Death of an armsmaker

Everything that is complicated is useless; everything useful is simple.”



That was the motto of a man who designed one of the most popular ‘gadgets’ of the modern world, a philosophy that would heartily have been endorsed by many contemporary innovators. But Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov was no Steve Jobs or Eric Schmidt. His invention, the Avtomat Kalashnikova model 1947, the notorious AK-47, has killed more people than any other firearm in human history.

Born in a collective farm in Siberia in 1919, the Russian arms enthusiast, who passed away on Monday, invented the assault rifle for the protection of his motherland. “I have no regrets and bear no responsibility for how politicians have used it,” he once remarked. “I am sad that it is used by terrorists. I would prefer to have invented a machine that people like farmers could use, like a lawnmower.”

Kalashnikov designed the weapon towards the end of World War II, but it was rarely ever used for the protection of the former Soviet Union. The authorities outsourced production of the weapon to franchises in its satellite states in Eastern Europe and to regimes in China and North Korea. During the Cold War, AK-47s were exported to guerrillas waging war against colonial regimes and later even to terrorists taking on established governments.

Fans and users of the deadly weapon have venerated it over the years. Osama bin Laden was photographed with the assault rifle, Afghans have weaved its designs in their carpets, the Mozambique national flag features an AK-47 with a bayonet attached to the barrel, and American rap singers have glorified the weapon. Kalashnikov once claimed that even American soldiers dumped their M16 rifles in Vietnam, picking up AK-47s from opponents felled in skirmishes.

The inventor of the deadliest and most popular weapon in human history, however, never gained financially from his rifle. Though he was bestowed with many prestigious awards by the erstwhile Soviet rulers and the present Russian regime, Kalashnikov led a simple life in the Urals. The weapons designer, who also wrote poems, always aspired to be a poet; perhaps modern history would have been different had he pursued his literary ambitions.


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