Word from the Pentagon...

Posted by Masakim on February 16, 2002

In Reply to: Word from the Pentagon... posted by Word Camel on February 15, 2002

: : : Does anyone have a clue where the term "ground zero" came from?

: : I think it's may have to do with nuclear testing. I think 0 is the point where the bomb detonated and then points beyond the center of the blast are plotted outward. When nuclear bombs were tested, animals, houses, (and some conspiracists say mental patients and soldiers) were put at various distances from the center of the blast to test the effectiveness of the weapon. I'll see if I can find anything more official.

: : WC

: From the DOD dictionary of militaty terms:

: (DOD, NATO) The point on the surface of the Earth at, or vertically below or above, the center of a planned or actual nuclear detonation. See also actual ground zero; desired ground zero.

The phrase [ground zero] had its genesis in an account of the ''Trinity Test'' of an atomic device on July 16, 1945, near Alamogordo, N.M. Philip Morrison, a physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project, wrote, ''I observed the Trinity shot looking toward Zero from a position on the south bank of the base camp reservoir.'' On July 7 of the following year, in a New York Times article by Hanson W. Baldwin, we have the earliest citation of the whole phrase: ''The intense heat of the blast started fires as far as 3,500 feet from 'ground zero' (the point on the ground directly under the bomb's explosion in the air).''
--William Safire, "On Language," _New York Times Magazine_, November 11, 2001