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  From the July 2001 issue of World Press Review (VOL.48, No.7)

For Patriotism and Profit

An interview with Mikhail Kalashnikov

Robert Fisk, The Independent (centrist), London, England.
April 22, 2001.

Mikhael Kalashnikov in 1996. (Photo courtesy
Born in November 1919—one of 18 children, of whom only six survived—Mikhail Kalashnikov was a Soviet T-38 tank commander in 1941, wounded in the shoulder and back when a German shell smashed part of the tank’s armor into his body. “I was in the hospital, and a soldier in the bed beside me asked: ‘Why do our soldiers have only one rifle for two or three of our men, when the Germans have automatics?’ So I designed one. I was a soldier, and I created a machine gun for a soldier. It was called an Avtomat Kalashnikova, the automatic weapon of Kalashnikov—AK—and it carried the date of its first manufacture, 1947.”

The AK-47 became the symbol of revolution—Palestinian, Angolan, Vietnamese, Algerian, Afghan, Hezbollah, the battle rifle of the Warsaw Pact. And, of course, I asked old Mikhail Kalashnikov how he could justify all this blood, all those corpses torn to bits by his invention. He had been asked before. “You see, maybe all these feelings come about because one side wants to liberate itself with arms. But in my opinion, it is the good that prevails. You may live to see the day when good prevails—it will be after I am dead. But the time will come when my weapons will be no more used or necessary.”

This is incredible. The AK-47 has mythic status. Kalashnikov admits this. “When I met the Mozambique minister of defense, he presented me with his country’s national banner, which carries the image of a Kalashnikov submachine gun. And he told me that when all the liberation soldiers went home to their villages, they named their sons ‘Kalash.’ I think this is an honor, not just a military success. It’s a success in life when people are named after me, after Mikhail Kalashnikov.” Even the Lebanese Hezbollah have included the AK-47 on their Islamic banner—the rifle forms the “l” of “Allah.”

We embarked along the Russian version of a familiar moral track. “My aim was to create armaments to protect the borders of my motherland. It is not my fault that the Kalashnikov became very well-known in the world; that it was used in many troubled places. I think the policies of these countries are to blame, not the designers. Man is born to protect his family, his children, his wife. But I want you to know that apart from armaments, I have written three books in which I try to educate our youth to show respect for their families, for old people, for history.”

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