Several weeks after his death, the designer of the AK-47, was quoted posthumously as saying his invention had brought him unbearable “spiritual torment” and that torment was unbearable. Designed in the last year of World War II, many would consider the AK-47 a leftover. But the weapon had purchasing power: durability, low production cost, availability, and ease of use. Used by the Russian armed forces for decades, and copied by the Chinese, the weapon is also a favorite of freedom fighters, terrorists, rebels, militants and other non-state actors the world over – featured photo’d in the hands of child soldiers.
But can a designer be responsible for the incredible amount of death worldwide? Thinking for several days, I’ve come to the conclusion that the issue is too broad for one person’s sole responsibility. There’s a micro and macro level of events that must be parsed over prior to any personal indictment.
On the micro level, I was an 18-year-old post high school graduate when the military plopped an older M14 Sniper Rifle into my hands. Turns out I was a natural. I could see the wind-blowing via the trees, felt humidity levels and had an eerie ability to calculate distance and wind speed in half a second. I could shoot apples at 800 yards with little effort.
Upon engaging the enemy, there was only God and I. Unless it was night, target acquisition was easy. Scope to target and variables was calculated, insert the cartridge and halfway through exhalation, the shooter squeezed the trigger. There was always slight recoil, a quick grimace from the target followed by red juice. In less than three seconds, a man’s life ended.
At the macro level, I recall Major-General’s Carl von Clausewitz famous quote, “War is the continuation of Politik by other means.” Technically speaking, a weapon’s designer cannot be responsible for idiocy of leadership. As Eisenhower said, “… farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.” It is true of war as well.
Could any tribunal convict Kalashnikov death by an World War II deigned AK-47 in South Africa when murder received that weapon from a dealer in Botswana, who acquired that weapon from a drug lord in Ethiopia, who purchased that weapon from an arms trader in Lybia, who procured the weapon during a weapons trade one year earlier in Afghanistan who received the weapon from a corrupt military officer in another part of the world? Are not all these traders and buyers equally guilty? And is the rest of world, including you and I just as responsible for turning a blind eye?
Having been in almost every one of the places just mentioned, that murder would have occurred … regardless of weapon of choice.
“The longer I live, the more often that question gets into my brain, the deeper I go in my thoughts and guesses about why the Almighty allowed humans to have devilish desires of envy, greed and aggression,” Kalashnikov continued.
The question whether a specific weapon or war is ever justified, and if so under what circumstances, is one which has forced itself upon the attention of all thoughtful men. The objects for which men have fought in the past, whether just or unjust, can no longer be achieved by war itself. From a personal perspective, from time to time, I am haunted by those last few seconds seen through a scope. I still see the terror and fear.
So I ask you my loyal readers. While I haven’t fired a weapon in the 30 years since leaving the military, I reflect upon Mikhail Kalashnikov comment, “If my assault rifle took people’s lives that means that I, The Unknown Buddhist, … am responsible for people’s deaths?”
War is a strange game. Maybe as “Joshua” (War Games 1983 film) said, “The only winning move is not to play.”