To the editor: Islamic State fighters take into account prevalent American sensibilities when they opt to behead certain captives. These terrorists employ decapitation as a horrific spectacle aimed at manipulating public sentiment. The goal is to win some concession, from ransoming extant hostages to dissuading opposition attacks. ("Practice of beheading not limited to Islamic State," Op-Ed, Sept. 28)
To achieve their goals, terrorists must have beheadings widely publicized. It's essential that news and social media are willing to display such gruesome images. Another prerequisite is a public that, as Jonathan Zimmerman puts it, can't look away.
Indeed, terrorists' decapitations persist largely due to our blood lust. The enduring popularity of gruesome gore — such as that offered by ultra-brutal gladiator "sports," ubiquitous violence in films and TV shows and even accident scenes — guarantees that terrorists will continue to favor barbaric beheadings.
Zimmerman is right: As much as we deplore Islamic State's savagery, there's a bit of it in us.
Edward Alston, Santa Maria
To the editor: Zimmerman fails to include one notable modern regime that practiced decapitation: Adolf Hitler's Third Reich used the guillotine (the Germans called it the fallbeil) as a means of capital punishment and executed thousands with the device from 1933 to 1945.
As civilized Americans, we can all be proud that beheading has never been sanctioned as a method of execution in any of our states. Hanging, the electric chair, the gas chamber, the firing squad and lethal injection have all been used at various times, but none of our condemned prisoners has ever been intentionally decapitated.
This may be a poor choice of words, but Americans should hold their heads high for this accomplishment.
Charles Reilly, Manhattan Beach