The creator of the AK-47 assault rifle seeks mercy; regrets its use
66 years later, the Avtomat Kalashikova remains the world’s most ubiquitously used weapon, estimated in contributing – even in relatively “quiet” years – to the deaths of a quarter of a million of the world’s population per annum. Developed in the Soviet Union in 1947, used by its forces in 1949, the AK-47 assault rifle will undoubtedly endure for many decades more – a solemn fact that certainly contributed to its creator seeking mercy and forgiveness for his contribution to its existence. Mikhail Kalashnikov died late last month, two days before Christmas, at the age of 94. He lived to see and feel and weigh the horrors his invention was used to inflict; he lived with the astonishing fact that Kalashnikovs make up more than one in ten of all firearms, and are the weapon of choice for armies made up of drugged, deluded and manipulated child soldiers. In 2010, the then 91 year old Kalashnikov wrote the Russia Orthodox Church to ask a question I think he regrettably knew the answer to: was the blood shed by the weapon over the more than half a century since he created it, on his hands? “My spiritual pain is unbearable,” he wrote. “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 church told him not to dwell on the matter too heavily in his twilight years. Its press secretary, Cyril Alexander Volkov, wrote in a reply to Kalashnikov that, “The Church has a very definite position: when weapons serve to protect the Fatherland, the Church supports both its creators and the soldiers who use it.” The press secretary was later quoted as saying, “He designed this rifle to defend his country, not so terrorists could use it in Saudi Arabia.”
The church’s position is, I think, correct. It’s difficult to impart much guilt on Kalashnikov for his creation, meant for the safeguarding of his country against the better-equipped Nazi invaders, especially since he could not have foreseen the abominable future misuse of it, and feels obvious regret and remorse for that misuse. It’s noteworthy to remind ourselves that Kalashnikov is not the first – nor will he be the last – weapon inventor who has expressed regret and remorse for their contributions. The namesake of the Nobel Peace Prize, Alfred Nobel, expressed similar remorse when his creation of dynamite – meant to be used as an instrument of peace – was used to wreak untold havoc throughout the breadth of the First World War. The nuclear scientists that developed the nuclear bomb(s) dropped on Japan during the Second World War pleaded with President Truman to not use the weapon to such effect. Even Albert Einstein, who famously consulted with President Roosevelt to urge his continued research on developing the bomb, expressed remorse: “Had I known that the Germans would not succeed in producing an atomic bomb, I would have never lifted a finger.”
Still, as RT.com notes, “AK-47s have caused more deaths than artillery fire, airstrikes and rocket attacks combined.” It’s easy then to understand why the man responsible for that creation feels such pangs about the millions who have lost their lives because of something he invented. In 2007, Kalashnikov was posed a question of the state of his conscience, and confidently replied, “I sleep well. It’s the politicians, who are to blame for failing to come to an agreement and resorting to violence.” It seems obvious that Kalashnikov is in some ways morally responsible for the weapon he created, but it’s perhaps unfair of us to depart on him much blame for the horrors perpetuated by the Avtomat Kalashikova. It was a weapon created for the defence of a people; it was meant for bringing about the end of a terrible war against a terrible foe. But wars were waged long before 1947, and will be waged for the entirety of our species’ time on this planet. We are all culpable for the millions who have given way to our frightful waging of war, not just Mikhail Kalashnikov.
Photo Credit: (Above) AK-47 assault rifle courtesy of Flickr user Brian nairB; (Below) Ethiopian National Defense Force 1st Lieutenant Ayella Gissa takes aim with an AK-47 assault rifle on a simulated enemy during a practical exercise as part of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa’s train the trainer course in Hurso, Ethiopia, December 27, 2006, courtesy of wikicommons.