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"Ground Zero" - Riffs and Licks
steelbrassnwood
steelbrassnwood
"Ground Zero"
There was a particularly rancorous discussion in newyorkers over tourists' use of the term "Ground Zero" to refer to the World Trade Center site. A lot of the emotion in that discussion had to do with the disrespectful behavior of tourists at the site, but some people were also expressing surprise that "Ground Zero" was considered an offensive term. Even though I've probably used it myself, it does irritate me, and the discussion got me thinking about why. The bottom line is that it's an inaccurate simplification that seems to indicate that the speaker doesn't know or care much about what really happened, but rather just wants to see the spectacle.



From Webster's:

ground zero
Function: noun
1 : the point directly above, below, or at which a nuclear explosion occurs
2 : the center or origin of rapid, intense, or violent activity or change; broadly : CENTER 2a (the party town that served as ground zero for those corporate...bashes -- Rich Eisen)
3 : the very beginning : SQUARE ONE

The World Trade Center was not bombed (at least, not in 2001), and no nuclear explosion occurred there. Two buildings within a seven-building complex were struck by airplanes, at two different times. And the wholesale destruction of the WTC, and several other nearby buildings, was caused by the collapse of those buildings, again at two separate times. Referring to a single "ground zero" simplifies what happened at the site to the point of callousness, and also implies some significant disrespect to the sites in Shanksville, PA, and Washington, DC, that were also hit that morning as part of the same attack.

Beyond that, "ground zero" as used to refer to the WTC does not refer to any specific spot within the area, because there is no single spot where the destruction began. Instead it generally refers to the entire site (what I would call "the pit"), which already had a name, a name that's still used on subway signs and maps. Referring to it as "ground zero" erases the history of the place and what it was to New Yorkers before 9/11.

The only place at the World Trade Center that might be appropriately termed "ground zero" was in the parking garage, where the bomb that killed seven people in 1993 went off. The memorial marker above that spot was destroyed on 9/11.

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Comments
eleanor From: eleanor Date: September 15th, 2006 03:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's great clarification, and adding to it, as someone who lives here, there's a difference between what is respectful and appropriate under different circumstances; most of my neighbors use the phrase "the big hole in the front yard," but would cringe if people who had real front yards said anything remotely similar.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: September 15th, 2006 04:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's very true. The tourist perspective doesn't really take into account that people live and work in the area, have to live with their memories, and have to cope with an unhealed wound in their daily lives.
doodlegoat From: doodlegoat Date: September 15th, 2006 09:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
What about the WTC site as "ground zero" of the "War on Terror"? Yes, it's lame, and it's not what the tourists mean, but it could be an acceptable usage.

Media reported that GWB was to visit "all of the sites associated with the attacks" on Monday, but I never heard that he went to Logan.

This furor is framed as a discussion of language, which of course is not the real subject. As Lincoln said, "...far above our poor power to add or detract." How much can the words matter?
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: September 16th, 2006 01:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
Words matter, very much. Shrub has built a political career out of redefining issues and labeling black as white, in the knowledge that the labels matter more than the actuality.

It may be true that people consider the WTC site "ground zero" of Bush's so-called "war on terror." If so I find it even more offensive. And it's inaccurate anyway; ground zero for that war was the Supreme Court chambers, or Ralph Nader's campaign headquarters, or Bush's father's war room, where the decision not to go to Baghdad in 1991 was made.
rednoodlealien From: rednoodlealien Date: September 17th, 2006 03:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
It never bothered me and I never knew it bothered other people. It seemed to me that the fallout of 9/11 was affecting people for miles around, starting with the people in the World Trade Center proper, branching out to the next few blocks (my office), then the next few, etc. "Ground Zero" seemed to be a way to refer to the hardest hit area.

I can't really agree with your complaints. The WTC was the center of a rapid, intense, and violent activity and change, as per definition 2. I just don't agree that because there were two airplanes, it is a gross and offensive simplification to refer to a single Ground Zero.

I think what you're getting at is, "This isn't Ground Zero, this is the site of the former World Trade Center thank you very much." I can understand that. Stick to what's really bothering you.
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: September 18th, 2006 02:56 am (UTC) (Link)
I already wrote about what really bothers me. You understand one half of it and disagree with the other half. You don't have to agree with it, but neither do you have to dismiss it.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 20th, 2006 12:37 am (UTC) (Link)

The town in Pennsylvania

is Shanksville, not Shankskill...

Sheila Norton Petruska
South Park, PA
steelbrassnwood From: steelbrassnwood Date: September 20th, 2006 03:16 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: The town in Pennsylvania

Thank you! Everyone needs good copy editing. Is that Sheila from the Folk Project? Hi there!
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