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Anti-war demonstrators protest against the announcement of a US troop increase for Afghanistan, at a rally outside the Federal Building in Los Angeles on December 2, 2009. (Photo: MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

Anti-war demonstrators protest against the announcement of a US troop increase for Afghanistan, at a rally outside the Federal Building in Los Angeles on December 2, 2009. (Photo: MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

A Modest Goal: #usoutofafghanistan

The hashtag is as relevant today as it has ever been these last eighteen years.

Tom Gallagher

Run for office and you know you're going to have to do some things you'd rather not. High on my list of things I'd rather not has been Twitter, the 280 character pop-off being an art form I'd just as soon leave to Donald Trump. But, as we know, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez does make some pretty good use of it as well. So, really there was little choice but to try to do something with it, however grudgingly or inadequately. And, since the Afghanistan War has been a regular topic of my “normal," 700-1,000 word, writing, I've tweeted about it a number of times by now, and only slowly come to realize that Twitter holds the story of the lack of opposition to that war embedded within it, or I should say—not embedded within it.

As any experienced Twitterer will tell you, you're supposed to use hashtags, the method of sorting out messages on a particular topic that was first offered up by one of the service's users, rather than one of its owners. And in my attempt to become a credible Twit, I did as told, but when I wrote about Afghanistan something unusual happened, or more properly put, the usual thing did not happen—there seemed to be no prompt attached to Afghanistan. What I'm talking about—for those who have yet to achieve even my exceedingly modest level of Twitter mastery—is that if you're looking to use the #GreenNewDeal hashtag, Twitter will suggest it by the time you've typed #gree, and then you can simply click and get the whole thing. For #MedicareForAll to appear, you only need to type #med; get as far as #medi, and the #Medicare4All option will also pop up.

But #usoutofafghanistan? You can type the whole thing and at the end Twitter will still be acting like it's never heard of the idea. And we probably can't blame this on Twitter's bad memory. Twitter does forget its prompts when they fall out usage—typing #nowaroniran will now produce no prompts, although it once did, and probably will again the next time the saber rattling starts up. But Afghanistan? The hashtag is as relevant today as it has ever been these last eighteen years, but it's not clear that there has ever been anything for Twitter to forget.

Why did we decide that the appropriate response to the actions of 19 men hijacking four airplanes was to start a war that has killed more Americans than died on September 11, 2001, and killed at least ten times that many Afghan civilians?

After all, by the time Twitter was rolled out in July of 2006, the Afghanistan War was already in its seventh year—longer than World War II. And hashtags didn't even come until a year after that. For those of you who weren't there, or don't remember, at this point we had 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry—who had effectively negated the value of a long, generally antiwar career by voting for George W. Bush's Iraq War, before going on to win the nomination to run against him—now calling for an end to that war, but arguing that “we must send significant reinforcements"to Afghanistan, “at least 5,000 more troops,"charging that the bellicose Bush Administration "has cut and run."

And soon we would have Barack Obama calling Afghanistan the "good war," unlike the “dumb" one in Iraq. And like his predecessor Kerry, he called for more American troops—30,000 on top of the 32,000 already there. For this, President Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize and legions of otherwise antiwar fans back home—many of whom believed that he didn't really want to do this, and gave him as much credit for their perception of his mental state as if he actually was not doing it. And since then? Well, ask yourself the last time you heard about a demonstration to end the Afghanistan War. A friend of mine who excoriates American Middle East policy on a weekly basis on his radio show recently suggested that I remove mention of my opposition to the Afghanistan War from my website—because I was saying the same thing as Donald Trump.

Why did we decide that the appropriate response to the actions of 19 men hijacking four airplanes was to start a war that has killed more Americans than died on September 11, 2001, and killed at least ten times that many Afghan civilians? Largely because we had an administration flush with fantasies of reshaping the world to their liking and a Congress that felt it had to go along with bombing someone, somewhere.

At the outset of this war, few could have imagined that next month the first voters who have never been alive when we weren't at war in Afghanistan would be arriving at the polls. So, we probably shouldn't just assume that it'll be all over by the time they reach Social Security age—negotiations to end it did just recently come to a halt, after all. How about a more modest goal then? Can we at least generate enough opposition to activate a #usoutofafghanistan Twitter prompt by then?


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Tom Gallagher

Tom Gallagher

Tom Gallagher is a former Massachusetts State Representative and the author of 'The Primary Route: How the 99% Take On the Military Industrial Complex.' He lives in San Francisco.

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