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May 2014 Issue [Readings]

Automatic for the People


From an April 7, 2012, letter by Mikhail Kalashnikov, the designer of the AK-47 assault rifle, to Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Kalashnikov died in December 2013; the letter was published this January in the Russian newspaper Izvestia. There are an estimated 100 million AK-47-style rifles in global circulation. Translated from the Russian by Sophia Kishkovsky.

Your Holiness!

I am credited with more than 150 types of small arms, created for one goal — to ensure the reliable defense of our Fatherland. No one will be able to disabuse me of the folk wisdom that advises to “keep your powder dry” and “sharpen your sled in the summer,” since I remember very well the state of our gunpowder and sleds in the Twenties and Thirties, and then on the eve of the Great Patriotic War. I’m a soldier who was tested by fate in 1941, in the very first months of that war that was so frightening and fateful for our people. Thank God, I survived, although I suffered a contusion and wounds that I’ve felt for seventy years already.

Yes, the body brings pain, but bodily pain is nothing compared to those spiritual wounds that strike us in life. My spiritual wound of 1941 torments me day and night. On the battlefield, my comrades in arms and I were unable to defend ourselves. There was only one of the legendary Mosin rifles for three soldiers. And fate would have it that a young boy from Altai, the son of condemned kulaks exiled to the taiga of Siberia, becomes a weapons builder able after four very difficult years to realize his dream in the form of the AK-47 automatic.

After the war, I worked long and very hard, day and night, labored at the lathe until I created a model with better characteristics. We always advanced with the times and in some ways exceeded our rival Americans; at the same time, on a human level, we were friends with them, although we served different and in those days irreconcilable social orders. But I cannot bear my spiritual agony and the question that repeats itself over and over: If my automatic deprived people of life, am I, Mikhail Kalashnikov, ninety-three years of age, son of a peasant woman, a Christian and of Orthodox faith, guilty of the deaths of people, even if of enemies?

For twenty years already, we have been living in a different country. It is as if something has snapped inside; there is emptiness in the soul and irrevocable loss weighing on the heart, anxiety over the future of our children and grandchildren. Once again, as in the troubled wartime years, the people are drawn to God, to seek an understanding of their place on earth and in the universe. But evil is not subsiding. Good and evil live side by side, they conflict, and, what is most frightening, they make peace with each other in people’s hearts — that is what I have concluded in the twilight of my earthly life. It is like the perpetual-motion machine that I so wanted to invent in my youth.

In our Udmurtian land, there is a church, located in the center of Izhevsk, bearing the name of Archangel Michael. When at ninety-one years of age I stepped across the threshold of the church, my heart was filled with trepidation and a feeling as if I had already been here — it is probably the feeling of one who has just been baptized. How good, I thought then, that I refused to agree to the construction of a museum named after me on this spot where the church of St. Michael, destroyed in the 1930s, now stands. Its history goes back nearly 200 years. It is especially dear to me that last spring I had the chance to plant a Siberian cedar near the church, delivered from my beloved home. God willing, a worthy tree will rise from the sapling and beautify the spiritual life of my neighbors. People will look at the church and the tree and think of the closeness of these two eternal symbols of Goodness and Life. And my soul will be overjoyed looking from the heavens at this beauty and grace.

I understand how difficult it is for you right now, in a year of unjustified attacks on the Orthodox Church that have undermined people’s faith and defiled their morals. I would like to believe that the forces of Light and Wisdom will attain a final victory. Please accept my wishes of good health, Your Holiness, and please let the Most High help you in your labors in the name of mankind and for the well-being of the citizens of Russia.

The Servant of God,
Structural designer Mikhail Kalashnikov

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May 2014

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