While many cities and campuses in the USA are frantically rushing to remove statues and other monuments – today Confederate Civil War soldiers, tomorrow, who knows? – Russia this past week unveiled a new statue commemorating one of its most consequential citizens of recent times.
A thirty foot high pedestal bearing a sixteen foot statue of Mikhail Kalashnikov was unveiled at an intersection in Moscow’s Garden Ring Road. The statue cradles in its arms Kalashnikov’s eponymous invention, the AK-47 rifle.
Kalashnikov was an officer who ultimately rose to the rank of general in the Red Army during what the Russians called the “Great Patriotic War” (World War II). He came up with the idea for his rifle while recuperating from a war wound. While in the hospital, he heard numerous complaints from soldiers about the inadequacy of their firearms as opposed to the ones used by the invading German army. He succeeded in designing an inexpensive to manufacture rifle that was light, reliable, easy to maintain. It was so successful that today there are estimated to be over 100 million of the AK-47 design in military and private hands.
Although the AK-47 has been characterized as an “assault rifle” Kalashnikov claimed to have designed it mainly as a defensive weapon. Regardless, it has been used by terrorists and counter-terrorists, governments and insurgents, as well as hunters and other sportsmen. It is so reliable and easy to maintain that some have called it “peasant proof.” Having fired one (semi-automatic version), I can attest to its accuracy, light recoil, and ease of field stripping for cleaning.
Some Russians and many others have criticized the honoring of Kalashnikov because it has killed and maimed numerous soldiers and civilians. It is more accurate to say that many persons have killed others using an AK-47, or, for that matter numerous other designs of firearms and weapons. Unfortunately, war and violence are part of the human condition, and that is unlikely to change. Lethal weapons have been around since the first caveman picked up a stick to defend against (or attack) another human or animal. Since Samuel Colt invented the six-shooter, the little guy has had at least a fighting chance against the big guy.
“I’m proud of my invention, but I’m sad that it is used by terrorists,” he once said according to Russian network RT as The Two-Way reported. “I would prefer to have invented a machine that people could use and that would help farmers with their work — for example a lawnmower.” Ultimately, that would be the preference of most of us. But as the late Texas historian T. R. Fehrenbach observed, “in this world there are tigers.” For as long as that is so, weapons like the AK-47 are necessary.