18 June 2008

Michael Hodges, AK-47: The Story of the People’s Gun. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2007.

Mikhail Kalashnikov must have been the model for Tony stark in Iron Man. Both were young weapons geniuses who built something to protect their soldiers, only to see it turned against them--by their own side.

Hodges’ thesis is that the gun has taken on a life of its own, becoming a global brand like Coca-Cola, but without a board of directors. We have, he says, “seen the AK become more than a gun. In Iraq, as in Vietnam, the AK operates as a symbol of resistance to the United States, although in Iraq the symbolism of the AK seems to be of superior importance to its mechanical abilities.”

This book tries to show us what the Revolutionary Rifle has wrought through a series of portraits, related only by their common exposure to the ubiquitous AK. From the Sudanese child soldier to the Pakistani peasant and the current conflict in Iraq, we hear over and over how an automatic weapon with eight parts, simple and sturdy enough for a child, changes--and destroys--society.

We see a sanitized glimpse of this Kalashnikov culture in Iron Man. Like that movie, AK-47 is well-paced and highly enjoyable, with a disturbing undercurrent of violent truth that we have otherwise learned to put out of mind.

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