HotForWords on the AK-47

HotForWords on the AK-47

Originally uploaded by Thomas Roche

In responding to a comment on an earlier post from a troll who almost tempted me into my first flame war in 20 years, I was tempted instead back to YouTube by the siren-song of Marina Orlova, sexy geek philologist of my dreams. Her fantastically popular YouTube channel is as lively and, I submit, as prurient as ever, and watching the Russian knockout discuss the AK-47 is an experience from which, quite frankly, I may never recover. The fact that I can also watch it in Russian only enhances the experience.

Is her discussion of this classic firearm complex or illuminating from a historical perspective? That’s not what it’s about, kids, but you’d be ill-advised to think it’s just about a sexy chick handling an assault rifle. What I love about this video is not, or not just, that those eyes of Orlova’s are limpid pools into which I could dive with a Kalashnikov strapped to my back, and when I crawled out gasping and struggling six hours later, the mutha would still fire. No, what I find so charming here is the Russian pride Marina displays, which glows from her the way it does whenever Marina’s countrypeople discuss the AK.

The reason is that the AK-47 is more than just a rifle. It was a weapon invented for patriotic reasons in a time when Mother Russia was facing a very real threat. Its practicality, ruggedness and reliability made it a symbol to Russians struggling in the early years of the Cold War, and its success is a testament to its design. The Soviet Union licensed the weapon to many manufacturers in other countries, utilizing it as the standard small arm for revolutionists worldwide receiving aid from the Eastern Bloc. The result is that there are reportedly over 100 million AK-47s worldwide, making it standard issue for governments and outlaws alike just throughout the third world and elsewhere. Subsequent weapons were based on the same design including the AK-74 and the AK-101. It’s probably the most successful military rifle design of all time.

For 45 years, the US and the Soviet Union used the third world as their battleground, with the AK-47 one of the principal instruments of death. General Kalashnikov, to his credit, later said, as Orlova points out in her video: “I’m proud of my invention, but I’m sad that it is used by terrorists… I would prefer to have invented a machine that people could use and that would help farmers with their work – for example a lawnmower.” An interesting article in Philosophy Now asserts that scientists like Kalashnikov should refuse to do weapons research in peacetime — but 1946, from a Soviet perspective, was far from peacetime. If you’re an American, like me, I expect you might argue it was Russian ambition in Europe, the Third World and the Far East that presaged the Cold War, but the Soviets made the same argument about the Allies.

Kalashnikov, incidentally, is still very much alive, receives a state pension and licenses his name for an umbrella and knife manufacturer in Germany and for a vodka manufacturer, of which he is the chairman. He recieves no royalties on the AK-47 or subsequent weapons on that design.

What does all this have to do with philology? I’m not sure I know. But I’m quite sure I don’t care.


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