Ground Zero: Hiroshima Haunts “9/11”

  • Gene Ray
Part of the Studies in European Culture and History book series (SECH)


In the wake of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the spontaneous invocation and rapid popular acceptance of this freighted term mark a specific and potent return of repressed American history. While no critic or analyst has directly confronted this return, the genealogy of the term makes clear that the civilian victims and spectacular destruction of “9/11” triggered an unconscious discursive reenactment of the problem of U.S. guilt for the 300,000, mostly noncombatant victims of the first use of nuclear weapons against the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.


Nuclear Weapon International Criminal Court Atomic Bomb Universal Jurisdiction Ground Zero 
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  1. 1.
    The first use of the term by the NY Times was in a photo caption (“Ground zero: the skeleton of the World Trade Center”). In the following days, the term spread quickly to reports and commentaries. NY Times, September 16, 2001.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edn, vol. 6 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), pp. 879–80. The OED cites Hanson W. Baldwin, “Atom Bomb Is Proved Most Terrible Weapon,” NY Times, July 7, 1946.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    See J. Samuel Walker, “The Decision to Use the Bomb: A Historiographical Update,” in Michael J. Hogan, ed., Hiroshima in History and Memory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 11–37.Google Scholar
  4. 11.
    Paul Boyer, “Exotic Resonances: Hiroshima in American Memory,” in Hogan, ed., Hiroshima in History and Memory, pp. 149–50. See also Boyer’s Fallout: A Historian Reflects on America’s Half-Century Encounter with Nuclear Weapons (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1998), pp. 41–55.Google Scholar
  5. 14.
    See Edward T. Linenthal, “Anatomy of a Controversy”; and Richard K. Kohn, “History at Risk: The Case of the Enola Gay,” both in Edward T. Linenthal and Tom Engelhardt, eds., History Wars: The Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past (New York: Henry Holt, 1996), pp. 9–62 and 140–70.Google Scholar
  6. 15.
    Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchell, Hiroshima in America: A Half-Century of Denial (New York: Avon, 1995), pp. 307–13.Google Scholar
  7. 18.
    Christopher Hitchens, The Trial of Henry Kissinger (London: Verso, 2001).Google Scholar
  8. 19.
    Richard Minear, “Atomic Holocaust, Nazi Holocaust: Some Reflections,” Diplomatic History 19 (Spring 1995): 347–65.Google Scholar

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© Gene Ray 2005

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  • Gene Ray

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