Mikhail Kalashnikov spent a lifetime refusing to acknowledge his part in the killings caused by his design, the AK-47 rifle, but privately it appears that Kalashnikov suffered in a private hell. Consumed by guilt in April of 2013, he sent a letter to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church questioning his responsibility in the millions of deaths that have been caused by the AK47. Kalashnikov died at age 94 on December 23.
Although the letter was written last year, it was made public in the Russian newspaper, Izvestia, on Monday. In the letter to Patriarch Kirill, Mikhail Kalashnikov reveals that he is suffering from unbearable spiritual pain. He confesses that “”I keep having the same unsolved question: if my rifle claimed people’s lives, then can it be that I … a Christian and an Orthodox believer, was to blame for their deaths?” The typed letter is signed by “a slave of God, the designer Mikhail Kalashnikov,” and reveals that Kalashnikov first went to church when he was 91 and that he had been baptized as well.
The anguished tone of the letter contradicts the public persona of Kalashnikov, who boasted of the AK47 throughout his life. While the invention did not bring Kalashnikov riches, it did bring him a nice car, a lakeside home, and enough status to serve six terms in the Supreme Soviet legislative body. What is could not bring Mikhail Kalashnikov, the designer of the AK47, was a release from the private hell he suffered.
Although the extent to which he contributed to the original design of the rifle is contested, he became a treasured national figure thanks to the Soviet propaganda machine, who saw his good nature and working class origins as solid ideals to which the general public could be proud. During his life, Kalashnikov was awarded the Hero of Socialist Labour and the Order of Lenin by the government. The gun was even named for him, as the AK in AK47 stands for “the automatic by Kalashnikov.” The 47 refers to the year it was first produced.
The AK47’s place in history was cemented when it proved a better performer during the Viet Nam war than the American-designed M16. It became the weapon of choice for various regimes seeking to privately purchase arms from the USSR and as such, it is possible only to estimate the amount of the rifles that have been sold. Estimates range from 70 million to 100 million. Even at the smaller end of the range, the AK47 is clearly the gun most sold throughout history.
Mikhail Kalashnikov served Russia as an arms industry ambassador until his death, and professed that his rifle had been designed to protect Russia against Nazi Germany. “This is a weapon of defense,” he said. “It is not a weapon for offense.” Although he publicly decried the murders committed using his design, there was no hint of the deep pain that he was hiding. other than once when he declared that he wished he could have designed something “like a lawnmower” instead of a gun.
It appears that the propaganda machine may have haunted Mikhail Kalashnikov as much as the millions of deaths caused by his rifle, as after his death numerous photos of Kalashnikov showing no hint of remorse and proudly posing with the AK47 surfaced.
Considered a national hero, his funeral was attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had once declared that the AK47 was “a symbol of the creative genius of our people.”
In response to his impassioned letter, the leader of the Orthodox church sent this reply: “The church has a very definite position: when weapons serve to protect the fatherland, the church supports both its creators and the soldiers who use it.” It will never be known if the Church’s words eased the private hell suffered by the designer of the AK47, Mikhail Kalashnikov.
By Jennifer Pfalz
The New Zealand Herald