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Michael Hodges
In Print
MacAdam/Cage (2007)

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This entry created 3 January 2011. Last revised on 5 September 2016.

3,165 hits since 3 Jan 2011
©1994-2024 Bill Armintrout
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The Story of a Gun

Rating: gold star gold star gold star gold star no star no star no star no star no star no star (4.00)

216 pages. No pictures. No index.


The Killing Joke
City of Guns
The Song of the Child Soldiers
Bustin' Niggas

This book promises to tell the story of the AK47 assault rifle "...from its origins in the Soviet Union, through its rebirth in the hands of third world revolutionaries, to its current status as the brand leader in international terrorism." From the book jacket text, I presume that Michael Hodges is a freelance British reporter.

The Killing Joke (pp.18):

Spending time with [General Kalashnikov], I would come to realise that for him the AK47 was not only the weapon that he had invented to save Russia but the ultimate symbol of the Russia he had aimed to save. In some ways, time had stopped for him in the late 1940s. He had gone on to engineer further developments in Soviet small arms - in fact some of his finest work lay ahead of him - but the warm glow of victory in the Second World War and the first successes of his AK47 had cemented the period as a golden time in his memory. Thousands of Soviet citizens had suffered terribly during the war and afterwards as Stalin descended into his final, violently paranoid years, but for the general 'It was a time when all the races of the Soviet Union came together to stop Hitler. We lived together in brotherhood then, everyone fought for each other. Everyone made great sacrifices, but we were happy to do it. In those days we were a united country. It did not matter what race you were, a Tartar or a Ukrainian, you were dedicated to the motherland.'

This book is a social history of the AK47 rather than a technical history, and Hodges chooses to build his history as a series of illustrative stories, linked with historical background. After two chapters which tell the story of Kalashnikov and his gun, we get:

  • Vietnam - a North Vietnamese trucker on the Ho Chi Minh trail becomes a propaganda hero
  • Palestine - a French fashion photographer follows Palestinian fighters in 2001
  • Africa - the story of a child soldier in the Sudan
  • War on Terror - two British Muslims attend a training camp in Pakistan
  • Iraq - the author's experiences embedded with Allied troops during peacekeeping operations
  • United States - Gang members kill a rival at a New Orleans high school
The Song of the Child Soldiers (p.120):

As he gained experience and seniority Emmanuel was given his own Kalashnikov, and he fought sporadically as the SPLA took its war with the Sudanese government back across the border and into the homeland. Despite the death and destruction he saw around him, and the high casualty rate, he and his fellow boy soldiers maintained an attitude towards war that was essentially child-like. 'It was like a game with toy guns, but when the war begins you can put the gun down and run away or you can pull the trigger. Once you've done that you will come into battle again because you will be experienced with the gun, and it will pull you in. You'll even try to get to the front - that's what an AK can do to you. It makes you think that no one can touch you. It makes you do dangerous things, take more risks when you go into battle. Once you've fired an AK47 you become brave. If you are not careful the gun sends you into battle.'

Hodges sees the AK47 as a unique weapon, cheap to manufacture, easy to operate, which has made 'terrifying' firepower available to anyone who wants it. He tracks the weapon's evolution from Communist symbol, to symbol of terrorism, to a symbol of manhood in much of the Muslim world, and even to a brand name in the West (in music, in art, even a vodka brand).

His ultimate argument, however, is that the AK47 is like a virus, waiting for the slightest tear in the social fabric to gain entry. More than just a weapon, the 'culture' of the Kalashnikov asserts itself wherever the weapon is available in sufficient numbers. He sees the gun as a cause of violence, not a symptom, wherever it has been exported - and he fears that relaxed gun policies in the U.S. will lead to societal problems even there.

Bustin' Niggas (pp.210):

At the beginning of First Blood II an American comments on the armoury that Rambo has chosen for his mission: 'A beat-to-shit AK? Every twelve-year-old in Nam's got one of those.' To which Rambo's reply is: 'Exactly'.

By 2004 America's inner cities were heading in the same direction. In the end even the USA is not safe from the Kalashnikov. It makes the rules now.

The one major flaw in this book is that the author tends to throw around political remarks that will cause many readers to discount his work as "left wing." This is a shame, as I think many readers might be interested in the topic, only to be driven to exasperation by Hodges' irrelevant political opinions about America and Israel.

From a wargaming perspective, many of the 'stories' provide sufficient details to inspire a scenario or two - oddly enough, there is even enough material to put together a campaign about child soldiers in the Sudan, though I doubt the subject would interest many gamers.

(Note: This book has also been published as AK47: the story of the people's gun.)

Reviewed by Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian.