According to the Wikipedia Entry, we started to use the term “Ground Zero” for the World Trade Center site within hours of the 9/11 attacks:
The adoption of this term by the mainstream North American media with reference to the September 11th attacks began as early as 7:47 p.m. EDT on that day, when CBS News reporter Jim Axelrod said, “Less than four miles behind me is where the Twin Towers stood this morning. But not tonight. Ground Zero, as it’s being described, in today’s terrorist attacks that have sent aftershocks rippling across the country.”
The term “Ground Zero” originally came into use to refer to the twin “hypocentres” – points on the ground directly below atomic airbursts – at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On 9/10/01 and earlier, back to August 1945 or so, if there was one true Ground Zero, one place in the world that owned the term in capital letters, it was the one depicted above, the hypocentre of an explosion that is believed to have killed as many as 100,000 people on the first day, and almost as many again over subsequent days, weeks, months, and years, and that marks a timeless point in time between everything-before and everything-after.
A zero point in a series, line, or dimensional space transforms and locates. Before vs. after, higher than vs. lower than, further from vs. closer to the zero are all mirror reversed and essentially different. Even before the invention and utilization of the numeral zero, the ancient world utilized a similar concept: The geographical (also the communications) systems of ancient Rome, Persia, and other empires had their designated center points, marked by monuments, that functioned as “zero stones”: Every location in whichever empire could be instantly described in distance from this point of no measure. Modern operational military maps use a somewhat similar, modularized convention: The zero coordinates – “000000” – would be the extreme southwest operational “baseline” relative to which all other coordinates can be designated in 10ths of a kilometer. The other side of 000000 is a another map.
Ironically enough, in light of ongoing political discussions and controversies, our “Western Arabic” variant of the “Hindu Arabic” numeral system, including the all-important zero, was set down in al-Andalus, during the Umayyad Caliphate’s “Golden Age.” Efforts by the “Scientist Pope” Sylvester II to carry this numerical system to Europe after his studies with Muslim masters in Cordoba and Seville around the years 976-80, met with limited success. Cultural-scientific history took time to catch up with arithmetic: The big 0 and its revolutionary uses in practical and theoretical mathematics – in many ways a necessary condition for what we know as “modernity” – had to await further centuries, among other things for the fall of Andalus and the arrival in the West of a treatise by the 8th Century CE Arabic-Persian mathematician Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī, whose system was promoted by Leonardo Fibonacci of Italy at the beginning of the 13th Century, following his own studies in Algeria. Although we may suppose that someone else, somewhere must sooner or later have discovered the zero and its uses, no one else had or did: We can at least almost say that without al-Khwarizmi, whose surname was famously mangled into our word “algorithm,” there would have been neither the first Ground Zero, nor the computations that made it possible, nor the computations that make the materialization of descriptions like this one on computer screens possible…
Lately we’ve been asking whether our Ground Zero brings us all together, or, on the contrary, signifies that we may have no common ground at all. The sacralization of 9/11 makes it seem almost blasphemous to ask about the inequality of the new Ground Zero and the prior Ground Zero, to wonder whether there wasn’t a certain overeagerness, a too quickly and enthusiastically grasped and defended self-dispensation, in transferring the signification to a new location: It’s as though for a moment, as clearly still in the minds of Terror-Warriors everywhere, historical polarities were switched, the United States of America symbolically converted again from victor, with the victor’s responsibilities, as under the sign of the previous Zero, to victim, deserving of a victim’s sympathies and considerations; from master of the world, with the master’s moral defect, to slave of the globe, with the slave’s necessary work of redemption ahead.
There is friction resisting this transference, undermining its stability, leaving an unwelcome conceptual byproduct or residue in and around our American Milliarium Aureum. As we grasp for and, possibly, over-inflate a new sacred myth, we are compelled to set aside confusing facts, and yet we inevitably replace them with new confusions, and may be unable to control the associations they both attract and propagate. In political discussion and in symbol, 9/11 has become both Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima, a beginning and an ending. If it’s Pearl Harbor, then, for us, it requires and justifies Hiroshima. Yet, if we’re Hiroshima, when and where and what was Pearl Harbor? And whose empire and whose divinity did our Ground Zero terminate. Whose did it found? Or does it mainly mark an absence in understanding, a refusal to understand, a self-permission not to comprehend – to make zero sense of an event?
If it’s to become our zero stone, don’t we as a nation first have to take integral steps – even one – beyond it?
Within five years of Hiroshima, the bombing, Hiroshima the city had a baseball team. The Hiroshima Toyo Carp.
Well don’r blame us, blame the local authorities who have hemmed and hawed on the building of the Freedom Tower, where there’s a vacuum
it will be filled, the IFC tried to do with a catalog of American iniquities
but that was squashed. The Salafi around the Cordoba Initiative and
their ‘useful idiots’ like Armstrong, sought to fill the gap.