Shifting gears, let’s put the Buckinghamshire rambles on hold and talk about guns. In particular the AK-47. The ‘bad guy’ gun. Seriously, toting an AK unilaterally puts you on the side of evil, darkness, and/or oppression. The Soviet Union broke it in crushing uprisings in Eastern Europe, child soldiers employ it in Africa, it adorns the flag of Hezbollah, and on and on- every James Bond bad guy ever has tried to off him with the Kalashnikov. As Samuel L. Jackson said: “AK-47. The very best there is. When you absolutely, positively got to kill every motherfucker in the room, accept no substitutes.” The gun is an icon. I am not trying to glorify it, rather to get my mind around perhaps the most significant- or pernicious- machine of my lifetime. There is one AK-47 for every seven people on Earth. Seven million killing machines. In his book The Gun, C.J. Chivers uses the history of the AK-47 heuristically to explore laws of unintended consequences. Richard Gatling, the inventor of the machine gun, thought he was saving lives by reducing the need for large armies. The US invested untold amounts of time and money checking the Soviet Union’s nuclear ambitions, and yet it was the far end of the martial spectrum- the AK-47- that inflicted the lion’s share of the US’s Cold War casualties in Vietnam, many incurred while G.I.’s struggled to fix their M-16s. The AK-47 is an engineering marvel. It is nearly impossible to render unfirable. Kids can strip and re-assemble it in 30 seconds. Its stubborn refusal to fail at its primary task- killing people as rapidly as possible- makes it an ideal military arm. Last year the coalition troops in Afghanistan recovered a first run AK-47, made c. 1950. In its 60 year career, how many lives did it take? These are the types of questions Chivers tries to ask and answer. Frequently his book departs from the primary narrative. He tracks the development of the AK-47 and contrasts its success in the rice-paddies of SE Asia with the M-16’s failure. Chivers’ book is a marvel of cultural history. It avoids the most technical and controversial questions- many unanswerable given the official veil of secrecy surrounding the gun’s development- but it explores the way in which a simple machine can change the course of history. The book is a fascinating read for anyone, especially for those turned off by military history. The gun has defined our times, at least we should understand it.
- zachstone posted this