Erin McCarthy explains why the AK-47 has been at least as influential as nuclear weapons.
The two weapons were designed simultaneously, and urgently, in Stalin's Soviet Union, and they worked together quite well. Atomic (then nuclear) weapons served to freeze borders in place and prevent total war, while the Kalashnikov percolated from state to state, army to army, group to group and man to man and became the principal firearm used for modern war and political violence, in all of its many forms. The West fixated, understandably and naturally, on nuclear weapons and their risks and developed an enormous intellectual, diplomatic and material infrastructure to deal with them and work against their proliferation. Meanwhile, the Kalashnikov—and many arms that complement it in the field—were doing the killing and still are. I sometimes ask people, when we talk about the big-ticket weapons as opposed to the weapons that actually see the real use: How many people have you known, or even heard of, who were killed by a submarine? How many by a nuclear bomb? The Kalashnikov, in actual practice over the past 60-plus years, has proven much more deadly than these things. But it gets a lot less official attention.