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?
Image source Creative Review