the lethal comma



In these times of democratization of death, the affordable and resilient Kalashnikov has claimed more victims than atomic bombs

“Bang, bang, Lord God, nobody counts the shots, man!\ Bang, bang,\ let's do it\ Nobody handles the beating, man!\ Go for it, let's make fun of it, it's right now\ Don't plumb it, it's cleaning, let's dig it up each other\ Piss off since no one around here\ Face, man, a brand new Kalash” (Excerpt from Kalašnjikov, on the album Underground, by Serbian pop singer Goran Bregovic).

She is familiar to you, much more than you think. As an image, his coexistence with her is practically daily. Omnipresent in the international news – TVs, websites, photos in newspapers. You see it over and over again without even noticing it, because it is just a ornament of the news. Unmistakable though: that curvaceous magazine, which sets it apart from most assault rifles. The lethal comma.

The AK-47, which you face virtually as often as you watch football matches, is better known as the Kalash. The affectionate nickname caught on so much that the newspaper Le Monde reported, some time ago, that in Marseille young people wear T-shirts printed with it (soon it will replace the image of That), and the verb “kalacher” is synonymous with being part of a prestigious teenage gang. In Moscow, in the biggest amusement park for children, plastic Kalashes compete with teddy bears and Mickey Mouses for the honor of toasting the winner of the game. Less known, and more symptomatic, is the fact that several boys in Africa are baptized with this first name.

Yes, she is pop. Yes, it is the most effective killing machine in human history. A weapon that, on the eve of its 75th anniversary, exterminates about a quarter of a million people a year, in all corners of the globe. More lethal than the sum of atomic bombs. And demure! In its technological precariousness, cheap and ubiquitous, it, and not intercontinental missiles, is the true weapon of mass destruction. The victory of modesty over ingenuity.

Invented in 1945 by a military engineer, Lieutenant Mikhail Kalashnikov (dead in regret, it is said, in December 2013), to save mother Russia from the German hordes in World War II, the AK-2 was perfected in 47 and adopted by the Soviet Army in 1947. When the 'Avtomat Kalashnikov' was conceived, it was to serve a new type of war, which decimated in another way, different from the melee of bayonets and trenches of the First World War. Mikhail Kalashnikov, it is said, wanted to create a rifle that would match the lightness of the German Sturmgewehr, fast and automatic, but that would be cheaper to manufacture, and much easier to handle.

The Kalash was born democratic and commonard: a weapon of the people for the people, effective in any hands, and with a high degree of survival: it resisted unscathed in cold environments (USSR), humid (like Vietnam), deserts (like several African regions and Central Asia), indifferent rain, mud or heat. A Kalash can be buried in sand for years on end, dug up, and barely needs cleaning to start firing. Ditto in swamps: it emerges from the water like a perfect amphibian, clattering to fulfill its destiny.

There is a proteic virtue in the Kalash, like the Proteus of mythology, marine god, son of Poseidon, who could change his appearance at will and depending on the circumstances. That's why she's number one. Its adaptive intelligence, incomparable resilience, ease of handling and longevity give it an Olympic superiority, with no competitors to match it, even though it is a humble, modest device, devoid of sophistication.

Being simple has its advantages. One is omnipresence. It is known that illicit and illegal transactions have much more liquidity and volume in the market. It is through these means that supposed rebel groups obtain weapons from suppliers, let's say, discreet, and manage to perfectly match supply and demand for death. In the 1980s, the CIA (United States Central Intelligence Agency), bought a bunch of Chinese-made AKs (a few million dollars) to equip the mujahedin of Afghanistan, mujahedin led by Osama Bin Laden (then an American ally against the red peril) in their jihad against the Soviet presence in the country .[I]

As early as 2006, eons before the new normal in which lone wolves use vans and machetes against anonymous people on the streets, a survey by Amnesty International and Oxfam[ii] they concluded that it was almost impossible to present precise statistics on the amount of traffic in Kalashes, because the clandestine market is not so easily measured. And they also agreed that this illicit trade in AK-47s, this immeasurable capacity to manufacture and distribute them, is irreversible and will remain and multiply, however much drones and the like want to overcome it. China, today (as in everything, by the way, even Louis Vuitton bags to hide them) is the champion of manufacturing, without patent, Kalashs.

Copyright-free variants of the original Kalash are currently manufactured in at least 14 countries: Albania, Bulgaria, China, Germany, Egypt, Hungary, Syria, India, Iraq, North Korea, Poland, Romania, Serbia, lost control of the patent). The technology to make a Kalash is so simple that it encourages not only the greed of sellers but also the creativity of manufacturers: customized versions are being manufactured in Israel, South Africa and Finland. Only the name changes: the Finnish Sako M62, the Israeli M76, and the South African R4.[iii] More of the same, and more is expected.

The democratic nature of the Kalash, which makes it available to anyone, only took hold a decade after its invention. In 1956, she began to outline the definitive contours of her future personality, that of an artifact tailored for the anything-goes of barbarism. She took on her new persona when Khrushchev dispatched the Red Army to quell the pro-democracy uprising in Budapest, Hungary, in which 50.000 Hungarians died.

And it became champion in the years of the Cold War, Russia's greatest gift to its godchildren or godchildren. She only spoke, then and nervously, of atomic war, but she always knew herself (behind the scenes; bird, verum corpus) that mutual extermination, if massive, was of no interest to anyone. Hence the cosmetic definition, “deterrent war”. Back in the days when McCarthyism ruled, ranting wildly about another lunatic pushing the final solution (Nazi euphemism for the extermination of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, communists, Jehovah's Witnesses, partisans and other enemies of the Reich), life thrived on its indifferent pragmatism, spreading Kalashes around the world, and proving the greater effectiveness of local solutions, that is, the continual extermination of some (many) by some others.

Na Realpolitik, each of the superpowers increased the sneaky, off-the-rail supply of conventional weapons to its friends and allies. In the case of the USSR, facade socialism requires, the copyright of the AK was released to countries such as China (today, the largest producer of AKs) and East Germany. To be fair, the self-styled communists were helpful. That was the turning point, the gestation of a bastardized lineage of Kalashs, the creation of the new persona that made it to T-shirts: the AK assault rifle (about a fifth of the millions of firearms worldwide belong to the Kalashnikov family) was virtually free. Who wouldn't?

If we look into the history of the Kalash, we will see that it has a second virtue: ambivalence: initially, it was synonymous with the struggle of the weakest against the strongest, of the small against the great, of the oppressed against the oppressor, of David against Goliath; that when it was on the front line of the colonized against the colonizers (the independence struggles, the beginnings of the Palestinian resistance, the eviction of the Europeans in Africa), to transmute, currently, into its opposite. The Kalash of an Arafat who received a standing ovation at the UN became the Kalash of Mullah Omar in the Taleban, of Daesh (or ISIS, a delinquent Sunni gang).

From a symbol of liberation and the search for progress, it became an unequivocal emblem of crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide – always democratically shared by psychopaths, fundamentalists and tyrants of all stripes. The Kalash of the promised and usurped land, the one of old, has become that of sects of carnage, from Syria to Chechnya, Uganda, Central African Republic, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, a painfully endless list. Although it is still the main weapon of the civil resistance against the Russian invaders, in Ukraine.

Decades ago, the AK-47 was enshrouded in the romanticism of intrepid Third World liberation fighters and popular resistance. Figure on the flag of Mozambique, after the victory against the Portuguese colonialists. It appears in a variation, on a yellow background, of the flag of Hammas (a group considered terrorist which, remember, was chosen by the citizens of the Gaza Strip in democratic suffrage). And it is worth remembering that it was thanks to her, the Kalash, that the most powerful and well-equipped army in the world, the US, was defeated in the Vietnam War.

This chapter of the war in Indochina well illustrates the apparently benign and liberating facet of the AK, the first act of the epic of a weapon that degenerated to excite local and tribal tragedies, whose outcome is far from occurring. To get a sense of the superiority of the clumsy Kalash, in Vietnam American M-16 rifles jammed in the jungle humidity, and American troops were instructed to retrieve the AKs from the corpses of vietcong, retire your fancy equipment, and start using them. Vietnam was a historic, political and geopolitical milestone, as much as it was a milestone for the arms industry.

It proved the superiority of the Kalash, as it lasted longer, broke down less and did not need to be replaced. It was then that it began to become a legend, generating fear and respect: all the power of the United States could not devise a more effective weapon than the ordinary comma rifle. The American M-16 certainly had more accuracy, more precision. The Kalash was, and is, imprecise, ungainly, more insecure for its owner, and precisely because of this, precisely because of its shortcomings, absolutely perfect for the job. It could be less high-tech, but the crux of the matter, in war, was never accuracy of snipers, and yes the capacity of random destruction.

That that war (and others) prove that economic and technological power is not the mother of victory is evident in the saga of the Cu-Chi tunnels. The Cu Chi Tunnels – dug with a rice shovel, with three underground floors, and which, in addition to being the headquarters of the Vietnamese, had a hospital and facilities for the families, including a school for the children – were located a few kilometers from the American military base in Saigon. The invaders, who never quite knew how to locate them, walked on a razor's edge. At any moment, a well-equipped American battalion could be faced with the appearance, from deep inside the earth, of a white lion platoon and its Kalashs. They didn't even need to aim straight, just unload everywhere, and send them running.

Other times, those. Today, the Kalash of the Round Table of the Oppressed, wielded by slender Sires Galahads, has become a Horseman of the Apocalypse. The Kalash now reeks of the Taliban, Daesh, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Shababb and the like. It has the face of Charles Taylor and Liberia-Sierra Leone carnage. The same face of Ugandan psychopath Kony and his self-image of the Holy Spirit assigned to rehabilitate the 10 Commandments, or that of Daesh delinquents, who reached the refinement of developing a theology of rape.[iv]

The Ugandan psychopath Kony, commander of the Lord's Resistance Army, served a drink to kidnapped children to convert them into combatants, a hallucinogen that made them feel invulnerable, ready to enter the front line of assault, shield targets. Undefeated champion of a universe dotted with monsters and executioners, for decades indicted for crimes against humanity by the ICC (International Criminal Court), Joseph Kony, between 1986 and 2008, kidnapped 66 children to serve as child fighters or sex slaves, and caused the exile of 2 million people. The baptism of child soldiers was to murder a parent, and earn your own Kalash.

AKs put nuclear weapons to shame. For the simple reason that they are not a (terrifying) conjecture, but an everyday reality. The XNUMXst century, despite the recent invasion of Ukraine and the bravado of Vladimir Putin, is not going to implode in a mushroom cloud. It will be the continuation of the chronicle proclaimed since the XNUMXth century: the proliferation ad infinitum of local, ethnic, religious, sectarian, tribal wars, of hygienically encapsulated confrontations, of proxy wars, of clashes “household nationalisms” – conducive soil to spawn the waste of old weapons and continue to profit from new ones.

In the confrontations of the XNUMXst century, as in the XNUMXth, the simple and accessible will win over the expensive and complicated. The ideal weapon remains the simplest one. Kalash, the most democratic way to kill. Who cares about a major nuclear war? Dead customer does not pay. And the replacement of the clientele is crucial to nurse history, because, as the philosopher Hegel said, “war is the midwife of history”. Kalash has a certificate of guarantee for Hegelian eschatology: there will always be customers and the balance sheet will always be in the positive.

It can be bought at any bazaar in Pakistan, Somalia, Congo and abundantly on the Web. Its price is manageable, but varies. This fluctuation is the best indicator that genocide is about to begin. In quiet times, the AK is a bargain: $10 or $15, or you can exchange it for a bag of corn. When the killing takes off, the law of supply and demand thrives, and it becomes more expensive, but still the cheapest in the world. Perpetual profits can only come from perpetual wars – therefore, from conventional wars, which replace a captive residual clientele. The more wars are reproduced in punctual conflagrations, replaying the devastation, the more serenely assured will the uninterrupted profit for the lords of arms, governments, industry and third parties who cohabit in promiscuous emulation.

A simple example of this happy symbiosis of public and private interests can be seen in the Iraq war, in which the then Vice President Dick Cheney (2001-2009), barely leaving his position as CEO of Halliburton (1995-2000), contemplated Halliburton itself (out of bid, and from which he was not even divorced, as he kept his shares and dividends), with a monopoly, out of bid, of all reconstruction contracts in Iraq. Halliburton pocketed billions, and left Iraq without completing a single bridge from one side of the river to the other.

But let's leave the rugged spheres of the untouchables, landing in the citizenship of war as it is. Chaotic and unpredictable (wouldn't Vladimir Putin conquer Ukraine in “a matter of days”?) The war can be won by the most undisciplined militia, provided they are equipped with the faithful and easy Kalash. It doesn't matter if the shooter has expertise or not. In present and future wars, the secret is that the combatant is as expendable as the enemy target.

In today's war, which continues to be (as in Vietnam) one of men against men, not nuclear reactors against humanity, the Kalash is a competitive advantage. Every shot it fires is less accurate than other rifles. But quantity counts, not quality. It's worth the rotating Kalash killing more people, and demanding more Kalashs to kill the slaughterers. The virtuous circle. Dead customer, put customer.

More than democratic, the Kalash is egalitarian. It does not favor ideologies, factions, countries, killer A or killer B. Kalash, how to use, enable all. In the killing scavenger hunt, it paradoxically promotes the equality in death: from the quiet Belarusian merchant to the Belarusian military. From the Kiev housewife to the Muscovite soldier. By equating civilians and military, criminals and terrorists, insurgents and citizens who need to defend themselves, it equalizes who kills and who dies, whispering that all are equally expendable.

The Kalash is just not egalitarian in Park Avenue and related addresses. So popular, it became pop and cult. A politically correct dinner Park Avenue, with Democrats or Republicans, will only become “the talk of the town” if it is washed down with Vodka brand Kalash (more expensive than Stolichanaya Premium), if the host's corner tables are decorated by kalash light fixtures by renowned designer Philippe Starck (the stylized base imitates the weapon), a piece that few can afford to buy. And if the hostess takes out of the jewelry box, to the envy of the guests, an exclusive model, earrings (pendants made of platinum and niobium) designed in the shape of a Kalash. They exist, yes, and can be found in selected humanitarian NGOs. But the price is not for everyone.

*Marilia Pacheco Fiorillo is a retired professor at the USP School of Communications and Arts (ECA-USP). Author, among other books, of The Exiled God: A Brief History of a Heresy (Brazilian Civilization).



[I] Weaponomics: The Global Market For Assault Rifles. Phillip Killicoat, Department of Economics, Oxford University, 2007.

[ii] Amnesty International and Oxfam, 'Control Arms Briefing Notes', 2006

[iii] Weaponomics: The Global Market For Assault Rifles. Phillip Killicoat, Department of Economics, Oxford University, 2007.


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