"Where Kalashnikov makes his money now," says Kahaner, "is through his worldwide celebrity status. The Russian weapons cartel flies him to big arms shows to sign autographs and promote sales. He has also lent his name to a vodka. It comes in a bottle shaped like his rifle."
"You've fired the M-16 as well. What did that feel like?"
"If you've fired a .22 rifle at squirrels or targets, it's not that much different. It's a very smooth, very sleek weapon. It feels good in the hand. And it doesn't have much of a recoil."
"Which would you opt for?"
"I'm a very bad shot -- not a professional soldier. I'm not going to be one to clean it, and I don't know much about weapons, so I'd want something that's not going to break down. I would opt for the AK. Also, the thinking back in the '50s that led to the M-16 was that if you fire a smaller bullet at a higher velocity, you do more damage. As opposed to using a larger bullet, which will travel more slowly. Our soldiers in Iraq, for instance, carrying rifle models based on the M-16, fire a small bullet that's really not much more than a .22 caliber. But it travels at a very high velocity and does incredible damage to internal organs. However, you have to hit the target right to do that kind of damage. It's called hydrostatic shock. The laws of physics say that all the energy that's in that high-speed bullet has to go somewhere when it strikes and stops dead. So the small caliber round is very effective, but, if you shoot somebody in the leg or the arm, it's not going to do much."
"It will just pass through?"
"It may or may not. The guy may be out of commission, but he won't be dead. When you use a large-caliber bullet like the AK-47's 7.62 mm, no matter where you hit the person, it's going to do a lot. Even break bone. Which is why a lot of GIs in Iraq complain that their rifles just aren't powerful enough. They have two main complaints. That they have to keep their weapons so clean in an extremely dirty environment."
"That's a very old complaint now."
"Exactly. And the second complaint is that sometimes they'll want to shoot through some obstruction -- a fence, a stucco wall the enemy may be hiding behind -- and they can't do that with an M-16-type weapon, whereas you can with an AK. So Americans sometimes feel themselves at a disadvantage."
"With a 7.62 you can probably fire through an engine block."
"Well, I don't know about that," says Kahaner, "but you can fire through a wall or door."
"The Marines to this day remain bitter about the M-16. In 1967, inspectors found 75 percent of the Third Division's rifles in Vietnam could easily misfire and did. The M-16 was quite a scandal. A lot of Marines on the battlefield were found dead over their desperately stripped, inoperable rifles. Part of the problem was addressed, but the complaint remains about the rifle's sensitivity to dirt and dust."
"Are you familiar with Geneva Convention or other international restrictions on the type of rounds armies can legally use?"
"There are certain types of bullets that can't be used, because of how they expand -- hollow points, or dumdums. But I don't know. I get mixed messages about what's allowed and what's not allowed."
"Do you think it was really the intent of armaments designers to circumvent international prohibitions against extremely injurious bullets by introducing high-velocity weapons? And to find ways around restrictions on the bullets used, such as putting those air pockets inside rounds to compromise the structures deliberately and make the bullets come apart on impact and inflict greater damage? If you introduced a flaw in the nose of a lead-tipped bullet, by notching it to make it a dumdum, it would be illegal. But putting it inside the bullet apparently makes the round legal. I mean, everything was so deliberate and calculated about new weapons, was this factored in too by their inventors?"
"I don't know. The reason for the restrictions on the bullets is that -- an odd thing about making war -- you're not supposed to make your opponent suffer. You can kill, you can maim, but you're not to make the enemy suffer."