Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Mikhail Kalashnikov, 1919-2013

The dude invented the weapon of choice for rebel "freedom fighters" the world over.

At the New York Times, "Mikhail Kalashnikov, Creator of AK-47, Dies at 94":

Mikhail Kalashnikov photo Mikhail_Kalashnikov_zpsadb0a4aa.jpg

Lt. Gen. Mikhail T. Kalashnikov, the arms designer credited by the Soviet Union with creating the AK-47, the first in a series of rifles and machine guns that would indelibly associate his name with modern war and become the most abundant firearms ever made, died on Monday in Izhevsk, the capital of the Russian republic of Udmurtia, where he lived. He was 94.

Viktor Chulkov, a spokesman for the republic’s president, confirmed the death, the Itar-Tass news agency reported.

Born a peasant on the southern Siberian steppe, General Kalashnikov had little formal education and claimed to be a self-taught tinkerer who combined innate mechanical skills with the study of weapons to conceive of a rifle that achieved battlefield ubiquity.

His role in the rifle’s creation, and the attention showered on him by the Kremlin’s propaganda machine, carried him from conscription in the Red Army to senior positions in the Soviet arms-manufacturing bureaucracy and ultimately to six terms on the Supreme Soviet, the Soviet Union’s legislative body.

Tens of millions of Kalashnikov rifles have been manufactured. Their short barrels, steep front-sight posts and curved magazines made them a marker of conflict that has endured for decades. The weapons also became both Soviet and revolutionary symbols and widespread instruments of terrorism, child-soldiering and crime.

The general, who sometimes lamented the weapons’ unchecked distribution but took pride in having invented them and in their reputation for reliability, weathered the collapse of the Soviet Union to assume a public role as a folk hero and unequivocal Russian patriot.

A Soviet nostalgist, he also served as the unofficial arms ambassador of the revived Russian state. He used public appearances to try to cast the AK-47’s checkered legacy in a positive way and to complain that knockoffs were being manufactured illegally by former Soviet allies and cutting into Russian sales.

The weapon, he said, was designed to protect his motherland, not to be used by terrorists or thugs. “This is a weapon of defense,” he said. “It is not a weapon for offense.”

General Kalashnikov’s public life resulted from a secret competition to develop the Soviet infantry rifle for the Cold War. The result was the AK-47 — an abbreviation for “the automatic by Kalashnikov” followed by the year the competition ended.

General Kalashnikov, a senior sergeant at the time who had been injured in battle against German tanks, was credited with leading the design bureau that produced the AK-47 prototype. The Soviet Union began issuing a mass-produced version in 1949.
More at the link.

Don't know if the insurgent genie is going back in the lamp, but this dude was a Soviet patriot whose life had tremendous implications for world history.

More from William Hartung and Rachel Stohl, at Foreign Affairs, "Hired Guns":
More people are killed per year on average as a result of wars fueled by small arms and light weapons (including the AK-47) than were killed in the nuclear blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in 1945. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone, it is estimated that more than a million people have died in that country’s recent civil war, fought primarily with small arms. The inability of governments to take seriously the damage caused by small arms and light weapons is a failure of major proportions.
And from Mike Boyer, "Looking for a deal on AK-47s? Go to Africa":
In fact, the weapons are so ubiquitous in Africa that "Kalash," an abbreviation of Kalashnikov, has become a popular boy's name in some countries.
More, "From Russia With Blood: C.J. Chivers talks with Foreign Policy about the Kalashnikov, the world's real weapon of mass destruction."

PHOTO CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons.