Tunnels and War Coincide
November 9, 2023
People burrow into the subsoil, build tunnels, plus storage rooms, and stockpile food and water, for one reason, and that is to stay alive. Atop the ground, in the open air, in the sunshine, they feel oppressed, insecure, and poised to die or suffer an injury.
On July 4, 1863, thirty-one thousand Confederate soldiers, trapped inside Vicksburg, on the Mississippi River, surrendered to the Union's commanding officer, Ulysses S. Grant, on the forty-eighth day of Grant's siege of that town.
During the siege, civilians had dug some five hundred caves into the hillsides, and fitted them out with "rugs, beds, and chairs." One cave dweller said, "We were in hourly dread of snakes. The vines and thickets were full of them."
The city's residents sought sanctuary in their inhospitable caves, because, "More than two hundred Union guns pounded the town every day from land, while Admiral David Porter's gunboats battered it from the river."
During World War II, the Marines and the U.S. Navy needed nine months to defeat Japanese soldiers dug in on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima. A ferocious naval and air campaign early in the battle caused one U.S. sailor to say, "There can be nothing alive on that island."
The truth was that the massive U.S. bombing did little damage to the enemy, who, with their ammunition and guns, were hiding in eleven miles of tunnels underground, out of sight.
Once the Marines landed onshore, the fighting changed to "short-sword fighting."
One veteran of Iwo Jima, Raymond Hart, said, "It was the flamethrowers that got it done."
In the Viet Nam war, smaller U.S. soldiers were assigned duty as Tunnel Rats. Some 700 American boys dared to crawl into a Viet Cong tunnel, armed with pistol and flashlight.
One Tunnel Rat, Nelson Ritter, described a typical outcome of a tunnel battle, "the one who fired first survived."
In the tunnels, a Tunnel Rat might have encountered a hospital, a surgical ward, a sleeping chamber, a storeroom, supplies of water and food, and plenty of ammunition.
Some two million people live in the Gaza strip, a small strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea, 25 miles long and between 3.5 miles and 7 miles wide. It suffers a high population density, on a par with that of Hong Kong's. That degree of overcrowding creates unhealthy tension.
Yet, officials estimate that there is an estimated 300 miles of tunnels underground. Some call the system "Gaza's Metro," as if it is a subway.
The tunnels are narrow, two meters high and one meter wide. Both "sides and tops are constructed of prefabricated concrete." There are dozens of access points topside into the system throughout Gaza.
It is believed that the hostages are held within the tunnels. Israeli Military Defense officials are most anxious to find those access points, and one tactic is by "purple hair."
"Israeli troops drop smoke grenades into a tunnel and then watch for purple smoke to come out of any houses in the area. The smoke signals that a house is connected to the tunnel network, and must be sealed off before soldiers descend into the tunnels."
One Israeli official said, "They're probably booby-trapped," with tripwires and bombs.
Why did the people in Gaza burrow into the ground? One possible reason is that atop the ground they feel oppressed. The Gaza Strip is described as "the world's largest open-air prison," because Israel and Egypt block entry into or out of the Strip by land or sea.
Fresh clean water is non-existent for 95% of the population. What water the Strip gets tastes salty. Electricity is rationed, turned off and on whenever, and 46% of the population suffers from unemployment and poverty. Hospitals lack basic equipment and medicine.
Why did the people in Gaza decide to build a munitions stockpile inside the tunnels? They had options. They could have constructed schools, or gymnasiums, or factories, or retail businesses, or devised a new cell phone technology, in or out of the tunnels. They chose war.
I understand that life is hard, even brutal, for the people living in the Gaza Strip, and I cannot imagine the degradation that they endure every day. For them, a tunnel might serve as an escape, a way to cope. What could they achieve if they renounced war and sought peace?