Sept. 11, 2001, started out as a typical day at Clinton’s Lincoln High School. Dennis Duerling, the principal of the school at that time, remembers staff members were just finishing up a morning staff meeting when someone came into the room and told them a plane had flown into one of the Twin Towers in New York.
“Several teachers went back to their rooms to turn on the TV and see what was taking place,” he recalls. “The next thing I know, several teachers are coming to me to say another plane has flown into the other tower and reports are the U.S. is under attack. I announced over the PA for all staff to report to the teachers’ lunch room. Once there I told them, ‘Today, ladies and gentlemen, history is being made.’”
Indeed, it was.
In the years since Sept. 11, 2001, much has changed on both the national and local fronts — everything from security measures that greet us as we board an airplane to the way we look at people of other faiths.
Lives were changed, both by the attacks themselves and the War on Terror that ensued and sent local residents to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Over the past few weeks, we have taken a look at various facets of life in the Gateway area to define how Sept. 11 changed us as a region, interviewing school officials, a Clinton psychologist, the leader of Clinton’s Islamic community, and a Clinton High School teacher who was sent overseas as a member of the Iowa National Guard.
All have a unique view about the changes that have occurred in the 10 years since that fateful day. This year, the Clinton School District decided to recognize the 10-year anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, by holding a moment of silence on Friday.
“Every building on Friday morning will pause during their announcements and have a moment of silence in memory of the tragedy,” said John Jorgensen, the district’s curriculum director. “We’ll leave it up to the teachers to answer questions as they see fit.”
Jorgensen said the Sept. 11 attacks are treated as a current event issue, and studying the events of that day has not been formally worked into the curriculum.
“Certainly it’s a part of our history, it raises all kinds of questions about who our enemies are, how does our security system work, what is the amount of time that something like that takes to become a part of a curriculum or textbook,” questioned Jorgensen. “Iowa Core doesn't address specific things like that. It's up to the teacher to plug in a specific example (like Sept. 11).”
For young students, Jorgensen said the schools leave it to the parents to determine how much to share with their children.
“We acknowledge the event with the kids; we leave that with the parents...as far as how much they want to share,” he stated. “(Discussion is) best done in (a) small group, but we certainly will acknowledge it and make the kids aware that this is a special day.”
At the college level, Clinton Community College discussed the Sept. 11 events on Friday, while also including them in regular studies.
“September 11 events are recognized and studied often at CCC,” said Martha Bonte, Department Coordinator and Instructor for Humanities and Social Sciences. “They are included in units on 21st century U.S. events... We include them when studying world regional geography, world religions, psychology, sociology, political science... All are done within the context of the regular subject matter content of those courses and connections are made with terminology and theories that are inherent to those academic disciplines.”
Bonte also said that on Friday students had a class discussion concerning various interpretations of the impacts of the Sept. 11 attacks.
“In Living with Space, Time and Technology, we will be discussing change as a general concept,” Bonte said. “We will supply a link to a Guardian article about various effects of 9-11 and assign the students to come prepared to discuss that content in the context of our Resistance to Change article.”
In addition, Dean Stone, who teaches Humanities and Social Sciences at CCC incorporated the article “Because it is Gone Now: Teaching the September 11 Digital Archive” in his Education class Friday.
The religious community
The Islamic faith became an unfortunate target in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks when extremists, under the guise of religious imperative, commandeered several passenger planes and turned them into weapons against the American people.
The attacks spawned an era of heightened fear and preparedness. The names and faces of those determined to be responsible became ingrained in the American consciousness. The backlash was felt at home. Out of concern for profiling and misguided retribution, Islamic organizations encouraged Muslims to hide their faith, and encouraged police to protect Islamic places of worship.
Years later, it is apparent the profiling still exists. But while a proposed cultural center near where the Twin Towers once stood, dubbed the “Ground Zero Mosque,” launched a vitriolic national debate, the leader of Clinton’s Islamic community says life has been pretty good here.
The culture clash that occurred in other parts of the country never became an issue here, said Dr. Anis Ansari, president of the Islamic Society of Clinton County. He said area residents have proven to be very open minded. But understanding helps fight off ignorance and fear, so the society makes most of its events open to the public.
People of all faiths are welcome to attend events at the society’s center. This familiarization is important, Ansari said, and the Islamic community in Clinton makes frequent efforts to get involved in events and celebrations recognized by other religions.
He said Christianity, Judaism and Islam are remarkably similar and hold many of the same values in high esteem. Religious figures like Jesus and Mary are held in high regard, and peace is promoted as all important.
Ten years after the Sept. 11 attacks, area professionals say the events still have an effect on people and policies.
“How we live out our lives can be greatly impacted by events that happened in our lifetime,” says psychologist Dr. Tom Millard, of Cornerstone Wellness.
Right after the attacks, he saw a lot of anger from people at his practice.
He said that anger has turned to fear and it is that fear that he encounters today. Millard said people are more suspicious of other people with different ideals.
He said living in fear is not a productive way to live.
“That is the danger of fear. We become more protective, which results in greater isolation and less tolerance,” said Millard.
Millard said on the positive side, people are resilient and show determination in their lives. Millard said society is still full of loving people and said as fear diminishes, the more loving people can become. That points to greater tolerance and understanding.
“We can disagree with each other without hating each other,” said Millard.
Clinton County Emergency Management Coordinator Chance Kness said the attacks caused huge, sweeping changes, especially to emergency services and emergency planning, resulting in a lot of focus and money being put toward combating terrorism.
Along with it there has been an increase in communication between levels of government and different response organizations, such as fire, emergency medical services and police.
Kness said while there is not the same amount of focus on terrorism training as there was, it is still an important thing for responders to know. He said training has moved away from focusing specifically on terrorism and now focuses more on how to respond to all types of emergencies and hazards, including terrorism. He said this does not mean terrorism is less important in people’s minds. “If we focus too hard on one thing for too long, we’re going to forget everything else. And we can’t do that in this business,” said Kness.
Kness said today, there is a tendency for people to be either very paranoid and overly concerned about one particular thing or completely apathetic and unaware of it. He said terrorism still poses a risk and people should remain aware and cautious of that fact. If people see something that does not make sense or makes them feel uncomfortable, Kness encourages them to tell the authorities. However, he said there is no reason for people to be paranoid and afraid all of the time.
Duerling said it is that fear he still remembers to this day.
“Throughout the day (of the attacks) I constantly went from classroom to classroom talking with the students, sensing their feelings of unknown and somewhat fear. The fear came mostly from the male students. More than once I was asked my opinion on whether I thought we’d be going to war and if I thought they (these male students ages 18, 19 and 20) would be drafted.
“One year later, ironically we had several male students now in the military. I invited those military men back, as well as members of the Clinton Fire and Police departments for a special ceremony at the flag pole in front of the school where all the students gathered as we raised and lowered the flag to half staff in remembrance of those who lost their lives on 9/11.
“Now, 10 years later, I, like many others, can still remember exactly what I was doing and what I was feeling that September morning 2001. Those that gave their lives that day are true American heros,” he said.
Clinton Herald newsroom staff members Charlene Bielema, Ben Jacobson, Elise Loyola and Samantha Pidde contributed to this story.