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Gunpowder and Lead

October 2, 2010

What I find particularly fascinating about small arms in conflict is how ubiquitous and unquestioned they are. That’s a painfully obvious observation, I realize – of course everybody’s got a gun. How could they not have one, or several, or an entire cache of weapons? This is war!

But let’s pause for a minute and consider how weapons get to the battlespace in the first place. Guns don’t grow on trees, shockingly enough. I’m going to delve deeper into the provenance of weaponry and the small arms trade in upcoming blog posts, because in all my recent, intense reading on war, weapons, the military, the future of warfare (it’s apparently monkeys, in case you were curious), etc., nobody seems to be talking much about the tiny tools of war and how they get where they are. Somebody should, and I will, but in the meantime, let’s talk Chivers.

C.J. Chivers.

I finally, finally placed my pre-order for The Gun. To be honest, it sounds like the book I wanted to write when I finished college, but lacked the background to pursue. Chivers’ experience as a war reporter and infantry officer, however, gets him up-close-and-personal, and I cannot wait to read his take on the history of the Kalashnikov. In researching my undergrad thesis, my admiration for the AK-47’s remarkable design and its market penetration was tempered by my horror at the uses to which it had been put. Not to blame the gun, of course; people kill people, and the gun just makes it easier. But more than almost any other firearm, the AK-47 makes it much easier, in terms of both access and usability.

Anyway, until Amazon gets me my copy, I’m left with Chivers’ Reporter’s Notebook series. I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while now, but No. 6 is the best so far. Chivers gets to the heart of the “so what” question and the “why you should care” of small arms proliferation:

These weapons have clearly not come anywhere near the end of their useful lives, and remain favored tools by those who wield them. … Any reasonable analysis of the weapons recirculating in Afghanistan suggest that automatic Kalashnikovs will remain a principal tool of violence for decades more.

While he references the Kalashnikov’s remarkable durability, the truth is, most firearms last substantially longer than the conflicts in which they were first used. What happens to them once conflict has been officially declared to be over? Firearms are recyclable objects.

So that’s the “so what.”


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