The widow of the heir to the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. fortune, Sarah Winchester, believed that her home in New Haven, CT was haunted by the ghosts of men shot with Winchester rifles. A medium told her to move west and build a house big enough to house all of the spirits. So she moved to the Santa Clara Valley in California, and in 1884 began construction of a house. Construction continued, day after day, for 38 years, as Winchester directed the addition of room after room after room to appease those haunting her. Today the Winchester House is a museum.
Yesterday, the inventor of the Kalashnikov assault rifle, Mikhail Kalashnikov, left this mortal coil at age 94. It is almost certain that the ubiquitous AK-47 (and its successors like the AK-74) has killed more people than any firearm in history.
Pace Mrs. Winchester, how many rooms would be required in a Kalashnikov mansion to house all of the pour souls slain by Kalashnikovs? A city of Winchester Mansions, probably.
Kalashnikov himself was disturbed but realistic about what his mechanical genius had wrought:
Mr. Kalashnikov said he regretted that it became the weapon of choice for guerrilla armies. “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,” he told Britain’s Guardian newspaper in 2003. But he added, “I sleep soundly. The fact that people die because of an AK-47 is not because of the designer, but because of politics.”
This is true. In particular, the politics of the USSR (and the People’s Republic of China), which liberally supplied AK-47s to its clients around the world, and which armed, directly and indirectly, numerous guerrilla forces engaged in conflicts euphemistically known as “wars of national liberation.” Once millions of AKs were in circulation, as Kalashnikov said, “they began to walk all on [their] own” to every corner of the globe. The genius of the design is that a child can use it. And tens of thousands of child warriors have.
Look at the photos from any of today’s most brutal conflicts. Syria. Central Africa. You see AKs, not FNs or M-16s.
A toxic combination. A weapon of brilliant simplicity and durability produced by one of the most malign states in history, which had no compunction against indiscriminately flooding the world with them as part of a geopolitical strategy intended to realize the imperatives of a twisted ideology. Meaning that Comrade Kalashnikov’s mansion would have to have rooms almost without number.