Mikhail Kalashnikov and culpability

Mikhail Kalashnikov, Creator of the AK-47, has died at age 94. He had little formal education, describing himself as a tinkerer. But he was an engineer at heart.

How many – millions? tens of millions? – have died, pierced by projectiles from the tens of millions of his creations? How much moral culpability should we assign to engineering sorts for the consequences of their creations?

I suggest that in all but extraordinary cases, we (whose job it isn’t to assign moral culpability anyway) shouldn’t assign much.

The world’s fraught with unintended consequences. Russia had legitimate enemies. His creation arrived a bit too late to to contribute to the defeat of Hitler, the starring role in which defeat arguably was Russia’s, but defending themselves and their citizens is what governments do. And a citizen who creates so fine a work as the AK-47 is reported to be deserves a true patriot’s fame.

Not so someone who compliantly, say, designed a gas chamber cunningly disguised as a mass shower. That’s the extraordinary case I had in mind.

Robert Oppenheimer? Maybe we should go back to Kalashnakov.

Still, I can’t bring myself to a full-throated “Memory Eternal!”

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.