Optical microscope images of graphite oxide (GO) reveal the occurrence of fault lines resulting from the oxidative processes. The fault lines and cracks of GO are also responsible for their much smaller size compared with the starting graphite materials. We propose an unzipping mechanism to explain the formation of cracks on GO and cutting of carbon nanotubes in an oxidizing acid. GO unzipping is initiated by the strain generated by the cooperative alignment of epoxy groups on a carbon lattice. We employ two small GO platelets to show that through the binding of a new epoxy group or the hopping of a nearby existing epoxy group, the unzipping process can be continued during the oxidative process of graphite. The same epoxy group binding pattern is also likely to be present in an oxidized carbon nanotube and cause its breakup.