Today, Lieutenant-General Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov is 90.
As he accepts his awards from President Medvedev, the designer of the world’s most famous assault rifle looks back on a life well-lived, with about 100 million of his rapid-fire babies on the face of the planet.
He has no regrets about producing the AK-47. If the Germans hadn’t started the war, I’d have made lawnmowers, he said, conjuring up the weirdest of images. Afghan tribesmen driving away the invaders of their land with improvised cylinder mowers and strimmers.
Be off, infidels, or we’ll destroy you with a neat chequerboard pattern that looks great in the floodlights!
Mikhail Timofeyevich’s design wasn’t unique. He combined elements of two American rifles and the German StG44 to produce a weapon that could be stripped down and rebuilt by a freezing Russian soldier inside the Arctic circle, while wearing fur gloves and, one presumes, other clothes as well. Of course, the soldier didn’t have to be freezing. It could be done by a warm soldier as well, without gloves, as was proven by the millions of Afghan and Pakistani tribesmen using replicas constructed in backstreet workshops — a testament to the elegance and simplicity of Kalashnikov’s design.
In Russia, the AK is a symbol of freedom, and yet it’s been a Western spin-doctor’s dream, hitting all the evil-empire Darth Vader buttons. As Robert Fisk pointed out in Pity The Nation, language is everything. While we have a government, our enemy has a regime. And in the heavily pro-Israeli western press, it was normal to describe the PLO as being armed with Soviet-made Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles, while the Israeli army had friendly little M16 carbines.
Whatever. Let’s not get political about a weapon that’s been produced 100 million times and used to oppress entire nations.
The AK is cool. A cool killer. No self-respecting evil movie super-genius would arm his henchmen with anything else and who could blame him? It has a timeless retro-murder-chic. An assault rifle among assault rifles, it’s lean, menacing and purposeful. It makes its western competitors look bloated and banal.
It isn’t just a killing machine, an instrument of oppression or the weapon of choice for generations of brigands, though it is all those things as well.
No. The AK-47 is more than that. It’s an accessory. It’s the rifle you’d choose to sling over your Armani battle-fatigues in your air-conditioned tent as you hammer out the final details of your enemy’s surrender.
It’s a classic. Happy birthday Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov!