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Effects of attacks vary for residents

September 9, 2011
Andrew Westrope - News Staff Writer , The Alpena News

Ten years after a handful of terrorists changed the New York City skyline and instilled new fears in the nation's public consciousness, the lives of Northeast Michigan residents some 800 miles away have evolved in subtle ways.

The initial effect of Sept. 11, 2001, on most of them was instant and ubiquitous - they spent the ensuing days or months glued to the television. But after a decade of war, controversial political policies, sweeping changes in security measures and economic turmoil, the aftermath of Sept. 11 is still on people's minds, but it's present in different ways.

Living in small towns somewhat disconnected from zeitgeist fervor, some of Northeast Michigan's citizens say they are less conscious of that day's residual effects than others. For some, its lasting impact is more a feeling than an everyday influence; for others, it upended their worldviews or gave them new things to worry about. The 21st century's defining catastrophe cast an indelible impression on generations of Americans, but 10 years on, different people tell different stories about the nature of its impact.

Hubbard Lake resident Sarah Webb said the personal influence of the terrorist attacks is hard to pin down, absent of personal references.

"I would say it has affected me, but I can't think of exactly how," she said. "I think unless you had somebody in that area that was affected, you're too unconnected from it ... Now I have family in New York, so if it happened today, I would probably feel quite different."

Alpena County Librarian Sherry Cole agreed, saying she remembers the day quite well, but its impact is less concrete for her than for travelers or New York citizens.

"It was a big shock, because I was working at the desk, and we had customers come in telling us about the airplanes and about the towers going down. It was shocking to hear that, but I didn't know anybody, I've never been to New York," she said. "It's not the same type of impact in this size of a town in this state. You recognize it, you watch the movies, the videos, the news clips, but it doesn't have the impact of somebody living in New Jersey. They could see everything ... I know there's a few people that do a lot of traveling, and a lot of them have been to New York and been to the towers as a tourist, so it would make more of an impact on that person than it would on somebody just living here having never been to New York."

The ongoing war compelled some to join the military; others changed the way they vote, and some blamed the loss of their jobs on post-9/11 wars that contributed to the recent economic crisis. Presque Isle resident Diane Jones-Sutton said the years-long aftermath of Sept. 11 has hit home for her in several ways.

"It has affected this area, because jobs are leaving," she said, having lost her job last year. Terrorism also made her frustrated with the leniency of travel and immigration laws, and war cost her a relationship.

"I was engaged to a guy who went over there and he just said, 'Nope, this is it, just forget me,' because he was going over there," she said. "He was in the Reserves, and he just said, 'Forget it, we're done, I'm going, I don't know if I'm going to come back.'"

Visiting Alpena from Camden, Tenn., Bruce Haskins said that while the terrorist attacks weren't local to him and did not particularly affect his political beliefs, he too had a story about how they inspired a friend's sense of patriotic duty.

"I know someone who joined the National Guard," he said. "He just said after seeing America get attacked, that was his duty to at least join. He thought that he could help defend America."

The events of Sept. 11 also have been something of a generational turning point. Illinois resident Russell Halfar remembers being in college when it happened, and he said many of that day's lasting implications are easy to miss.

"It's tough, because you don't think about it. You just think about what happened, like images you saw on TV," he said. "It takes more careful thought to consider how how my thoughts changed about how I view military or government or authority in general, and public safety."

While terrorist attacks haven't directly affected him outside of airport security hassles, he said he went through a period of serious disillusionment after the World Trade Center came down.

"It's made me more cynical of government for sure," he said. "Immediately after Sept. 11, I grew to hate the additional spending that we were spending on a war on terror that sounded frivolous and silly, that you would fight isolated people using massive, old-fasioned military that would be used for fighting an old-fashioned World War II-style war. So it made me less trustful of where my money was going in government, made me more resentful of government. Military too. I have friends that are in the military, but I would ask them, 'What is it that we plan to do, how do you root out an ideology?'"

Halfar said he has changed not only the way he votes but the way he regards institutions he used to trust.

"I used to be pretty trusting of the powers that be," he said. "I would think that authority has things under control, but really it spun my worldview around, made me think things are really out of control and nobody really has a handle on what's going on."

Andrew Westrope can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 358-5693.



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