For me, Mikhail Kalashnikov is one of those “You mean he was still alive?” people. I had not known he was still among us. But he was, until today, when he died at 94.
It’s ironic that he survived so long, since his invention was the cause of the premature deaths of untold thousands around the world.
His AK-47 (and its variants) was made to supply soldiers of the Red Army with a reliable modern rifle, but it became the weapon of choice of “national armies, terrorists, drug gangs, bank robbers, revolutionaries and jihadists,” as the WashPost put it.
Kalashnikov was a former Red Army sergeant with little technical training, who ended up leading the effort to create a rifle that met the requirements of a weapon that was cheap to produce, easy to maintain and operate, and reliable. He was wildly successful.
He produced an automatic weapon that took next to no maintenance, and would work under the most demanding conditions. There are stories of Kalashnikovs found buried in mud under rice paddies in Vietnam that still fired.
The AK enabled almost anyone to put a tremendous amount of lead (30 rounds to a magazine) on a target in a big hurry. And by anyone, I mean anyone — it’s the ideal weapon for child soldiers in Africa because it takes relatively little upper body strength to use.
And so we have the paradox of Mikhail Kalashnikov — hardly anyone in the past century has produced a product of any kind that performed as well as his rifle, and was so universally sought-after and used.
But hardly anyone has been the cause of more death.
He noted the paradox of tremendous achievement vs. tremendous harm himself:
“I’m proud of my invention, but I’m sad that it is used by terrorists,” he said on a visit to Germany, adding: “I would prefer to have invented a machine that people could use and that would help farmers with their work – for example a lawnmower.”…
If he had, I definitely would have wanted one of those lawnmowers. It would have started immediately every time, run on very little gas, and you’d only have to clean the filters once a year. And it would have lasted a lifetime.