An interesting interview/photo essay with the author of The Gun in Foreign Policy Magazine - take from it what you will:

The Avtomat Kalashnikova, C.J. Chivers writes in The Gun, is "the world's most widely recognized weapon, one of the world's most recognizable objects." The AK-47 and its descendants have defined and exacerbated half a century of guerrilla conflict, terrorism, and crime; it is the most abundant firearm in the world, with as many as 100 million Kalashnikovs in circulation, 10 times more than any other rifle.

Chivers, a Marine Corps veteran and senior writer at the New York Times, has spent nearly a decade mapping the spread of the Kalashnikov and untangling its history, from the dusty government archives of the former Soviet Union to the battlefields of Afghanistan. The Gun, his history of the weapon, was published this week. He spoke via email with FP's Charles Homans about the AK-47's uncertain origins, how it has transformed modern warfare, and why the age of the Kalashnikov won't end anytime soon....[More]
I see an interesting mix of stamped and milled weapons in that first photo. (I didn't realize President Obama owned an AK :) . He looks quite happy with it.)

I don't have time to read the whole article tonight, but I will shortly. Thanks for linking it.

Really interesting article, thanks for the link Sun195. There was an interview with the author on NPR last week, podcast and text here . Fascinating how the former USSR produced them & stockpiled them in such huge numbers-- and that Russia and China apparently continue to do so. Like the author says (I'm paraphrasing a lot of the article here in a really short summation)- they were used post-WWII to intimidate and crush any attempts by Soviet-bloc states and peoples who would dare to challenge central authority. But they let the genie out of the bottle for sure(pages 1, 6 & 7... heck, the whole article, really). The image of an AK has definitely become branded into the consciousness of people all over the world, from here to N. Ireland to every country in Africa & the Middle East... and used for propagandist iconography both for and against every imaginable political viewpoint everywhere....

Like the quote on page 7 ("Bin Laden has made a point of being photographed with the version of the rifle carried by Soviet helicopter crews in the 1980s, a clear case of the rifle, almost like a scalp, signifying martial cred. In this case, he might be trying a little too hard, because there is no credible evidence I know of that he was ever involved in downing a Soviet helicopter.")

A personal example of the 'power' of just a simple image used to scare people into following a given party line- I've spent a fair amount of time in N. Ireland over the years and you still see huge murals that include the AK in both predominantly Nationalist/Irish Republican/Catholic and Unionist/British-aligned/Protestant areas... that classic silhouette is an equal-opportunity attention getter, for sure... some areas have road-signs showing the outline of a guy in a balaclava holding an AK, with the text "WARNING- SNIPERS AT WORK" (though we all know an AK isn't exactly a 'sniper' rifle... I digress as usual...) And I discovered that most of these signs are posted at school-bus stops, in both communities... both sides using the same fearful image to keep their tribal alliances 'properly' indoctrinated from birth... and the signs and murals on either side of the fence are often painted by the same person or people! Fear sells, yeah? make of my own rambling what you will...

The author definitely isn't an 'anti' (page 2), it looks like a pretty interesting historical account of all the egos, politics, propagandist iconography etc wrapped up in the AK story... not to mention that (as the author says) "It's a journey into Stalin's (and then Khrushchev's) Soviet Union, with all of its national anxiety and the climate of fear and lies." (also page 2)

I love reading history in general, and hoping I won't have to wait too long to get it from the library to read in full. And I still would like to own an AK at some point... along with the other zillion firearms I find interesting for historical reasons...

mmmkay I'm gonna shut up & go to bed now:eek:
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Like the quote on page 7: "Bin Laden has made a point of being photographed with the version of the rifle carried by Soviet helicopter crews in the 1980s..."

I thought that was interesting also - I had no idea his AK had a specific origin, but I bet some of his followers picked-up on this (and it was chosen as a prop because of this). I'd bet the AK stands up there with Coke or FedEx in terms of "brand awareness".

Let me also take this opportunity to put in a plug for Foreign Policy Magazine in general - a good mix of news & opinion about places in the world we sometimes (often) forget. Lots of AfPak info, too.

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