July 8, 2007 No-one knows how many AK-47s have been made - a patent was never applied for, so it has been copied by numerous small arms manufacturers across the world since it came into being this weekend, sixty years ago. One estimate puts the number of Kalashnikov AK-47s manufactured at 100 million, making it by far the most populous rifle in history. For six decades, it has been the common man’s rifle - the lowest common denominator of conflict across the planet and the standard issue of many armies still. A triumph of self-taught design, Mikhail Kalashnikov’s AK-47 delivered more bang-per-buck than any other firearm of its day and it never stopped working. Born in 1947, the AK-47 has been best friend to hundreds of millions of men, driving the popularity of the boy’s name Kalash in war-torn countries. Cumulatively, AK-47s have been the first spoil of war, so each weapon would have changed sides many times, with every damaged weapon yielding its undamaged parts to another composite weapon – astoundingly, of the 100 million made, 30 million are still in service in the harshest environment of all. That equally qualifies the gun as delivering the highest levels of misery and wasted humanity of any invention in history. Like the spear, bow and arrow, sword and earlier incarnations of the rifle, the AK-47 has been the dominant military weapon responsible for nearly all changes of sovereignty, and is now taking its place in history in the national emblems of many new nations. Sadly, Kalashnikov’s body of work suggests he would have been a genius in any other field.
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