Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Inventor's Sting

"The pain in my soul is unbearable. I keep asking myself the same unsolvable question: If my assault rifle took people's lives, it means that I, Mikhail Kalashnikov ... son of a farmer and Orthodox Christian am responsible for people's deaths.
"The longer I live, the more often that question gets into my brain, the deeper I go in my thoughts and guesses about why the almighty allowed humans to have devilish desires of envy, greed and aggression. Everything changes, only a man and his thinking remain unchanged; he's just as greedy, evil, heartless and restless as before!"
Mikhail Kalashnikov, Russia

When small arms are spoken of and particularly in the context of rebellious insurgents, of terrorists, of third-world militaries, this is the rifle of choice, the AK-47 assault rifle, more familiarly known as the Kalashnikov. Mikhail Kalashnikov achieved celebrity status when, as an amateur designer, inventor, craftsman, tinker, he designed his infamous assault rifle. He died last month at age 94, his enterprise acknowledged in the wild popularity of his weapon.

What he invented has become the weapon of choice for millions around the world. The AK-47 has the distinction of being the world's most popular firearm, certainly one of the world's most dependable in conditions that bogged down more sophisticated and elegant weapons. There is an estimated one hundred million of them to be found in use around the globe. Initially the Soviet Union helped to disperse it to Third World insurgents, and licensed production in 30 countries.

National liberation fighters, revolutionaries and their ilk swore by its attributes. Not as accurate as more technically developed rifles of its type, it is reliable, guaranteed to perform in sandy or wet conditions posing an operational risk to most other weapons that tend to jam, like the American M-16. "During the Vietnam War, American soldiers would throw away their M-16s to grab AK-47s and bullets from dead Vietnamese soldiers", Mr. Kalashnikov said with pride in 2007.

"I sleep well. It's the politicians who are to blame for failing to come to an agreement and resorting to violence", he said defensively in 2007 during an interview with The Associated Press, on the 60-year anniversary of his dreadful creation. In that same year, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke of the AK-47 as a "symbol of the creative genius of our people". Presumably no one in close listening space to its utterance shuddered over the statement.

Closer to the time of his death Mikhail Kalashnikov felt far less certain about his role in designing a weapon that has been used to bring death to countless numbers of combatants and innocents alike. His simple and reliable device was a source of great pride to him, a humble man who had never received any measure of monetary reward as a result of its use since his invention had never been patented, and had become the property of the country he served.

The honours he received which included that of the Hero of Socialist Labour, and the Order of Lenin and Stalin Prize, sufficed to persuade him that he had served his country well. And that sentiment was emphasized before he died when Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church responded to the letter written to him by Mikhail Kalashnikov: "If the weapon is used to defend the Motherland, the Church supports both its creators and the servicemen using it."

The future, however, has overtaken the past to become the present. Just as the genie representing the genius of scientific molecular enquiry into atomic properties unleashed nuclear destruction on the world, an advance in mass destruction that cannot be recalled to its former state of a process waiting to be discovered, the genie of Mr. Kalashnikov's automatic rifle refuses likewise to take up its former, mysterious abode.

Labels: , , ,

Follow @rheytah Tweet