Do or Die

An article from Do or Die Issue 8. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 58-59.

Tunnels of the World

The Mother

by Duong Huong Ly, Vietnam

When she dug the tunnels,
her hair was still brown.
Today her head is as white as snow.
Under the reach of the guns she digs and digs.
At night the cries of the partridge record the past.
Twenty years,
allways the land is at war.
The partridge in the night calls out the love of the native land.
The mother,
she digs her galleries, defenses.
Protecting each step of her children.
Immeasurable is our native land.
The Enemy
must drive his probes everywhere.
Your unfathomable entrails, Mother,
Hide whole divisions under this land.
The dark tunnels make their own light.
The Yankees have captured her.
Under the vengeful blows she says not a word.
They open their eyes wide
but are blind.
Cruelly beaten the mother collapses.
Her body is no more than injuries and wounds.
Her white hair is like snow.
Night after night the noise of picks shakes the bosom of the earth.
Columns, divisions, rise up from it.
The enemy,
seized by panic, sees only
hostile positions around him.
Immeasurable is our native land.
Your entrails,
Mother, are unfathomable.

Since we started digging tunnel defences at the Fairmile and Trollheim (Photo 1) anti-road camps a few years ago, they have evolved into one of our most effective tactics.

Photo 1

This spring at the Crystal Palace eviction (p.189) they lengthened the eviction from 2 to 19 days, holding down hundreds of security and police, costing thousands. Digging tunnels is a labour of love and a life changing experience. Deep in the soil you can almost hear the pulsating heart of the earth. Recently at Ashton Court (p. 148) the digging has been sped up thanks to pneumatic drills (Photo 2) - no trowels for us anymore - but still an hour under ground can feel like a day.

Photo 2

Our tactics link us to other struggles in the past. To go underground is to leave the surface world and take up the secret resistance. Often in history this has been no mere metaphor. The key to the success of the Vietnamese peoples in fighting America was their 150 plus miles of tunnels. These housed hospitals, kitchens, military workshops, printing presses (Photo 3) and allowed covert movement around a devastated landscape. While the napalm burned the forest above the resistance below flourished. The Americans were left baffled (Photo 4).

Photo 3

Typical Viet Cong tunnel complex 1960-70

Photo 4

The Eritreans too took up the underground world as their own (see box below). Tunnels have always been a place of refuge. In Turkey in Capa Doccia there is an entire underground town 100 metres down. It was used in the 14th and 15th Centuries to hide from the Mongul hoards - housing a staggering 100,000.

John Pilger, (in his book Heroes), describes visiting the Eritreans during their struggle against first US then USSR backed Ethiopian regimes. 'The shock upon reaching Eritrea was the illusion that there were no people. Then, out of the ground they came, flashing torches, embracing the drivers. A generator somewhere in the scrub thudded into life... Spokes of light picked up vegetation that had been neatly singed. Napalm had been dropped here that morning... This was a nation of the night. The guerrillas carried out their ambushes in the early hours and retrieved their dead and wounded before the planes came at first light. Children went to school [often housed in caves] in the early evening and farmers worked in their fields by moonlight. In the north, an astonishing, complete town had been built underground. At the end of tunnels and mineshafts were factories and foundries, insulated by Ethiopian parachutes and powered by captured Birmingham-made generators... In the 'gun factory', weapons of every nationality, from Kalashnikov rifles to huge artillery pieces, were stripped, studied and duplicated... In the 'metal shop', an entire Soviet MiG-21 bomber, which had crash landed, had been recycled into guns, buckets, ovens, kitchen utensils, ploughs, hoes, X-ray equipment and machine tools... In the 'woodwork factory' school desks were laid out with rows of crutches and artificial limbs.' The field hospitals had to tend their injured in 'wards in dank crumbling tunnels.'

During the destruction of the Paris Commune in 1871 many revolutionaries escaped death through the sewers. As well as places of refuge and resistance tunnels also are amazing places to live. Our ancestors often lived underground either in naturally occurring tunnels or self dug pits. The Satarchae, the indigenous of the Crimea, lived in them, while Xenophon noted that the Armenians also lived in well like homes. Eskimos and the Hopi also. As recently as the 14th Century whole trogladite cultures existed on the edges of civilisation in the Hebridean islands of Lewis, Harris and Uist - some with highly developed defences (Photo 6). It was these cultures that became the basis for the gnomes of our myths. Derbyshire saw the last trog village at Buxton. One French visitor reported, 'I looked in vain for the habitations of so many labourers families without being able to see so much as a cottage when at length I discoverd the whole tribe, like so many moles, had formed their residences underground'.

Photo 6

Today thousands of homeless live under New York - in a labrynth of metro, utility and sewer tunnels (Photo 7). One of them caught the magic of tunnels thus: 'It seeps through your ears and your skin. It's like a hug with nothing to hold you, an understanding. It's like when the stars fill your eyes with their light, and they fill your emptiness. The same connection.' Tunnels are a great tactics and amazing, almost magical, places.

Photo 7

A homeless Canadian finds solace hidden underground in a bunker in the forest.

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