World’s Greatest Weapon of Mass Effect: the AK-47?

Image of 106 year old Armenian woman protecting her home (1990) courtesy of Historical Times. Image of 106 year old Armenian woman protecting her home (1990) courtesy of Historical Times.

Friday’s Last Word – Pull Pin, Throw Grenade, Run Away: A provocative thought to kick off the weekend…

I’m in a bit of a rush to leave Latvia today, but thought I could get one quick idea off before the long day of travel.  I’ve recently been listening to war correspondent C.J. Chivers of the New York Times speak publicly about his book, The Gun.  In his comments about the AK-47, Chivers estimates that there are approximately 100 million AK-47s in existence today, and that their prevalence is a product of three interrelated factors:

  1. The Soviet Union was a communist system in which production did not occur according to any sort of supply-and-demand relationship. Guns were often made as “deliverables” – tangible “carrots” to reinforce diplomatic relations with Warsaw Pact and states the USSR sought to influence.
  2. Today, ironically, these communist-made guns are moved around the world via the free (black) market.  He denies the legend that one can buy an AK-47 for a “chicken,” noting that often the going rate is between $600 and $800 (depending on the war zone).  Essentially: conflict ends, collect up the guns, move them to the next location where they are in high demand and short supply.
  3. They never break. He tells an amazing story about an Afghan he saw while on assignment covering the war there who had a gun that rolled off the Soviet line circa 1949-1950.  He asks the crowd: how many of you own or have any items that you use in your daily lives that are that 60+ years old?

Colin Gray has written, “The immediate product of strategy is strategic effect. This effect is registered in the willingness or ability of the enemy to begin or continue the struggle.”  If one specifically considers the back half of that definition – can you imagine another weapon that has had a greater impact on the willingness or ability of military forces worldwide to begin or continue to fight?  By that rationale, I think one might consider the AK-47 the world’s greatest weapon of mass effect in war – well beyond the impact of nuclear weapons.

For more to think about, here is the coverage of Kalashnikov’s recent passing, along with a great New York Times short video on the AK-47 at 60 years.

Author: ML Cavanaugh

Unequal parts strategist, assistant professor, wordsmith, runner, wine-o, reader, philosopher of firepower, and hopeless lover of three ladies named Rachel, Grace, and Georgie.

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