureaucrats were exterminating Jews, Slavs, Poles, Roma (Gypsies), homosexuals, the mentally retarded, and Jehovah's Witnesses. They also sterilized the offspring of Germans and colonized Africans, calling the children "Rhineland bastards." Though one can find "theological" and political themes in the slaughter, the overwhelming rationale was racial, the drive for "Aryan purity."

So what are Christians to do or to endorse? Simply put, the same thing they did on Iwo Jima and on the beaches of Normandy: Bring the enemy to ground. This is the "severe mercy" implicit in the Golden Rule, for, in your right moral mind, you would grant others the right to stop you, even with deadly force, should you descend into mad dog behavior.

Thus, once the Nazis identified the "kichiku" (principally the Jews) in their midst, atrocities ensued, including the intentionally fatal medical experiments which came to light in the Nuremburg trials. There the world learned of the Jewish guinea pigs Dr. Brandt and his colleagues used to test poison-tipped bullets and to determine the physical impact of high-altitude decompression and frigid salt water, conditions German pilots might face when shot down over the North Sea.

For the zealous utopians of ISIS, the "kichiku" are religious beasts, many of them fellow Muslims whom they count unworthy of the name, including Shia and even fellow Sunnis, such as the Kurds and the hapless Jordanian pilot, whom they burned to death. Of course, for them, Christians, such as the Japanese journalist and the Egyptian Copts they beheaded, are "pigs" as well, available as use-and-discard propaganda props.

So what kind of beings are these butchers? Are they Orcs of Mordor or Yeti? No. They're of Adam's Race, as are we -- all of us capable of (and, indeed, inclined toward) monstrous deeds in our fallen state. Witness an ISIS beheading and repeat, "There but for the grace of God go my culture and I."

Of course, God is the real "Army of One," and He could intervene miraculously in everything from the weather to computer software to the heart of the enemy. He could even send spiritual awakening to ISIS, all stemming from one terrorist's discovering a torn page from a Gideon Bible in the dust of Mosul. But, as we pray for this, the counsel of love is to "lock and load" (or "load and lock," as per John Wayne in Sands of Iwo Jima) in hopes that He will strengthen the arms of those who "bear not the sword in vain."

What of the posture of our own hearts? Should we forgive "Jihadi John" for beheading journalists James Foley and Kenji Goto? Well, though I don't subscribe that all that Elie Wiesel says about forgiveness, his writing has helped me see the strangeness of my saying I forgive ISIS beheaders. It would be like my saying, fatuously, that I forgive Hitler. He's not really mine to forgive.

I'm only remotely harmed by Jihadi John. His great offense is against God, against his creatures Foley and Goto, and their families. Let's let them take the lead in forgiveness as they please (perhaps as Louis Zamperini forgave his chief tormenter, "The Bird"). In the meantime, let us do what we can to stop "John" from committing more deeds for which he would need to be forgiven. And let us thank God that, should our own military be tasked with the job, they will be accountable to the Law of Land Warfare, a standard of behavior that has eluded the conscience of ISIS.

Mark Coppenger is Professor of Christian Apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and managing editor of He was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Infantry (USAR). Written for the Christian Examiner.