Thursday, January 16, 2014

Mikhail Kalashnikov, Inventor Of The AK-47 Assault Rifle, Regretted It On His Deathbed

Mikhail Kalashnikov with an AK-47 assault rifle (source)
Mikhail Kalashnikov was an inventor.  He started inventing things soon after he joined the Red Army tank brigade, after his family was sent to Siberia during the Soviet purges.  He invented a tank shot counter, a time meter, and even an electric lawnmower.  But the invention that made him famous was an assault rifle -- the AK-47. 

Designed over the course of 6 years, what he ended with in 1947 was a very rugged and reasonably reliable, fully-automatic killing machine which was quickly adopted by the Red Army, anywhere in the world that they fought.  It is cheap to make, easy to maintain, and has a reputation of being very dependable even in the worst environments.

"I made it to protect the motherland," he is quoted as saying.

But the weapon wasn't just in Soviet army hands.  It wasn't long before the gun, and its variants, were in the hands of terrorists, jihadis, and Soviet-armed allies all over the world.  It is still one of the most preferred weapons.  It is arguably the most fired gun in the world, and has been used to kill millions of people and launch revolutions, including in the hands of child soldiers.  It's estimated that there are at least 100 million of the guns currently in use around the world.

The AK-47 also has become popular with gun nuts in the United States.  Even the little pawn and gun store down the street from me sells a semi-auto version of the AK-47.  "We sell AK-47s!" a sign reads out front.

Last December, Mikhail Kalashnikov died of natural causes at the age of 97:

The flag of Hezbollah, featuring an AK-47 (source)
As his rifles became synonymous with terrorists and rebel armies he was asked if he regretted engineering the weapon that probably killed more than any other.
“I invented it for the protection of the Motherland. I have no regrets and bear no responsibility for how politicians have used it,” he told them.
In fact, he earned many awards and was regarded as a hero of his nation.  He never profited from his deadly invention.

But as the years went by, he began to regret his invention, slowly at first.  Also from that article:

“I’m proud of my invention, but I’m sad that it is used by terrorists,” he said once.
“I would prefer to have invented a machine that people could use and that would help farmers with their work – for example a lawnmower.”

And in the last few days, news broke about statements that Kalashnikov had made on his deathbed.  This inventor, who had made a weapon to protect his nation's interest, watched over the decades as that weapon was turned against Russian soldiers, against other nations, against citizens by militant extremists, and even against innocent citizens in far away American streets.

Said Mr. Kalashnikov in his deathbed confession to his priest that he felt "spiritual pain" for his lethal invention:

But he wrote to the Patriarch of the Russian church  said the designer felt a degree of guilt  and “ spiritual pain” towards the end of his life for inventing the killing machine.
The letter published by Russian newspaper Izvestia quotes his daughter, Elena, saying she believes a priest helped her father compose the letter, which said:” My spiritual pain is unbearable.”
He asks: “I keep having the same unsolved question: if my rifle claimed people’s lives, then can it be that I... a Christian and an Orthodox believer, was to blame for their deaths?
“The longer I live “the more this question drills itself into my brain and the more I wonder why the Lord allowed man to have the devilish desires of envy, greed and aggression”.
The letter is typed on Kalashnikov’s own personal notepaper and with the wavering signature  describing himself as “a slave of God, the designer Mikhail Kalashnikov”.

And since pro-gun extremists love all things that go "boom," particularly assault rifles, they naturally praise the weapon and its designer, even though he was part of the big, bad evil communist Russia and his invention was used to mow down Americans in every war we've fought since Korea.

Just read what the gun guys have to say about Kalashnikov, his death, and his lethal weapon, on the pro-gun forums and web comments section:

"Damn that sucks. Father of the most famous assault rifle. RIP Mikhail!" (source)

"I just told my AK about it. We had a good cry together. RIP to one of the greatest weapons designers of the 20th century." (source)

"The world has lost a true genius and a hero today." (source)

"Guess I'll fire a 21 gun salute from my own AK-47 variant." (source)

"Rest in Peace. The master tinkerer's invention has probably done more to shape world events than any ideology." (source)

"It was an honor to live in the same century with him." (source)

Here's one gun nut firing through 700 rounds of ammo with his AK-47 in honor of Kalashnikov's passing.  The heat from firing the gun actually causes the wood on the barrel to start smoking.  Say's the shooter, "What can you say? The guns just don't stop runnin'."  See below:

Some people would say that having such a fascination with lethal weapons and their inventors is a sign of mental illness.

Nevermind that the semi-auto version of the AK-47 has been used over and over again to threaten, rob, maim, and kill untold numbers of Americans in our homes and streets.  HERE are some examples, just involving children, that have been posted at the Kid Shootings blog, over the last year or so, including the death of a baby, a 13-year old girl shot by her 19-year old brother with his personal AK-47, two teens killed while riding on ATVs, two boys ages 11 and 14 injured in Miami, and a 5-year old girl here in Oregon shot by a man in the apartment below when he stupidly used his AK-47 as a "crutch."  Cases aren't so hard to find.

So was Kalashnikov a hero or a villian? 
9-month old Delric Miller, killed by an AK-47 in Detroit.

You can't blame a man for designing a weapon meant to be used to defend his nation.  Someone has to do it.  And can you really blame him for mis-use of that weapon?  Probably not.  Though I can say that I don't think I would be able to design a lethal weapon, knowing full well that people would be killed and maimed by my handiwork, and that, like every weapon, it would in some manner wind up in the wrong hands.  Plenty of Russians, jihadists, and revolutionaries would consider him a hero.  Just don't say that to anyone who has lost a loved one or been maimed by an AK-47.

No, the real problem, for us in the United States, is that weapons like the AK-47 have wound up in on our streets, freely available to be bought by anyone -- not just with a background check in a store, but without a background check in a private sale just about anywhere in the U.S.  And, all too often, that gun will wind up in the hands of those who would use them for evil, intentionally or not.  They are designed, by Mr. Kalashnikov, to kill large numbers of people quickly and efficiently.  And, sadly, the AK-47 is being held up as some sort of symbol here in America by the pro-gun crowd who are buying them in record numbers.  Those guns will likely outlive those who purchase them.

Good-bye, Mikhail, but please pardon me if I have no sympathy for your end-of-life regrets.  Your weapons work remarkably well, and homes in the U.S. are still being bloodied for it.

ADDENDUM: From a satirical piece on Kalashnikov's death:
“Comrade Kalashnikov will be buried in a pit of mud with full military honors,” said General-Major Saiga Molot, a spokesman for the Russian army. “After a week, we will exhume his body, clean it off, and put him back to work. We expect that there shall be no issue with his functions.” ....

While praised for his simple operation and ruggedness, Kalashnikov is also being remembered for his contributions to over 300 insurgencies, 524 known terrorist groups and at least 18 hostile regime changes.
“We will always be grateful to General Kalashnikov for giving us the inspiration for Kevlar,” said DuPont President and CEO Ellen Kullman. 
ADDENDUM:  No sooner had I posted this, when there was another shooting in the media involving an AK-47, this time by a 19-year old man firing the weapon in the streets of Vancouver, Washington.

ADDENDUM (1/29/14):  From a related article by the LA Times:
And at times, Kalashnikov himself seemed to sense this: 
“I am proud of my weapon but I am sad that terrorists use it,” he told the Russian online publication in 2009. “I wish I had invented a machine which people could use, which could do good for farmers — for example, a sowing machine.” 
A man does what a man does. Kalashnikov designed his weapon to defend his country. He’s not responsible for what happened to it later, to the deadly purposes for which it’s been used. 
But you can’t help thinking how much better off the world would be if he had invented the AK-47 sowing machine.