Tunnels for bomb-shelters, I can understand. But for cars?

Just like all those short-term road-widening projects… we will simply postpone the point of gridlock congestion for a few more years (until we simply run out of underground space; like we’re already done on the surface…)

Tell you what, though: let’s start with bomb-shelters, before turning to cars. Because there’s been a lot of talk, over the last week, along the lines that ‘history repeats itself’… and a heck of a lot of (mostly unhelpful) comparisons between the current situation in Ukraine, and Adolf Hitler’s annexation of Poland in 1939.

Now: leaving aside that the analogy itself is rather ironic - seeing how it was actually the Russian army that had advanced into Berlin by 1945 (thus effectively ending the war in Europe, and all that)… there is nonetheless one useful lesson that history does teach us, from that particular conflict.

In the interest of brevity, what follows will obviously be a gross oversimplification (then again, so is ‘comparing Putin to Hitler’… and if everyone else can do it, why not me?) but here goes anyway:

In 1939, the expansionism of one country – Hitler’s Germany – sparked the beginning of what (with hindsight) would rapidly snowball into the conflict we now call ‘World War Two’.

But it didn’t remain that way for very long. By June 1940, Italy’s Mussolini had aligned with Germany – delivering WW2 directly to Malta, within less than 24 hours – and from there, it didn’t take very long for countries as far-flung as Japan, the USA, Australia, The Philippines, etc., to all eventually find themselves likewise ‘drawn into it’, in one way or another.

Admittedly, all this may be common knowledge to anyone born after those events actually took place. Fact remains, however, that not very much of it at all could have been reliably predicted, as early as 1939.

This much is evident, even from the state of readiness of some of those countries that – like Malta – got ‘drawn into’ the war, entirely by chance. Indeed, when the first bombs fell on the island, on 11 June, 1940… Malta had scarcely any local defence capability to speak of at all.

Short of a few anti-aircraft installations around the Grand Harbour – and a handful of Gloster Gladiator biplanes (which had been assembled, from crates, on the initiative of one man: Air Commodore Foster Maynard) – there was almost nothing whatsoever to stop Mussolini from simply taking the entire island, with even a modest ground-invasion force… if he really wanted to, at the time.

Luckily for us, however, Mussolini was far more interested in invading Greece, than Malta; and it was only after the war itself had already spilt over into North Africa – around January 1941 – that the strategic significance of this tiny island seems to have suddenly occurred to both sides, simultaneously.

Hitler demonstrated this by placing the Malta offensive in the hands of Field Marshall Kesselring – resulting in a dramatic escalation of aerial bombardments – and Churchill did it by rapidly reinforcing the island’s defences, and keeping it supplied via convoys until the end of the blitz.

Again, however: none of this could possibly have been predicted, way back when the ‘war’ was still only between Germany and Poland. And this, by the way, is the only aspect in which any comparison with today’s situation can possibly make any sense. We are, after all, only at the very initial stages of a war that began less than a week ago: and which, for all we know, can go on to evolve in wildly unpredictable ways…

On the plus side: this means that there is yet a chance to avoid the same, catastrophic snowball effect of 75 years ago. Conversely, however: it also means that we ourselves have clearly learnt nothing at all, from our own experience as ‘the most bombed pace on Earth’.

In a nutshell, we still seem entirely convinced that there is no need to prepare for any possible future escalation of conflict, that might (as happened in the 1940s) expand the theatre of war to the Mediterranean. And the upshot of all this short-sightedness – honestly, though: do I really have to think of everything myself? Including the country’s defensive preparations, in case of an imaginary future invasion? It’s all getting far too much, you know…

… but still: nobody else is asking the question, so it may as well be me. Why are we not preparing ourselves for an invasion: right now, as we speak? Why are we repeating the same mistake we all know (with hindsight) we made in 1940: only much worse, because our defence capability today is actually a whole lot LESS than it was when Malta was quite literally… um… ‘defenceless’?

Those ‘few anti-aircraft installations around the Grand Harbour’, for instance. Believe it or not: 75 years later, they’re still the only anti-air defence capability we’ve actually got, as a nation. So… um… what the heck are they still doing at the Malta War Museum? What good could they possibly be to us, there? (Hate to point out the obvious, but… the ceiling would probably get in the way a little, don’t you think?)

No indeed: time to wheel them out again, I’d say, and mount them up again where they truly belong, on the bastions of St Elmo.  Same goes for those biplanes, too: the Gloster Gladiators formerly known as ‘Faith, Hope and Charity’.

Short of a few helicopters, and maybe a couple of tuna-spotting reconnaissance aircraft…  as far as I’m aware, they’re still around the only thing that actually passes for an official Malta Airforce (and one of them – ‘Faith’, I believe – is still on display at the same museum: where, once again, it is patently of no use to anyone….)

So… what are we even waiting for? The ghost of Air Commodore Foster Maynard?  I mean, come on! Isn’t it obvious that we should be doing anything in our power, to defend our national air-space with absolutely everything we’ve got? And if all we’ve got happens to be a rusty old 100-year-old biplane, that was already obsolete before the last war… shouldn’t we at least be refitting it, so that it can once again take to the skies in Malta’s aerial defence?

Heck, I’d do it just for the sheer symbolism of the statement, myself. But then, there are lots of other things I’d be doing, if the country’s defence really were up to me right now.

Like, for instance… digging trenches. Rolling out barbed-wire fences along the foreshore. Conducting air-raid drills (people have, after all, forgotten the sound of air-raid sirens; might not be a bad time to remind them…) Not to mention organizing local militia, along the lines of the Territorials: because - not to sound alarmist, or anything - beyond our 1,000-strong AFM, we don’t actually have any trained servicemen to man all those aerial and coastal defences, you know…

Above all, however: just as happened when Malta finally did start taking its defences seriously, back in late 1940s… I’d be ordering the excavation of… erm…

… ‘a network of underground tunnels’.

Hmmm. OK, I might have to retract part of my earlier criticism, regarding Malta’s woeful state of unreadiness for war. For if nothing else, there is at least one aspect in which our country will be more than adequately ‘prepared’, if (or when) that imaginary invasion ever materializes.

We sure as heck won’t be lacking for underground bomb-shelters, will we?

No, indeed: whatever the outcome of the next election (be honest: you’d forgotten all about that, hadn’t you?)… Malta looks set to be absolutely honeycombed with newly-excavated ‘underground tunnels’: all just waiting to be used as impromptu air-raid shelters, once those sirens start wailing again….

Not, of course, that they would have been intentionally designed for that purpose –  but then again, neither was Ukraine’s metro system, was it? And, well, just look at it now…

The real reason, of course, is that both political parties seem to have become obsessed by ‘tunnel-digging’, of late: either (in Labour’s case) to connect Malta’s road network directly to Gozo’s, beneath the Fliegu; or (both parties) to ‘provide more underground parking spaces’; or else - according to the PN’s manifesto - because: “A network of underground tunnels is necessary to tackle Malta’s traffic problem at its roots”.

Now: I’ve left myself with far too little space (so much for ‘brevity’, huh?) to actually expand on why none of those reasons amounts to a real justification, for such a hare-brained infrastructural direction. Suffice it to say, for now, that – far from ‘tackling the traffic problem at its roots’ – digging tunnels will only represent a continuation of the present government’s obsession with ‘widening roads’.

It will simply provide more space (underground, this time) for more cars: in a context where a heck of a lot more cars are annually imported into the country, than are ever actually taken off the roads.

So just like all those short-term road-widening projects… all it will achieve, in practice, is to simply postpone the point of gridlock congestion for a few more years (to be more specific: until we simply run out of underground space; like we’re already done on the surface…)

But still: it could, if nothing else, leave us all with somewhere to actually huddle underground, when (or if) those bombs start falling…

… or at least, it would: if only those underground tunnels weren’t already stuffed full of cars; and if only they could also provide at least a little protection, from nuclear fall-out…

In other words: as ideas go, ‘digging tunnels’ might not actually be quite as completely idiotic – and counter-productive - as it may at first appear; so long as we dig those tunnels for the right reason (hint: to prioritise ‘people’, over ‘cars’.)

Just saying…