by Maria Carolina Maia
Official records don't say exactly how many, but newspapers and rap lyrics show that the AK-47 rifles have reached Brazil. Actually, it's hard to say just where this weapon hasn't reached. Created in communist Russia, the AK-47 has shown up in 92 countries, has been part of 90% of wars in the second half of the 20th century (sometimes on both sides) and has killed at least 7 million people. It won over American rifles in Vietname, replaced spears in warrior tribes in Africa, it became an icon in Mozambique's flag, a monument in Nicaragua and, today, is in the hands of Islamic terrorists and drug dealers. At the age of 60, the AK-47 tells the story of the 20th century.
In the 1940s, weapon designers realized that the machineguns used in the trenches during WWI were out-of-date. With the invention of armoured tanks and wide-range artillery, whoever stood still in the open field was under serious risk of being hit. Unlike the lingering conflicts in WWI, with these weapons the fights were fast, urban with moving troops looking for moving targets. This is how the first assault rifle, the Sturm Gewehr, was born - a light German weapon, with intense and instantaneous firing power.
When WWII was over, Russia's domination was extended to Germany and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin decided to create a similar automatic weapon, that could be used in every communist country. In order to decide which weapon would become Soviet Union's trademark, the government promoted, in 1947, a contest between designers. The winner was a former WWII soldier that had begun drawing the weapon five years earlier, while on a hospital bed.
In 1941, Mikhail Kalashnikov was 22 and working with Soviet tanks' mechanisms in WWII. During the nazi invasion of Moscow, he was forced to ride one of the tanks himself to fight against Hitler's troops. The Germans bombed 90% of the city, including Kalashnikov's tank. His right shoulder was destroyed and he was sent into a hospital, where he stayed for nearly a year. With nothing better to do, he spent his time drawing weapons. "Once, a soldier in the bed next to me asked me: 'Why do we have one rifle for 2 or 3 soldiers, while each German has automatic weapons?' So I decided to design one for us.", he told British newspaper The Guardian, in 2003.
Originally published in "Revista Superinteressante", edição 241 - jul/2007