Tunnelling As Resistance, As Self-Organization, As Seeking

12 min readJun 20, 2024


Tunnel Warfare

Since antiquity, tunnels have been used in war for both offence and defence. For attack, a tunnel goes under enemy barriers. Fortifications can be undermined or a surprise attack can be launched from behind enemy lines.

The invention of gunpowder in the 19th century made underground attacks much more effective. Mining saw a particular resurgence as a military tactic during WWI. In one case, about 450–600 tons of explosives in over 20 mines were simultaneously exploded at 3:10am on 7 June 1917 under German lines at Messines. One of the largest non-nuclear blasts, the simultaneous explosions killed about 10,000 soldiers, created 19 large craters, and was so loud it was heard in London.

More recently, rebels used tunnels and explosives to attack fixed locations of the Syrian Army. On 4 March 2015, rebel forces detonated a large quantity of explosives in a tunnel dug under an air force building in Aleppo causing a partial collapse which was immediately followed by a rebel assault.

Tunnels For Resistance

For defence against a powerful enemy, the weaker side has to go underground for survival. Digging a cave provides shelter. Digging a tunnel towards another tunnel, creating a network of tunnels provides a lot more, it allows for resistance.

The 20th century wars saw tunnelling for defence at extraordinary scales, as attacks took to the air. The French Resistance used tunnels effectively against the Germans. The Chinese Communist forces and even local peasant resistance (which included women and children) used tunnel war tactics against the Japanese. The Japanese used poison gas and water to kill the tunnellers, and the Chinese responded by using filters and finally did succeed in embarrassing the invaders and driving them out.

Tunnelling As Self-Organization

In the 1950 Korean war, US air strikes inflicted heavy losses on North Korea, sending them underground. Initially shelters were constructed independently with placement being chaotic. Subsequently, underground fortifications were united into a single large system 500 kilometres long. A total of 2,000,000 cubic metres of rocks were extracted.

Since tunnelling was not taught and practiced, this becomes a perfect example of self-organization. An external circumstance forced people to duck, and most to remain still. Special people who could not remain passive, chose to act. Their work led them to each other, and a beautiful and complex creation emerged.

The entire network had to exist and operate in secret, but its very presence provided hope to the entire society.

Massive US bombing in the 1960s forced the Vietnamese to go underground. Entire villages ended up living permanently underground, the space being created with full community participation: each villager obliged to dig 90 cm of tunnel a day. The tunnel system contained a complete world, featuring kitchens, hospitals, workshops, sleeping areas, communications, ammunition storage, and even forms of entertainment. A full-scale guerrilla war was sustained for a long time using secret underground bases connected by hundreds of miles of tunnels.

In this work, it was common people moving underground. So new arrangements for living, new social structures had to emerge, especially for women and children. All supplies had to be organized, including water and sanitation. New ways of working and organizing work had to be created. And new rituals had to be followed, especially for the dying and the dead.

Under extreme duress and with no other choice people had to self-organize to survive. People ended up connecting in a new way and creating a functional and powerful network. Not to survive in dingy holes, but to thrive in the subterranean.

The Tunneller — A Special Human

We all can retreat, to a place of some safety, of some comfort — which today is likely to be a couch in front of a screen. Many of us can dig a bit to take cover. But to create an underground network, allowing communication, movement, support, it takes design and luck and the special human — the sapper.

Sappers have to work in dark wretched conditions. The bowels of the earth can be very alien to a surface creature. They have to live with bad air and the threat of collapse and flooding. They work long hours alone and even stay underground for their rest in between shifts.

The human is not born as a sapper, but can learn fast and create amazing tunnels and networks … sometimes only big enough for crawling.

Tunnelling is not retreating in fear, but actively responding, in what is a bleak, losing situation. Tunnellers are resisters. And miracle workers.

Now Tunnelling Without The Sappers

While building a tunnel network is still an act of resistance, technology has changed the requirements of the tunneller. First, electricity provides light, connectivity, tools, and even circulates air. This eliminates several earlier harsh requirements of the sapper. Then drilling machines: massive borers, can drill full-size tunnels thru all conditions. They eliminate the need for the sapper completely.

Bunker busting bombs, that drill thru the earth before exploding, reduce the impact of a tunnel network. They can make the act of tunnelling futile.

The ongoing offensive on Palestine showcases these aspects of modern tunnelling, its ease and its suppression.

The Original Tunnellers As Seekers

A person rises to the challenge of becoming a sapper and devoting themselves to work in extreme conditions. When one contemplates on the life of a sapper, it becomes quite obvious that the original, human tunneller is a seeker.

There are the obvious motivations on the need to save society, and of patriotism in fighting an enemy. Anger and revenge could also play a part. In the end, the tunneller has to abandon all that they were doing in life and focus all their energies on a dark wall, the task in front of them. They work persistently and patiently towards a small hope, in the form of some light and fresh air, and to connect with another human in an opening.

Imagine the feeling of the sapper digging up to the surface, for an exit or an air vent, and breathing fresh air and seeing blue sky, even while anxiously searching for any threat. Will they not feel like a seeker who finally gets a glimpse of the divine?

Imagine the feeling that a sapper has when their digging breaks into another tunnel and meets a comrade thru the opening. Will not that moment be just like when a seeker has a magical moment, finding their hard work leading to profound relief and joy?

If the sapper is like a seeker, can we see the seeker as a tunneller? They have so much in common: the work, the practice, the effort, the drive, the patience, the persistence, the distance from society, and the struggle.

The Great Teachings — All Telling Us To Dig?

If we see seekers as tunnellers, what are they digging away from?

In the journey to manifest the divine potential of the human, after early achievements, civilizations lost their way. And ossified. Instead of being uplifting, the pyramids and temples became stifling, even oppressive. Instead of controlling the human ego, the social structures ballooned it, leading to individual and collective anguish. Societies of open, connected hearts witnessed their closing and their isolation.

In such downfalls, great teachers arrived and provided guidance.

Their great teachings can be seen as instructions to dig. To tunnel our way out of predicaments, confusions, loneliness, oppression, seductions, … the traps that we often fall into.

They show us how to dig up to the heart, to connect with each other, and find a worthy purpose while resisting the temptations of the world.

The teachers provided an example. An inspiration and a direction. People with faith could follow — but they had to dig.

Gilding The Great Teachings — Closing The Tunnels

But then after their death, the teachers’ tunnels were misinterpreted and misused. Their teachings were interpreted as per convenience. The written word allowed scholars and intellectuals to institutionalize the transmission, and reduce the role of direct experience. And codification by printing made some interpretations ‘final’.

Sitting in tunnels that are laid out does not involve digging. The work becomes that of gilding the tunnel — filling it with images, books, candles, and gold — to make it more attractive. Rituals become more important and answers are found in text, no longer by working on extending the tunnel by one’s own effort.

When the tunnel becomes the destination, it becomes a cave. So while prayer, ritual, meditation, reading, and yoga offer relief from the daily skirmishes of the world, they do not increase the length of the tunnel, do not lead to connection. To a new world.

The Need to Tunnel Today

Why talk about tunnelling today? Are we under attack?

We have to see and feel clearly, first and foremost, that we are all being bombarded. Constantly. In many ways. While the vast majority are not under the explosive bombing raids, we are under attack on many fronts. And we are losing.

We can all agree that we are being bombarded with ads. Forced cleverly to buy things we do not need, and keep acquiring more stuff.

Our bodies are under attack. Junk food, fast food, chemicalized food, processed food, foreign food, nano-plastics, … all in increasing quantities make it a losing battle to stay healthy, slim, and fit. Chemicals released by the tons in the environment add to the direct attack by cosmetics on our bodies.

The assault to make us addicts has been going on for a couple of centuries, starting with tobacco (in 1492) and coffee. The list of addictions offered is long and diverse: sugar, tv, gambling, work, status, painkillers, alcohol, tobacco, solvents, opioids, sex, internet, porn, action, social media, … Giving up our intuition — which requires patience and contemplation — we have allowed ourselves to become addicted to stimulation and consumerism. Addiction to convenience is the ruler, as we constantly pursue an elusive happiness in the next moment.

Our religions have been losing congregation so that they use aggressive tactics to retain and activate the remainder. And, of course, to donate more, attacking our wallets. Our nature to be open, curious, and compassionate is under attack.

Our politicians are desperately trying to gain our allegiance. We are not allowed to think, to see all sides of issues and people, but take hard, binary stances. Our intelligence is under attack.

Our sports teams want us to wear their colour to prove our loyalty. They, of course, have no loyalty and are happy to raid public tax money for their stadiums. Our common sense is under attack.

Our jobs are always demanding more from us. The rat race is sucking humanity out of us.

We are being robotized, our human nature is under siege. Time has being squeezed out of our lives. It has been made scarce, not available to use, to share, to gift. Time is no longer an ally. We have not enough time to rest, to sleep even.

The human is also oppressed virtually. Our screens have won the war for our attention, using seduction, entertainment, distraction. The victim is the real world which is no longer interesting and now to be only seen as a large, hot, ugly garbage bin.

Beauty has lost its battle with glamour. Local, immediate beauty, without a price tag, has been usurped by a universal glamour which has been priced and therefore is madly pursued. It is hard to see our pursuit of glamour as a war, but it needs to be seen as an assault on beauty, which is one of all the great things to be recovered.

Our privacy has been plundered. Not only are we under constant surveillance, but every movement, our every act is tracked, analysed, and connected to the acts of others, to create behaviour patterns for entire populations.

Our communities have been attacked and killed. Even the nuclear family is under attack, humans are isolated down to the individual.

Pollution is a way of attacking the earth, both in the spread out junk and plastics in our soil, water, and air, but specifically in our landfills. Extraction and mining, including for ‘green technology’, are also ways for further attacking an exhausted, depleted planet.

Nature is under a full-scale attack. We are happily marching down into the Sixth Great Extinction.

Indeed, there are places in the world that are being attacked with bombs, bullets, landmines. And others with bulldozers and chain saws. Every day more violence is being perpetrated to keep the profits of the weapons manufacturers growing exponentially. Death, destruction, and grief are just side-effects, collateral damage.

Those watching these physical wars from far away have also lost the war on their empathy and common sense. They are even confused between bullets and bombs. The public feels that large bombs can be targetted on individuals with no side-effects — explosive noise or terror — they are desensitised, possibly thru video games.

The human is reduced to passivity, placing all hope in institutions that have profound disregard for humanity.

Today’s wars on the human are daring and clever. The human participates in them most fully — most job-holders are part of the attacking force, with most livelihoods fully dependent on the wars. Despite excessive-manufacturing, finance games, and over-powering advertising, the consumer is blamed for pollution, obesity, waste, addictions, … and blamed for not helping solve these problems too.

Why Tunnel Today?

The large number of wars on the human and the planet make the present the darkest moment in human history, and at a time of amassing the greatest power, the future appears even more grave. That gives an historic opportunity for everyone to tunnel. As a seeker. And as a resister.

The object of tunnelling today is to resist the poisons, the addictions, the false notions pushed into us. Within the individual and within society. And seek connectedness.

Destroying Two Lethal Poisons Injected Into Us

The ‘industrial time’ poison has saturated out mind and infiltrated our DNA. This poison makes time scarce and turns it into an enemy. We have no time for anyone, and everyone intrudes on our time. Activities that are not immediately fulfilling or entertaining are seen as a waste of time.

We need to tunnel out of this ever constricting haze of time. As we tunnel, the work itself will change our notion of time. Time will become an ally, out of control of the enemy. From being scarce, it will become abundant. Tunnellers will find it easy to give time to others.

Convenience has mechanized the human. Inconvenience is reinserting life into a mechanical human, pushing out these poisons.

It is most convenient to share media and least convenient to share presence. It is most convenient to respond with emoji and least convenient to discuss divisive issues, simple or complex. That makes the work to restore face-to-face communication and reprogram our brains to see it these ‘offline’ connections as natural. As enjoyable. As desired by the life-force.

Tunnellers find it desirable to work on the inconvenient. Which today starts by giving presence. To another human. Without a screen inbetween.

Today’s Tunnels

What is the work of tunnelling today? What will today’s tunnels look like?

Today we need to tunnel under the cloud of electronics and radio waves. To move, to communicate, and connect without tracking ourselves, the time, and without being tracked and captured in the cloud.

We need to work at creating openings in time that we do not measure. Openings in which which we work to connect physically with people. All people. Those we agree with and those we do not. Those we share with easily and those we do not. Those we communicate with easily, and those we do not. The work is to relearn generosity, to recreate community. And wait for the miraculous to emerge.

The tunnels dug under the virtual cloud in which physical, oral connection takes place, will not be visible: they will show up as holes, as gaps in our digital history. As our communities regrow, these digital holes will expand, serving two purposes, hosting two miracles.

First, they will witness the emergence of new cultures: post-digital, post-machismo, post-violence, pro-local, pro-human, pro-earth. Weaving a mosaic around the world, gracefully announcing the gentle dawn of a new era.

Second, they will become weapons to fight the current wars on the human. Wielding these pockets of digital vacuum skilfully should cause the digital weapons of the attacking forces to implode.

Victory in this war, will finally allow humans to support each other and stand up together. And with feet firmly grounded on earth, they will find their uplifted fingers able to touch the heavens.