The loyal Kalashnikov

by on December 23, 2013 at 1:12 pm in History, Science | Permalink

Later in life, he disapproved of anyone who he thought had hastened the Soviet Union’s downfall, or who had been unable to control the political and economic turbulence that followed. In memoirs and interviews, he was harshly critical of Mikhail S. Gorbachev and Boris N. Yeltsin.

To the end he remained loyal to what he called Socialist ideals and the leaders who gave them shape, and seemed untroubled by the hardships endured by his family during the early years of Soviet rule. His family’s land and home had been seized during collectivization, and when he was a child the family was deported into the Siberian wilderness. His father died during their first Siberian winter, and one of his brothers labored for seven years as a prisoner digging the White Sea canal.

Still, General Kalashnikov spoke of his great respect for Lenin and Stalin alike. “I never knew him personally,” he said of Stalin, “and I regret this.”

There is more here.  I think of him as one of the last tinkerer-inventors from the mechanical tradition, which stretched through the twentieth century but is becoming increasingly obsolete.  Precisely because he was from this tradition, his famed rifle was relatively easy to fix, clean, and maintain, easy to equip with interchangeable spare parts, and thus it was easy to use for killing people in poorer countries with lower levels of the division of labor.  There is a good Wikipedia page on the rifle here.  He will go down in history as a good example of what was wrong with much of the twentieth century

Michael December 23, 2013 at 1:27 pm

I think it can be said that is is probably the only person who came out ahead in the Communist system, maybe add in too a couple of Cosmonauts. He is too young to know or understand his family loss of land from collectivization. Political “winners” in the Soviet system rarely were, and merely had to deal with increasing amounts of politicization and paranoia. Few others were celebrated to the degree that they could manage a comfortable life in the USSR, without the headaches and backstabbing of politics.

Willitts December 23, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Stockholm Syndrome

Thor December 23, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Ha ha! +1

(Also, insert joke about the Sovietization of Sweden, etc.)

Frederic Mari December 23, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Yes and no.

As I mentioned before, I live in Ukraine. Plenty of people, young and old, regret the communist days. Not the paranoia or the lack of material goods per se, of course but the feeling of stability and the absence of major risks.

When markets have delivered instability and poverty and thievery by the supertanker-full (bucket doesn’t seem big enough to convey the scale of it), it is no wonder that people decide to overlook/forget the less savoury aspects of the USSR.

Also, national pride. The USSR was feared and revered. To some people (patriots?), such things matter.

Willitts December 23, 2013 at 4:37 pm

He became an apologist for the state and a loyal follower of Stalin long before the fall of the Soviet Union. Stalin literally sent his family to Siberia and killed his brother. Even if, in the best light, he produced weapons to save his homeland from Nazis and other potential threats, he does not now need to praise Stalin. Even if praising Stalin during his lifetime was a survival mechanism, why is he maintaining the facade now? If, as a hero to the USSR he feels compelled to remain loyal, does he privately feel anger, regret, and shame? His loyalty appears unabashed.

My family fled Poland from both the Nazis and Soviet Union. As much as I admire the AK and StG as marvelous mechanical devices, I can’t resist associating them with oppression. Their users seem to covet them as a symbol of their evil as much as their practical usage.

Rahul December 23, 2013 at 9:30 pm

+1 for Stockholm Syndrome.

freethinker December 23, 2013 at 9:21 pm

Mari is right. The immediate aftermath of the fall of communism in Soviet Russia was economic turmoil. We libertarians have to admit that most people did suffer a lot from the dissolution of the health care system which offered free treatment, and a superb school system. Even Jagdish Bhagwati says the shift to the market economy ought to have been more gradual

Doug December 23, 2013 at 10:19 pm

What? The Eastern European countries that left the USSR for the EU-sphere, like Czech, the Baltic states or Slovenia embraced free markets much more wholeheartedly. Yet there GDP per capita has risen by a factor of eight or more. Barely any time or place in human history has seen such rapidly rising living standards, particularly over the relatively stagnant previous two decades.

If Russia turned into a (more of a) craphole after de-Sovietization it was due to good old fashion Russian thievery and corruption. Certainly free markets aren’t to blame. We have a very natural experiment, different countries de-Sovietizing at exactly the same time under the same circumstances. The ones that are the least culturally Russian do the best (a good litmus test is whether they use the Cyrillic alphabet), as do the ones that become most free market. The historical record is quite unambiguous

Frederic Mari December 24, 2013 at 1:53 am

Sorry, Doug but that’s utter bollocks.

For example, you don’t seem to consider tiny details such as the fact that the USA and especially the EU poured billions in countries like Poland and not in countries like, say, Ukraine.

Also the cultural factors were not uniform – Poland, for example, maintained a small private sector while there was no such thing in the USSR proper.

And thievery and corruption cannot be strictly Russian cultural factor since it seems quite prevalent in Kazakhstan etc, which aren’t Russian… It would be simpler to admit that corruption rises when the situation allows for it and that the ‘transition’ was so thoroughly fucked up it was perfect for it.

It’s not a question of faster/slower free markets per se, imho. It was a matter of keeping the rules of the game fair and keeping the rules of law functioning throughout. We help make sure they didn’t and that would be the portion of the blame the West/we should recognise, so as not to repeat the mistakes made.

anon December 23, 2013 at 1:34 pm

“He will go down in history as a good example of what was wrong with much of the twentieth century”

Care to explain this statement?

Willitts December 23, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Does it really require explanation?

Ask yourself, then answer: what was most wrong with the 20th century?

JasonL December 23, 2013 at 1:48 pm

I’m struggling with the implication in terms of this guy and his product being somehow uniquely representative of a 20th century problem. You wouldn’t go with the Cuban Missile Crisis or something there?

Willitts December 23, 2013 at 4:42 pm

There was a lot of death and destruction before the Cuban Missile Crisis, and I don’t think Tyler meant that the AK was the exclusive symbol of mass murder. In fact, most of the century’s deaths occurred before the AK was invented.

The AK is a cheap, efficient, and ubiquitous dealer of death. It spread throughout the world like a plague. Patterned on the Sturmgewehr and other earlier automatic weapons, it epitomizes the killing machines both before and after it.

Not even a mushroom cloud would adequately represent what happened in the 20th century. The question is whether the AK will epitomize the 21st century.

Sigivald December 23, 2013 at 6:33 pm

And that explanation conflates a tool with an act – which is both practically and morally ridiculous.

As Mises said in Human Action, “The root of the evil is not the construction of new, more dreadful weapons. It is the spirit of conquest.”

A Kalashnikov in hands not bent on murder or rapine is harmless; a machete or shovel in hands that wish to destroy is a deadly weapon (see Rwanda).

(Also, if one looks closely at pictures of various insurgent, rebel, or paramilitary groups throughout, say, Africa, one actually sees quite a few G3 and FAL-pattern rifles, amongst the various AKs.)

farmer December 23, 2013 at 10:32 pm

pace Sigivald, there is absolutely NOT a lot of FALs vis-a-vis AKs. An FAL is ~$1k USD, an AK is ~$300USD.
Recall the AK is actually literally the national symbol of the country of Mocambique, having a prominent spot right there on the national flag.

Willitts December 24, 2013 at 1:50 am

Sig, I am FAR from one to blame a weapon rather than the person who wields it. But this particular weapon, as acknowledged by every author, is symbolic and has a cult-like devotion, not dissimilar to iPhones.

People in the backwaters of the world literally equate Kalashnikov ownership with power the way an American frontiersman viewed his land. To a much smaller extent, the Colt .45 embodied a similar passion.

But a Kalashnikov is not a six-shot revolver. It is a cheap and ubiquitous heavy submachinegun. It dominates the legendary Thompson of Prohibition Era gangsters by its sheer numbers.

Children around the world hope to grow up and own a Kalashnikov. It is the symbol of a cult of evil.

derek December 23, 2013 at 5:17 pm

How many people died in the Cuban Missile Crisis? How many people died in, to pick a place, Angola?

The nuclear standoff produced an uncharacteristic and ahistorical time of peace and prosperity. The proxy wars were the ugly places instead of a russian invasion of europe.

anon December 23, 2013 at 2:05 pm

I wasn’t sure what the statement referred to. It’s juxtaposition next to the comment about him as a mechanical tinkerer caused confusion….maybe just for me.

Shane M December 23, 2013 at 6:08 pm

anon, fwiw I didn’t follow either.

Rahul December 23, 2013 at 9:40 pm

+1. I thought it was an odd thing to say too.

Willitts December 24, 2013 at 1:59 am

Come on, this is easy. It’s like looking at Oleander and wondering how something so delicate and pretty can be so deadly. Duality makes marvelous juxtaposition.

Then there is irony, such as the Gatling Gun being invented by a doctor.

Must Tyler always elaborate or can he provide us puzzles and thought-provoking enigmas every once in a while. I value this site because he invites us to think rather than trying to think for us.

prior_approval December 23, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Mechanical tinkering?

Because really, starting with chemical warfare (developed and first used by a monarchy) and aircraft (developed and used by both monarchies and republics), then nuclear weapons (a republic, subsequently copied by a totalitarian dictatorship), the real problem with the 20th century seems to be ever more incessantly destructive warfare, practiced by pretty much all forms of government. All of those political forms seemingly being able to justify the necessity of mass slaughter because other forms exist.

So Much For Subtlety December 23, 2013 at 6:35 pm

But warfare has not become more destructive. It has become increasingly less so. As the Old Regime took a monopoly of power into its own hands, it made warfare less blood thirsty and violent. The French Revolution made a partial reversal to that, but after Vienna, the Europeans continued to make war less common and less violent.

That changed with the Russian Revolution where once more the Revolutionaries unleased insensate violence on the world. But this time, they linked it with a cheap and simple weapon. They built the AK-47 and all its little off spring. And distributed them cheaply across the world. Now any two bit punk can kidnap a bunch of children – and it is important that the guns are light enough for a 12 year old to use – and buy some guns – they are cheap and ubiquitous – and he is set as a War Lord. The UN will reward him with food aid. The Western media will interview him with respect. But down in the countryside, random acts of unbelievable violence not seen in the West since the 30 Years War are the norm.

After all, how many people have been killed by nuclear weapons? Now, how many have been killed with AK-47s?

The solution is to return the monopoly of violence to the governments of the world, and return power in those governments to the most reactionary elements possible.

Charlie December 23, 2013 at 8:37 pm

Increasingly less so? I would argue it was decreasingly more so.

chuck martel December 23, 2013 at 9:12 pm

You’re obviously repelled by the vision of a young African thug or a Pashtun tribesman waving an AK-47 around. But you’re not so disturbed by a USAF captain in a modular building at a US base in Missouri moving around a joy stick that sends a Predator drone after a group of people on the other side of the globe. since the officer is licensed to do so by a nation/state. At least the guy wielding the AK-47 has some level of personal contact with his victims. He doesn’t knock off at 3:30 and jump into the Toyota and head home for some Seinfeld re-runs and a pizza with the wife and kids.

Marie December 23, 2013 at 9:28 pm

Am I missing something in your analysis? I don’t see how WWI fits into this picture, especially considering your last line.

So Much For Subtlety December 23, 2013 at 9:31 pm

I am not thrilled by drones. The Western tradition is face to face fighting. Homer mocked Paris for his reliance on a bow and his refusal to get to grips with the enemy. But at least Paris was on the same continent.

However drones are still vastly more preferable. They are operated by legal governments bound by law. They enforce the State’s monopoly on violence. They are used cautiously by basically decent people.

Although this may sound like a contradiction, if you think the guy who gets in his Prius and drives to Whole Foods on his way home is worse than the guy who asks his victims if they want short sleeves or long sleeves, you need to re-think. The guy wielding the AK-47 hacks people arms off, goes home to the sex slave he kidnapped at 12 for some weed and cold pizza. You think this is preferable? Interesting.

chuck martel December 23, 2013 at 10:39 pm

“However drones are still vastly more preferable. They are operated by legal governments bound by law. They enforce the State’s monopoly on violence. They are used cautiously by basically decent people.”

Who determines the legality of a government? By what law is it bound? Maybe you can make the case that the State’s monopoly on violence forbids its own subjects from using any violence anywhere but that obviously can’t extend to the citizens of other sovereign states, can it? Why would death by drone be preferable to death by AK-47? OK, it’s not the death of the target that’s important, he’s just dead. What’s important is the self-image of the killer. The killer that enables, through the nation/state process, a drone mission doesn’t get any splashes of blood on his sleeves, doesn’t have to see the urine soaking through the pants of the dead, doesn’t have to listen to the wails of the survivors. He can read about it or otherwise reflect on it but he’s detached from personal responsibility. One of the “basically decent people” has made the decision, like Harry Truman deciding to drop a nuclear weapon on a bunch of Japanese girls on their way to school at 8:15 am on August 6, 1945.

JosieB December 24, 2013 at 1:58 pm

It may be nicer to think only legitimate governments will deploy drones, but why should we think terrorist organizations will not start sending their own drones? The Taliban and Al Queda have sophisticated communications networks and innovative bomb designers. It seems only a matter of time before they adopt this relatively cheap technology to achieve their ends.

Z December 23, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Kalashnikov was an American baby boomer?

Willitts December 23, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Baby boomers are fitting for describing the problems of the United States in the 20th century.

The AK was a worldwide problem.

Sigivald December 23, 2013 at 6:35 pm

The rifle is not a problem.

It’s an inanimate piece of metal, unable to affect anyone more than, oh – practically – a few hundred yards away from it.

The world’s problems, this past century, were warring states and ideologies, directly or by proxy.

Those are what led to child soldiers, foreign-supported proxy rebellions, mass exterminations, and all the rest.

(Now, if Kalashnikov, the man, will go down as an example of what was wrong with the century, it’ll be for his [willful?] blindness to the horrors of Communism and his support for it, not for inventing a slightly cheaper, slightly more maintainable automatic rifle for the Red Army.)

Z December 23, 2013 at 9:12 pm

Come now Sigivald. Everyone knows that if you shape metal in a certain way it causes some people to kill and others to kill themselves. You don’t deny scientific consensus, do ya?

Willitts December 24, 2013 at 2:09 am

The whole point of the article and several books is that the AK is cheap, ubiquitous, easy to use, and has a cult-like following.

It is also a little more than a garden-variety weapon. It is a fully-automatic submachinegun with a large caliber projectile. Think of the image of a Thompson submachinegun multiplied by 100,000 and spread throughout the world, and held by people who want to spread marxist dogma.

USSR, China, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Angola, Vietnam, Al Qaeda – a who’s who of evil.

dead serious December 24, 2013 at 9:11 am

Yeah, why blame death on an AK-47? It’s a poor, innocent, inanimate object with no specific purpose in mind. Like agent orange or an A-bomb, these are harmless, hmmm, things. In fact, the more there are of these things in the hands of the populace, the better. Fuck you, it’s my right to bear arms, motherfucker!!!!!!!!!

You could use an AK-47 to baste a ham, for example. Or to cut your grass, walk your dog. You know, it has just *so* many intended uses!

I guess in a pinch you could use it to hunt deer or grouse. If you’re a fucking pussy.

Careless December 25, 2013 at 8:30 pm

. It is a fully-automatic submachinegun with a large caliber projectile

no and no. It’s a rifle, not a submachine gun, and it has a small caliber projectile (a 7.62 mm is 50% smaller diameter than the Tommy Gun is chambered for)

Careless December 25, 2013 at 8:30 pm

er, sorry, the Tommy gun’s .45 is 50% larger

mulp December 23, 2013 at 11:21 pm

“what was most wrong with the 20th century?”

Blaming politicians for using violence to settle disputes?

In other words, more violence to settle political disputes would have made the century better?

Tangurena December 24, 2013 at 10:35 am

All the wars that started because Gavrilo Princip shot Archduke Ferdinand: WW1, Communist revolutions, WW2, Cold War, the middle East.

JasonL December 23, 2013 at 1:43 pm

I too would like to see this unpacked a bit. Unpacking oblique statements is somewhere in the MR bylaws a forbidden practice, so I don’t think we’ll get to see it, but still …

(Not That) Bill O'Reilly December 23, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Well for starters, his willful ignorance of how horrific communism was (and is) in practice was probably one of the more destructive political attitudes to gain popularity in the 20th century.

Additionally, the fact that his invention facilitated a number of bloody conflicts makes him a useful symbol in that regard, even if he isn’t really personally culpable for any of those.

Thor December 23, 2013 at 2:00 pm

The banality of his evil?

Nikki December 23, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Imagine you’ve spent 70 years making all sorts of sacrifices in an effort to defeat a monstrous enemy. How likely would you be to subscribe to the notion that the enemy has been right the whole time and your story, formerly known as a heroic quest for the greater good, lies somewhere between misery and tragedy? No wonder he stood his ground.

Willitts December 23, 2013 at 4:48 pm

Tyler presented the AK as an objective symbol of 20th century problems. He wasn’t asking Kalashnikov to renounce his life’s work.

The last quote of Kalashnikov in the article is fitting: he developed the weapon for a noble purpose and he is not going to lose sleep worrying about how it was misused. This doesn’t change the fact that it has been misused to great effect. One could proffer the M-16 as a poignant symbol of 20th century horror, but it really falls short in its populist mystique, ubiquity, and association with terrorism and marxist revolutionaries.

Rahul December 23, 2013 at 10:06 pm

Yes, but that’s more the weapon not the man.

It’s like saying Einstein symbolized the worst of the Japanese theater of war.

chuck martel December 23, 2013 at 9:14 pm

For a second there, you seemed to be talking about Obama.

Thereal Kalashnikov December 24, 2013 at 1:19 am

The talk about the gun is just beside the point. Sergeant Kalashnikov was not “the” inventor of the rifle. Many engineers, including some of the best being held in technical parts of the GULag, worked on designing the weapon, feature by feature. Kalashnikov was so dedicated to Stalin and the Soviets because he became a famous man, installed as the peasant figurehead to associate with the rifle.

That the guns are cheap and reliable is of course a plus to would-be revolutionaries, as it is to elephant poachers. (Yes, elephants.) If it were not the AK it would be some other design, perhaps an evolution of the Stgw. The world wasn’t such a wonderful place 200 years ago, with disease and slavery fixed aspects of life almost everywhere, and tyrants ruling much of the world. Things today are not so bad. The mishandling of US finances and education are much more a threat than rebellions in Mozambique or Bolivia. Every nation born of revolution seems to put a rifle on its flag. The pre-1948 israeli groups did the same. Which rifle? It really doesn’t matter.

Willitts December 23, 2013 at 1:45 pm

My name is Mikhail Kalashnikov. You killed my father. Please accept this weapon in gratitude.

Rahul December 23, 2013 at 10:11 pm

My name is Mikhail Kalashnikov. I lived my life doing what I was good at doing and becoming great at it.

Willitts December 24, 2013 at 7:51 am

And what of his family?

I’m trying hard to think of an American analog to help me understand him in the most favorable light.

How about a Japanese American whose family was sent to an internment camp and lost their business and property. In the camp, his brother died of tuberculosis. He volunteers for the Army and is decorated for bravery fighting the Germans.

The US Supreme Court ruled the internment unconstitutional, so there was some measure of justice. Roosevelt wasn’t an evil, murdering dictator. Still, I find it hard for our soldier to admire Roosevelt for having exiled his family, stolen his property, and killing his brother indirectly.

We are talking about Stalin here.

Rahul December 24, 2013 at 9:56 am

I agree the gratitude was misplaced. Some version of Stockholm syndrome, possibly.

I wish it were something like “You killed my father. I can’t do much about that so, screw that, might as well devote myself to the thing I’m really good at. “

chuck martel December 23, 2013 at 1:59 pm

He wasn’t alone in his sentiments. There are plenty more that feel the same way. Even in other countries, like the US.

Z December 23, 2013 at 3:16 pm

I think you are referring to academics. That’s unfair. There are a few here and there who reject totalitarianism.

J. Otto Pohl December 24, 2013 at 6:38 am

In the Us there are few academics that oppose totalitarianism here and there. But, only a few. Far less than exist in Africa and other places.

prior_approval December 23, 2013 at 2:05 pm

‘I think of him as one of the last tinkerer-inventors from the mechanical tradition, which stretched through the twentieth century but is becoming increasingly obsolete.’

‘He will go down in history as a good example of what was wrong with much of the twentieth century’

A fascinating juxtaposition – but about par for a GMU academic (well, any academic really, but I only have broad experience of the GMU variety – which is anything but an engineering school, of course).

A juxtapostion, one most also note, coming from the same person that considers ‘servant’ a viable, and apparently desirable, future profession.

Brian Donohue December 23, 2013 at 2:12 pm

As far as ‘viable’, I didn’t think this was a matter of opinion. You should go around and tell everyone who currently makes a living as a servant that what they are doing is not viable.

As far as ‘apparently desirable’, well, only you can account for what goes on in your fetid brain.

prior_approval December 23, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Well, would you prefer the words ‘increasingly likely to be employed by those with wealth’?

Because strangely enough, I remember a time when no self-respecting academic, much less any American economist, would have suggested to someone born in the 1950s 0r 1960s that it would be better to look at becoming a servant for the wealthy than actually learning something obsolete, like skills involving mechanical processes or objects.

Germany remains remarkably behind the curve on this – probably because Germans think making things is eminently preferable to being a servant. This might have something to do with the fact that it took Germans a long time to get rid of people thinking they were entitled to having servants.

Brian Donohue December 23, 2013 at 2:57 pm

As far as ‘increasingly likely to be employed by those with wealth’, are you suggesting people should be employed by those without wealth? Do you even read what you write?

But of course, in your silly little tinkertoy world, big daddy gubmint can do the employing. Which brings us back full circle to the concept of ‘viable.’ I sure hope you’re around for a couple more decades.

Vivian Darkbloom December 23, 2013 at 4:28 pm

For my entire career I always seemed to work for people who made more money than I did and who were “wealthy” by most standards, if not “wealthier” than I was. I could never really figure out why that should be so. I guess that made me a “servant”. As a retired “servant” I can vouch for the fact that it is both viable and desirable.

Anthony December 23, 2013 at 2:35 pm

How many people who work as servants in the U.S. are actually called that, versus “gardener”, “Housekeeper”, “Nanny”, “au pair”, “cleaning lady”, or other such titles?

prior_approval December 23, 2013 at 2:49 pm

See the link to Marginal Revolution in the post below – Prof. Tabarrok certainly considers all those terms to be part of the servant class, also known as ‘jobs in the personal service sector.’

Bernard Guerrero December 23, 2013 at 3:50 pm

The guys who cut lawns in our neighborhood generally do so in a capital-intensive fashion, sitting on a large gasoline-powered machine that they dragged there using an even more expensive gasoline-powered machine. Just sayin’.

prior_approval December 23, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Some words from Prof. Tabarrok’s brain –

‘Many jobs in the personal service sector, however, do offer significant autonomy and room for creativity–for example, personal chefs, gardeners, high-end nannies, pilots, publicists and tutors.’ http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2013/07/income-inequality-and-the-servant-boom.html

And let us again repeat the title of that post – ‘Income Inequality and the Servant Boom.’ Almost as if someone expects a large underclass to provide a boom in servants available for the use of a wealthy upper class. Which is the historical pattern, of course, with only a few notable exceptions where that trend was either in decline or virtually non-existent. Oddly, the most notable exception was the era known as the Industrial Revolution – which apparently is drawing to a close, at least among the leading lights at the Marginal Revolution. A web site that states it is all about small steps to a much better world. One where a boom in servants is apparently coming, because that better world seemingly includes the perspective that servants ‘are also likely to be more immune to competition from the robots.’

And to think I can remember a time when the vast majority of pilots that were paid were either what used to be quaintly called ‘service members’ or ‘union members.’ Now, it seems, it looks like people that have the skills to fly can look forward to be at the beck and call of those seemingly unwilling to be burdened by using scheduled airline service.

John Schilling December 23, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Well, it’s not like the people who are providing scheduled airline service have any use for people that have the skills to actually fly an airplane, so the pilots might as well get jobs elsewhere.

So Much For Subtlety December 23, 2013 at 6:37 pm

Really? P-A is actually arguing that supporting domestic servants is worse than murdering millions?

chuck martel December 23, 2013 at 6:41 pm

“significant autonomy and creativity . . . .vast majority of pilots”
Are those two phrases somehow supposed to be related? Pilots that indulge in autonomy and creativity aren’t pilots for very long.

sailordave December 23, 2013 at 3:01 pm

there are still tinkerers. Cary Mullis, Jobs, Wozniak, and “captain crunch” were tinkerers, as are many hackers and roboticists. the Mythbusters. the Duck Dynasty guy who got rich inventing a good duck call. an economist should not get overly caught up in whether a form of innovation is mechanical, electric, sonic, or software.

Willitts December 23, 2013 at 4:53 pm

There is a remarkable elegance to the simplicity of this firearm, shared with several others such as the Glock. Beyond mere tools, they evoke a menacing symbolism and spirit of violence unleashed on the world. The AK made machineguns cheap and ubiquitous.

God made men in his image, but Samuel Colt made them equal. Mikhail Kalashnikov made men evil dealers of mass death and oppression.

Sigivald December 23, 2013 at 6:49 pm

“The AK made machineguns cheap and ubiquitous”

I think the history of firearms would beg to differ on that.

Oh, the AK was one of the first mass-adopted automatic rifles, but that’s just the luck of the times – after WW2, it was inevitable that every military would adopt an automatic standard rifle (even if many or most of them rolled back a bit and went to burst modes or semi-auto later).

Machineguns, however, are not hard to make; it’s arguably significantly easier to make a submachinegun than it is to make a semi-automatic pistol. An open bolt and fixed firing pin is easy; a disconnector and closed bolt is comparatively hard.

(Remember that the M3, the Sten, and the MP-40 were all cheap, effective submachineguns made in the WW2 era.

The AK was just the first cheap, mass-produced thing to use an intermediate-power cartridge; that was the real novelty, and that was ripped right from the Germans in the StG-44, which ushered in the new era in small arms doctrine.

The AK is a good design, and had lucky timing. That’s it. It didn’t “make men evil dealers of mass death and oppression” – they already were that throughout history.)

So Much For Subtlety December 23, 2013 at 9:46 pm

But you forget the main point – the AK-47 was a cheap weapon in the hands of mass murderers. Who distributed all over the world to as many other mass murderers as they could. And then the system collapsed and the vast stocks they had accumulated in anticipation of our liberation, they dumped on the world at rock bottom prices.

The Sten gun posed virtually no risk of being a weapon of mass murder. Because the British built it. The Finns and South Africans may have copied the AK-47. But few have died at their hands.

Willitts December 28, 2013 at 2:48 am

Yes, exactly. I think others pointed out Tyler was talking about the man. Unquestioning servility to evil men, even despite personal reasons to hate them, was another facet of 20th century failings.

steve December 23, 2013 at 5:03 pm

C J Chivers wrote a book (The Gun) about the AK. Kalashnikov probably didnt do most of the design of the weapon.

Steve

Ray Lopez December 23, 2013 at 10:15 pm

Good point, then again even the M1, the US standard weapon, was a team design.

As for worship of Stalin, this is very common in the ex-USSR. As for an old man waxing nostalgic about ‘the good ole days’, this too is a common psychological trait on old age.

As for the merits of the AK vs other guns, I don’t want to start a flame war, but I rather be a solder in the US Army, with an M-1 rifle, than a Nazi with a Gewehr or a Soviet with an SVT-40 rifle. The US only lost about 300k people in both theatres of war–I believe Yugoslavia lost more than that– not to mention the tens of millions between Germany and the USSR, which valued machines more than humans.

revver December 23, 2013 at 6:52 pm
Ben L December 24, 2013 at 12:00 am

One possible interpretation of Professor Cowen’s comment “He will go down in history as a good example of what was wrong with much of the twentieth century”:

Think of the 20th century as (amongst other things) a period of time in which very smart engineers and scientists served their states, via coercion, willingness or naiveté, in projects inflicting vast human suffering. That suffering was in some cases intentional, in other cases a byproduct of the pursuit of other ends.

Although states prior to the 20th century were also of course cruel, three new factors made the 20th century unique: 1) better tools for generating suffering, be they higher rate-of-fire weaponry or more extensive census records of ethnic minorities, 2) larger numbers of well-educated citizens to contribute to designing and executing programs of suffering, (education need not occur in school) and 3) particular types of ends-centric ideologies, such as eugenics and stalinism.

Prior to the 20th century, there might have been some hope that as average levels of education rose, intellectual resistance to those ideologies would have risen as well. Instead, what we have learned is that many very smart people are willing to aid states in projects that, without their expertise, would not have produced nearly as much suffering.

Kalashnikov is not Eichmann, obviously, but his life’s work was nonetheless a major contributor to suffering and tyranny, taken on net. Of course, producing more suffering was almost certainly not his intent, and that’s kind of the whole point.

Brian Donohue December 24, 2013 at 12:21 am

Good comment. Very near the mark, I think, although The Inscrutable One will prolly not confirm or deny.

Rahul December 24, 2013 at 3:50 am

I don’t think people changed. Professionals have often historically been a weapon of evil.

What changed is evil became efficient, just like so many other spheres of life. Killing people got assembly-lined.

Alexei Sadeski December 24, 2013 at 7:03 am

But statistically, wasn’t the pike more efficient that the AK?

Perhaps people liked that old up-close and personal touch.

Willitts December 24, 2013 at 8:12 am

Yes, that is the point, I think, Rahul.

Looking more closely at the man, though, his tinkering innovation was channeled into the war assembly line. He could have been designing other mechanical gizmos to enhance life.

I have great admiration for weapon designers like Colt, Browning, Stoner, Glock, and Kalashnikov. Their weapons are marvels of functionality, elegance, simplicity, durability, reliability and popularity. As you state so eloquently, in the 20th century, death was assembly lined.

Applies to Nazi concentration camps too. Murder was made efficient and cheap.

Willitts December 24, 2013 at 8:03 am

I think you are largely correct.

Unlike nuclear weapons, the AK is an individual arm, so every one of them represents a human being using it, more often than not for ill. The users, like Kalashnikov, justify violence with some ostensibly noble purpose but they are, in fact, puppets of evil dictators.

The weapon was mass produced, turning the engines of production into a war machine. Every arm produced was a diversion of resources from what would otherwise be life-enhancing uses. The AK, like the StG, was designed as a tool of offense, not defense.

The 20th century was the era of the dictator who rose to power with popular assent. Those dictators went on murderous rampages with mass produced weapons that came off assembly lines formerly used for novel inventions of pleasure.

The Anti-Gnostic December 24, 2013 at 11:18 am

I think the title suggests that Tyler believes rabid nationalism was what was wrong with the 20th century.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: