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Furthermore …


Letter of repentance

When Alfred Nobel invented dynamite in 1867, he briefly considered calling it “Nobel’s Safety Powder” in order to stress that it was more stable and less dangerous than nitroglycerine. (This is, as Eric Clapton fans will instantly recognize, a variant on the argument, “I shot the sheriff, but I didn’t shoot the deputy.”)

When his brother Ludvig died in 1888, a French newspaper, mistakenly reporting that Alfred Nobel himself had passed away, headlined its obituary “The Merchant of Death has Died.” That led Nobel to worry about how he was going to be remembered.

And so it is that his name is associated with the prizes he set up through a trust

Nobel’s classic spin-control efforts were brought to mind with a revelation that followed the December death, at 94, of Russia’s Mikhail Kalashnikov.

Kalashnikov was the man who invented the AK-47 assault rifle, the world’s most popular firearm. The rifle, which can fire single shots or automatic bursts, is easy and cheap to produce and simple to use, and thus has been a favorite of communist insurgents and international drug criminals.

For years, Kalashnikov denied that he bore any blame for the thousands – perhaps millions – of victims who have met death at the end of an AK-47 barrel.

“I sleep well,” he told the Associated Press in 2007. “It’s the politicians who are to blame for failing to come to an agreement and resorting to violence.”

But Kalashnikov had second thoughts a few months before his death. In a letter to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, the gun designer wrote Patriarch Kirill that he feels responsible for the fact that his rifle took lives. “The pain in my soul is unbearable,” wrote Kalashnikov in a letter published by the Russian daily newspaper Izvestia.

The churchman, Kirill, responded by calling Kalashnikov a true Russian patriot whose weapon helped “defend the motherland.”

At least he didn’t say, “Arms designers don’t kill people …”