The creator of the world’s most famous assault rifle knew well its deadly capacity. Still, Mikhail Kalashnikov, who died last month at the age of 94, expressed few regrets about his invention while he was alive.
“The fact that people die because of an AK-47 is not because of the designer, but because of politics,” he told The Guardian‘s Nick Paton Walsh in 2003.
“My spiritual pain is unbearable. I keep asking the same insoluble question. If my rifle deprived people of life then can it be that I … a Christian and an orthodox believer, was to blame for their deaths?” wrote Kalashnikov to Patriarch Kirill, the chief bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, last April.
“The longer I live,” said Kalashnikov, whose years of test-firing the weapon rendered him almost completely deaf, “the more this question drills itself into my brain and the more I wonder why the Lord allowed man the devilish desires of envy, greed and aggression.”
Kalashnikov designed the AK-47 in 1947 for the Red Army. Cheap to produce and easy to use, the assault rifle became one of the most widely used weapons in the world, with 100 million AK-47s currently in use. The gun has killed more people than any other firearm in the world.
The Russian general had previously said he created the weapon to “protect the motherland” and did not sanction its global spread. “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 said.
Although Kalashnikov appeared haunted by his role in the millions of deaths caused by his famed gun, he continued to see the AK-47 as a “miracle weapon,” according to the letter. A decade ago, he likened his affection for his design to a mother’s love for her child. “For months she carries her baby and thinks about it. A designer does much the same thing with a prototype,” he said. “I felt like a mother — always proud. It is a special feeling, as if you were awarded with a special award.”
Kalashnikov is not the first inventor to regret the impact of his creation. Robert Oppenheimer, the creator of the atomic bomb, was haunted later in life by his research. “We have made a thing, a most terrible weapon that has altered abruptly and profoundly the nature of the world … a thing that by all the standards of the world we grew up in is an evil thing,” he told a group of scientists. The scientist confessed to President Truman in a private meeting that he felt like he had blood on his hands. About 225,000 people died during the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
Alfred Nobel, remorseful that his invention — dynamite — was viewed as a killing machine in military applications, used his entire fortune to create the eponymous fund that finances annual prizes in physics, chemistry, medicine, economics, literature, and peace.
A spokesman for Russia’s patriarch responded to Kalashnikov with support: “He designed this rifle to defend his country, not so terrorists could use it in Saudi Arabia.”