Michael Kalashnikov, creator of the famous (or infamous, depending on the narrative) AK (Avtomat Kalashnikova), died on December 23, 2013 in Izhevsk, Russia. He was 94 years old. 17th child in peasant family, naturally gifted, he had to drop out from 7th grade and never received any official training in mechanical engineering.
Drafted to the Red Army in 1938, he became tank commander before the war and was heavily wounded in the Battle of Bryansk in August 1941. During initial Nazi assault, Kalashnikov saw German infantry, armed with MP-40s in action, and decided to create even more effective weapon. Ostracized by some established gun designers, he eventually succeeded in 1947, when his machine-gun became a winner in the very strong competition for the best design and was recommended as a main infantry weapon for the Soviet Army.
Through the years, AK, unpredictably, became a true “weapon of mass destruction”, causing death of untold number of victims. First used in action on November 1 1956, during the Soviet suppression of the anti-communist uprising in Hungary, and then in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Congo, Iraq, Angola, and elsewhere, in many wars, terrorist actions, gangs fights, etc., it’s still the most popular automatic weapon in the world. AK and its derivatives are believed to constitute between 15 and 20% of all existing firearms. According estimations, since 1953, when mass production started, various manufacturers produced 70 millions AKs, which are still in use in 50 armies of the world. Popularity of the AK can be explained by two things: first, it’s very easy to use, and if full Army AK course is just 10 hours long, it’s in fact takes less than 2 minutes to show users, some being as young as 7 years old, how to load, aim, and shoot; second, AK is considered as the most reliable gun after German Mauser 98, able to fire in extremely adverse conditions and under the most cursory maintenance.
Certainly, with his great number of of awards form Soviet, Russian and some world governments, his own museums and sculptures, erected in his honor, with AK, featured on coat d’ arms of Mozambique, East Timor, Zimbabwe, in songs, countless films and computer games, Michael Kalashnikov is the most celebrated gun designer in the world, but think for a second: what would you feel after becoming that famous on the back of those murdered, maimed and wounded by your invention? When Steve Jobs died, people lit candles in front of the Apple stores. Would they do the same for Kalashnikov?
Syrian boy holding AK-47 in Azaz, north of Aleppo, August 3, 2012. Photo by Goran Tomasevic.