Thursday, January 27, 2011

Birth of a Gun

Esquire provides an excerpt from what looks like a fascinating book: C.J. Chivers "The Gun" which details the history of the AK-47 and the Kalashnikov line of rifles in general. It really does look like a very, very interesting book, the Kalashnikov is quite arguably the most effective and absolutely most prolific weapon of mass destruction ever invented. I am quite certain that far more people have died because of the AK-47 than died as a result of Fat Man or Little Boy.

One significant effect of the creation and dissemination of the Kalashnikov was the utterly woeful development of America's M-16, a rifle that proved utterly useless in Vietnam due to what seems to be nearly constant jamming problems caused by shoddy manufacture. Though it's a weapon that eventually proved its worth after considerable modifications, in its initial form, it was profoundly negligent to allow it anywhere near a battlefield.

After McNamara's team endorsed the assault-rifle concept, the United States military could have decided what it wanted an assault rifle to be and to do. This would have been a matter of proposing specifications for caliber, muzzle velocity, weight, accuracy, and any number of other characteristics. These specifications could then have been provided to government designers and private industry — to Ruger, to Colt's, to Remington, to Winchester, to Browning, to Cadillac Gage, and others — with a deadline for design submissions. In doing so, the intellectual capital of the private sector would have been invited to compete. And when the deadline came, the Pentagon would have had multiple designs from which to select. Instead, the United States had a hyped rifle rising through the bureaucracy with little testing or vigorous competition. Its selection process looked less like deliberation than lunging. And as McNamara and General William Westmoreland pushed and pulled the rifle along, the signs from tests and field reports of its emerging weaknesses were suppressed. Colt's assault rifle, the internal reports said, was vulnerable to corrosion and given to malfunctions. No matter. The most senior military officials knew American troops were being outshot. They ordered the M16 — as the military's version of the AR-15 was named — first in a batch of 104,000, and then as the standard firearm for the war. The rollout began.

In the end, soldiers actually began a black market in personal sidearms such as revolvers in order to protect themselves when their fantastic new rifles inevitably failed. Well worth the read. I intend to purchase the book.

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