WENATCHEE — For Wenatchee High School history teacher Brandon Harle the most common question he hears when teaching about 9/11 is “Why did this happen?”
At Wenatchee High School, the events of 9/11 are covered in both U.S. History, if there is time at the end of the semester, and more consistently in the senior level Contemporary World Problems course.
Keep in mind that today’s high school students were not born before 9/11. Harle begins his lesson describing how Osama Bin Laden came to power and the rise of Al Qaeda.
“I provide background information that combines the history of Saudi Arabia to the bin Laden family’s accumulated wealth from construction contracts to the Saudi royal family. I share about the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and how Osama Bin Laden helped fund mujahideen resistance in Pakistan/Afghanistan where he would connect with others of similar interests,” Harle wrote in an email.
These connections laid the groundwork for the rise of Al Qaeda, he said.
Students are taught about the U.S. involvement in Kuwait in the first Gulf War in 1991 and how Bin Laden was enraged that the Saudi government allowed coalition forces into Saudi Arabia.
Students are often surprised to learn the Saudi government exiled Bin Laden, Harle said, forcing him into Sudan where he continued to build Al Qaeda.
“We investigate how the World Trade Center was first bombed by groups with connections to Al Qaeda in 1993,” he said. “We connect the events during the Clinton administration that led to cruise missile attacks in Sudan that led to the Sudanese government removing UBL and his followers, where he was then given refuge by the newly-in-power Taliban of Afghanistan.”
The class goes over the estimated millions of dollars Bin Laden provided to the Taliban to allow him refuge in Afghanistan. With the Taliban protection, students learn how this allowed for the growth of Al Qeada and paved the way for 9/11.
“We find cultivated news footage of the events. The most common response I often hear is “I never realized that is what actually happened.” I make sure they feel safe to share their emotions and be aware that these events, like all historical events, affect everyone differently,” Harle said.
The further we get from any major historical event, Harle said the less students, and the public at large, know the specific details of it. Students today don’t know the specifics, he said.
“I was starting my first full year of teaching here at WHS in 2001 and can vividly recall the exact spot where another teacher walked past me in rigid emotion telling me to get to a TV. Staff spent the day in our classes quietly watching the events with our students, who rightfully were emotional and scared,” Harle said.
The following year, he had students write letters to him so he could share with the future students he would have, sharing their memories and thoughts about that day — Where they were, what they remembered, how they felt.
Harle leans into fact and history and provides verified sources that show the events as they happened and help students find answers to the questions they may have.
“I will assign some work from their website for discussion (www.911memorial.org). I also have a photo of a collage on the wall from newspaper replicas from the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor with coverage from The Wenatchee World on Sept. 11, 2001,” he said.
Since the early 2000s, many U.S. History textbooks have included events of 9/11, he said.
“With any event that happened 20 years ago, we now have the benefit of time to reflect. Our lives, indirectly and directly, have been affected in ways that continue to have impacts,” Harle said. “From security screening at airports, to changing philosophies of foreign policy, more intrusive privacy legislation (like the Patriot Act), a surge in intelligence focused on what became the “Global War on Terror.” There are many lessons to be learned.”
This coincides with the current final withdrawal from Afghanistan where over $2 trillion was spent over 20 years on the longest war in American history, he said.
“The lessons are deep and will continue to be studied. I want our students to grasp the basics of why this event happened and the changes that followed here in the U.S. and its impacts world-wide,” Harle said.