Does This Machine Gun Belong in a Museum?

London’s Design Museum has just updated its display of ‘design classics,’ and alongside an Olivetti typewriter and the Sony Walkman is a killing machine.

Mikhail Kalashnikov’s machine gun was first produced more than 60 years ago and is still widely in use. Most of the 300,000 combat deaths during the 1990s are estimated to have been caused by this gun and it is still seen in wars the world over.

In 1947, Kalashnikov won a Soviet competition to design a new sub-machine gun for the Red Army, fresh from its victory in Word War II. It is reliable and works in sub-arctic temperatures.

Supposedly it has only eight moving parts and this has helped it be mass produced in huge numbers. The Soviet Union sent millions out during the Cold War and it was easily copied in developing countries. Because it is so reliable and simple, almost anyone could use it, even a child soldier.

As Jonathan Jones points out in the Guardian, weapons are a key exhibit in hundreds of museums around the world.

“At the V&A in London you can see a sword scabbard that belonged to the murderous Cesare Borgia, model for Machiavelli’s Prince. It’s a darkly beautiful souvenir of conspiracy and killing.”

“Is it time that cleanses these old weapons? Or the lingering myth of medieval chivalry that turns knightly swords and lances into imaginative wonders?” he asks.

In a 2003 interview with The Guardian, Kalashnikov acknowledged the grisly legacy he had bestowed upon the world:

I made it to protect the motherland. And then they spread the weapon [around the world] – not because I wanted them to. Not at my choice. Then it was like a genie out of the bottle and it began to walk all on its own and in directions I did not want.

In the Design Museum, a plaque next to the gun lists some of the conflicts in which it has been used and notes the deaths for which it carries the blame as the curators acknowledge the horrific effectiveness of Kalashnikov’s work.

But should it be there? What do you think?

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Image source Creative Review

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94 comments

Ann G.
Ann G.4 years ago

I hit leaning no on this one, but the truth is that I'm not really sure. Isn't a museum supposed to be about history? But at the same time, if you don't treat it correctly and do a good job discussing why/ how it has done harm, then it won't teach anyone anything. It just depends on how they display it.

Ann G.
Ann G.4 years ago

I hit leaning no on this one, but the truth is that I'm not really sure. Isn't a museum supposed to be about history? But at the same time, if you don't treat it correctly and do a good job discussing why/ how it has done harm, then it won't teach anyone anything. It just depends on how they display it.

Ann G.
Ann G.4 years ago

I hit leaning no on this one, but the truth is that I'm not really sure. Isn't a museum supposed to be about history? But at the same time, if you don't treat it correctly and do a good job discussing why/ how it has done harm, then it won't teach anyone anything. It just depends on how they display it.

Ann G.
Ann G.4 years ago

I hit leaning no on this one, but the truth is that I'm not really sure. Isn't a museum supposed to be about history? But at the same time, if you don't treat it correctly and do a good job discussing why/ how it has done harm, then it won't teach anyone anything. It just depends on how they display it.

Ann G.
Ann G.4 years ago

I hit leaning no on this one, but the truth is that I'm not really sure. Isn't a museum supposed to be about history? But at the same time, if you don't treat it correctly and do a good job discussing why/ how it has done harm, then it won't teach anyone anything. It just depends on how they display it.

Michael C.
Cynthia C.4 years ago

I carried one in my younger years, it was a chose between a Kalashnikov or that terrible M-16, that American made piece of junk.

Actually, mine was a Kalashnikov AK-74, was "borrowed from the SPETSNAZ, - THE SOVIET SPECIAL FORCES. I'm sure that they did not mind, they had plenty.

Never jammed, like that America relic, probably saved my life.

Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin4 years ago

Voted yes. And I also do believe that ALL weapons belong in museums.

Czerny A.
Czerny A.4 years ago

The gun is in a Design Museum. It is an inanimate thing. Why impose a moral judgement on a machine? Does that mean anything that has killed become anathema? In that case, what about human beings? We are the ultimate killing machine.

John Doe
james rico4 years ago

it belongs in the museum it is only a tool niether bad nor good and it saved many russians lives. before it was made the USA was sending thomson sub machine guns to the russians and there was never enough and we could not send them fast enough and so many russians died for lack of a machine gun as the nazis had their own and to at least stand a chance they needed one of their own. they called the thomson the gangster gun as they were useing them in the USA. it was so effishent that many american GI/s were useing the ones they captured cause it was better than the M16 they had as it fired even if it was dropped in mud

Alan G.
Alan G.4 years ago

If the display is informative about how small arms have killed more people than weapons of mass destruction then it has a place in educating people, there should be international controls on small arms sales.