Connect with us

World’s deadliest inventor: Mikhail Kalashnikov and his AK-47



What is the deadliest weapon of the 20th century?

Perhaps you think first of the atomic bomb, estimated to have killed as many as 200,000 people when the United States dropped two on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

But another weapon is responsible for far more deaths – numbering up into the millions. It’s the Kalashnikov assault rifle, commonly known as the AK-47.


Originally developed in secrecy for the Soviet military, an estimated 100 million AK-47s and its variants have been produced to date. This gun is now found throughout the world, including in the hands of many American civilians, who in 2012 bought as many AK-47s as the Russian police and military. As a physician, I have witnessed the destruction this weapon can wreak on human flesh.

Kalashnikov’s invention

Russian Mikhail Kalashnikov invented the weapon that bears his name in the middle of the 20th century. Born on Nov. 10, 1919, Kalashnikov was a tank mechanic in the Soviet military during the Second World War. He was wounded during the German invasion of the USSR in 1941.

Having seen firsthand the combat advantage conferred by Germany’s superior firearms, Kalashnikov resolved to develop a better weapon. While still in the military, he produced several designs that lost out to competitors before eventually producing the first AK-47.

The name of Kalashnikov’s greatest invention stands for Automat Kalashnikova 1947, the year it was first produced.

In 1949, the AK-47 became the assault rifle of the Soviet Army. Later adopted by other nations in the Warsaw Pact, the weapon quickly spread around the world, becoming a symbol of revolution in such far-flung lands as Vietnam, Afghanistan, Colombia and Mozambique, on whose flag it figures prominently.


The flag of Mozambique features an AK-47 with an attached bayonet, meant to symbolize defense and vigilance.

Over the course of his long life, Kalashnikov continued to tweak his classic design. In 1959, production began on his AKM, which replaced the AK-47’s milled receiver with one made of stamped metal, making it both lighter and less expensive to produce. He also developed the cartridge-fed PK machine gun. Modified AK-47s are still in production in countries around the world.

The AK-47’s advantages and abundance

Why was the AK-47 such a revolutionary rifle?

It is relatively inexpensive to produce, short and light to carry, and easy to use, with little recoil. It also boasts legendary reliability under harsh conditions ranging from waterlogged jungles to Middle Eastern sandstorms, in both extreme cold and heat.


It also requires relatively little maintenance. This stems from its large gas piston and wide clearances between moving parts, which help to prevent it from jamming.

A Cambodian soldier carries his AK-47 rifle in 1970.

Kalashnikov liked to boast about the rifle’s superiority to the American military’s M-16 rifle. “During the Vietnam War,” he said in a 2007 interview, “American soldiers would throw away their M-16s to grab AK-47s and bullets for it from dead Vietnamese soldiers. And I hear American soldiers in Iraq use it quite often.”


The world’s most abundant firearm is also well suited to crime and terrorism. The hostage-takers who stormed the Olympic Village in Munich in 1972 were armed with Kalashnikovs, and mass shooters in the U.S. have used semi-automatic versions of the weapon in killings in Stockton, California, and Dallas.

The U.S. military has acted as a distributor of the weapon in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. With a service life of 20 to 40 years, AKs are easily relocated and repurposed.

Today, global prices often run in the hundreds of dollars, but some AK-47s can be had for as little as US$50. The huge worldwide production of the weapon, particularly in countries with low labor costs, has driven prices downward.


A statue of Kalashnikov, featuring the inventor wielding one of his eponymous rifles, looms in Moscow.
AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin

Kalashnikov’s legacy

For his labors, the Soviet Union awarded Kalashnikov the Stalin Prize, the Red Star and the Order of Lenin. In 2007, President Vladimir Putin singled out the Kalashnikov rifle as “a symbol of the creative genius of our people.”

Kalashnikov died a national hero in 2013 at the age of 94.

Throughout most of his life, Kalashnikov rebuffed attempts to saddle him with guilt over the vast number of killings and injuries inflicted with his invention. He insisted that he had developed it for defense, not offense.

When a reporter asked in 2007 how he could sleep at night, he replied, “I sleep well. It is the politicians who are to blame for failing to come to an agreement and resorting to violence.”


The AK-47 has become a symbol as well as a weapon, as evidenced by this diamond-encrusted pendant once owned by an alleged drug fugitive from Mexico.
AP Photo/Dario Lopez Mills

Yet in the final year of his life, Kalashnikov may have experienced a change of heart. He wrote a letter to the head of the Russian Orthdox Church, saying, “The pain in my soul is unbearable. I keep asking myself the same unsolvable question: If my assault rifle took people’s lives, that means that I am responsible for their deaths.”

It’s a perennial debate: What kills? Guns, or those who carry them? At the bottom of the letter, he signed it, “a slave of God, the designer Mikhail Kalashnikov.”

[ You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can get our highlights each weekend.. ]The Conversation

Richard Gunderman, Chancellor’s Professor of Medicine, Liberal Arts, and Philanthropy, Indiana University


This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
Continue Reading

2020 Election

More female Republicans will lose in 2020 as ‘misogynist’ Trump wages a ‘war on women’: Ex-GOP candidate



President Donald Trump's actions will harm female Republicans at the ballot box in 2020, according to a former GOP counsel for the House Oversight Committee.

Sophia Nelson, who ran for Congress as a Republican, made her argument in The Daily Beast.

"Donald Trump has attacked so many women in so many ways for their looks, their age, or their position it can be hard to keep track," Nelson wrote. "But the president took his attacks on strong, accomplished and independent women even further in his attacks on his own U.S. ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, telling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that 'the former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news.' That was in the now infamous phone call that led to the impeachment hearings that began this week, and Friday, in the middle of Yovanovitch’s testimony there, he tweeted that 'everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad.'”

Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Trump’s hearsay defense goes out the window as House Intel releases transcripts of two first-hand witnesses



The House Intelligence Committee released two new transcripts on Saturday from first-hand witnesses who were on the line for President Donald Trup's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The transcripts are from the depositions of Deputy Assistant to the President Timothy Morrison and Vice President Pence’s special adviser on Europe and Russia, Jennifer Williams.

The chairs of the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight committees released a joint statement on the testimony.

"The testimony released today shows that President Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky immediately set off alarm bells throughout the White House. Both witnesses provided the Committees with first-hand accounts after personally listening to the call in the White House Situation Room," the chairs said.

Continue Reading


GOP’s impeachment ‘game plan’ fell apart after Trump’s Yovanovitch tweet and now they’re unsure how to defend him: Politico reporter



On CNN Saturday, Politico's Melanie Zanona noted that President Donald Trump's decision to attack former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch in a tweet while she was testifying to Congress not only risks another article of impeachment — it is also leaving his Republican allies unable to defend his behavior.

"Melanie, it's hard to know what all independent and undecided voters might be thinking, but I had a guest on earlier who made a powerful point, in that some voters might be looking at the pattern of how the president describes particularly powerful women, and he would call her bad news and she had such an esteemed reputation," said anchor Fredricka Wilson.

Continue Reading
Help Raw Story Uncover Injustice. Join Raw Story Investigates for $1 and go ad-free.