On the real weapon of mass destruction

The Russian inventor of the AK-47, Mikhail Kalashnikov, died last month aged 94. In life he publicly denied responsibility for what became of his weapon: politics and politicians bore responsibility for the millions killed with it, he said. Last week, a newspaper published a letter in which he said he felt guilt-ridden. International affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe, who has had many close encounters with the AK-47, examines its impact. An excerpt:

Soldiers near Awere, Uganda. © 2004 Greg Locke

Somewhere in the corner of one of the drawers in my desk is a bag containing bullets and cartridge cases I picked up on various battlefields in Africa.

For some I have special affection because they were fired at me and missed. But most are just the litter from civil wars and insurrections in the 1980s and ‘90s when I was an Africa correspondent.

There are cartridge cases from Mozambique, Angola, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, the Congo, Namibia and South Africa. There is also a fine tear gas canister from a bad morning in the central square of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe where we lived. Police decided to clear protesters from the square and didn’t bother with any niceties, such as issuing a warning, before opening fire.

But, as can be easily guessed, most of the cartridge cases are the distinctive short, stubby ammunition for the world’s favourite killing machine …

Log in to read the column, The Real Weapon of Mass Destruction.*

*F&O premium works are available for a $1 site day pass, or with monthly or annual subscriptions. Real journalism has value, and to avoid the conflicts inherent in advertising or soliciting outside funding F&O relies entirely on reader payments to sustain our professional quality.