On the other side of zero

Hiroshima Dome 1945

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.

31 comments on “On the other side of zero

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  1. 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.

  2. We still keep finding bodies in and around Ground zero, we didn’t invent the term, Hiroshima was in part a military target, like the Philadelphia Navy Yard,this was a direct unprovoked murder of civilians, because of who they were

  3. Seriously Stanley, does it not gall you that almost nine years to the day, the mayor acts like this attack was no big deal, that the grounds
    of the site, are still mostly empty, yet someone who rationalizes the attack on foreign policy grounds, who has hired persons who have denied the nature of the perpetrators of the atrocity

  4. @ miguel cervantes:
    It seriously galls me that you’re spewing crap about how the Mayor (or others) feels, thinks or acts.

    This is my town, I knew one or two people who died that day, and you’re out to lunch.

  5. You know I take no pleasure in the fact that Times Square, the PATH,
    Herald Square, JFK, the end point of the TAP plot, just off the top of my head could have occurred, yet it is a bitter reality, these things are
    foolishly amateurish, until they succeed, then people will overreact

  6. @ Fuster:
    You sound as if you’re on the side of the 9/11 perpetrators. I don’t believe that you are. Far from it. But you can’t ever say anything bad about terrorists. Why not? It makes no sense.

  7. He’s a cynic on some of these things,George, but it’s a wonder how far he takes it sometimes. He can’t be as possibly as he pretends to be, to as mean and disrespectful at others

  8. @ George Jochnowitz:George, you might never have heard me say anything bad about people who rape and kill women, children and household pets. It doesn’t mean that I approve of such people, George.

  9. @ Fuster:
    I can’t remember any discussions on Zombie about raping and killing women, children and household pets. However, there have often been discussions about terrorism. Even in your latest post, since the issue has come up, you don’t say anything bad about terrorists. What are you afraid of?
    The Left licks Islamic ass.

  10. @2 Fuster — not this Yankee fan. Perhaps Yankee fans are not a monolithic group either.

    The fact that things have proceeded slooooowly at Ground Zero really is a disgrace, especially when you look at how quickly WTC 7 went back up. There may be reasons why this delay has gone on for nine years, but none of them have ever been particularly satisfying.

  11. @ George Jochnowitz: Dear George. I do not like terrorists. They are bad people. i think that killing people because you are offended that they do not share a similar conception of the universe is very, very not nice.

  12. @ J-Bone:

    You’re quite right about Yankee fans and diversity. I know a Yankee fan (neighbor and friend of the family) that was a very early advocate and outright public cheerleader for Rudy.

    The guy wrote a pretty good biography of him

  13. J-Bone wrote:

    There may be reasons why this delay has gone on for nine years, but none of them have ever been particularly satisfying.

    …we can’t get started, until we’ve stepped off the spot… we can’t step off the spot, until we get started.

  14. You surprise me again, I know the flogging. You know I don’t wish to be right about this situation, I don’t think Sarah does either, it would
    mean, what Peter King, another critic who once speculated about another attack in fiction, ‘A vale of tears’. I fear that I am, and much like with the now inevitable countdown to 9/11, it seems unlikely that it will be stopped

  15. @ George Jochnowitz:
    Come to think of it, George, maybe I missed it, but I don’t recall the sight of your tears for the “collateral victims” of American or Israeli actions against or in theoretical pre-emption of terror either.

    “The Left licks Islamic ass” is beneath you.

  16. Plus the frog has frequently commented against Hamas, and it seems to me that when it comes to AQ and the Taliban, he may even be bloodthirstier than the dear departed JED. He can correct me if I’m wrong about that.

  17. @ CK MacLeod: The Frog can not claim to a greater thirst than that of JED. I know not her capacity, but I’m pretty much quite happy to see the asses blown off hardcore AQ members, and unless I miss my guess, US troops are likely to soon be granted greater access to parts of Pakistan.

  18. @ CK MacLeod:
    There is a difference between collateral victims and victims who are killed because the perpetrators believe that killing is beautiful. War is hell, and there are always innocent victims. Starting a war is hellish in a way that fighting to defend yourself isn’t.
    Who was responsible for the deaths of all the innocent Germans who died in the bombings of Hamburg and Dresden? Hitler was.

  19. P.S.
    The Left really and truly does lick Islamic ass. Feminist leftists will not speak against honor murders in Islamic countries. Leftists gay-rights actrivists will not speak against the executions of homosexuals in Iran and the murders of homosexuals by Palestinians that cause gays to ask for political asylum in Israel.

  20. Here’s the result of a search at the Mother Jones (about as representatively traditional leftist progressive feminist as you can get) on “honor killing”:
    same for Talkleft
    here’s Mother Jones items on (slightly more difficult to search for) Iran’s executions of homosexuals
    If you have more details on the murders of gays by Palestinians, we can see whether or not the story was covered at these and other leftist sites.

    But, quite beyond questions of accuracy, “The Left licks Islamic Ass” is obviously intentionally foul.

    How would you feel about the statement “The Right licks Jewish ass”? About someone who said it, intending to be provocative?

  21. @ George Jochnowitz:
    I wasn’t asking you about who was responsible for the collateral victims of American and Israeli actions. You were unwilling to assume that fuster was adequately anti-terror, because you hadn’t noticed him attacking terrorists with what you felt to be sufficient fervor. Why on the same basis should anyone assume that you care about victims you yourself define as “innocent,” when you never say you are?

  22. @ George Jochnowitz:

    George, this may seem somewhat obvious, but you’re not really well-informed about what the left thinks.

    Few people or orgs other than leftist gay-rights organizations ever mention Iran’s executions of homosexuals.

  23. @ CK MacLeod:
    How would I feel about “The Right licks Jewish ass”? I would feel: If only it were so. If only Old Bush had allowed Israel to have the codes necessary to retaliate against Iraq’s use of SCUDs against Israel– If only Young Bush had not joined with France to stop Israel’s attempt to destroy Hezbollah– If only Eisenhower hadn’t enforced an arms embargo against Israel during his entire presidency–
    If only these things had happened, maybe Israel would not be the most hated country on earth.

  24. Like I was trying to explain seemingly a life time ago, about a few threads away. The neocons forward policy, evolved over time, in confrontation with Soviet and Arab forces, for the former read
    Vinik’s “On the Brink” about the background of Perle, Wolfowitz in the early days. The latter broke with supporting only the OSOB’s Marcos, Pinochet, even strong reproach to Suharto. Feith, was one of those
    who realized the dangers of what Iraq would do, a dozen years before
    the Gulf War

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