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Question: What weapon has killed more people than any other in the history of the world?
In light of the 70th anniversary of the destruction of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, you might guess the atomic bomb. This wouldn’t be a bad guess because 129,000 people were killed on August 6th and 9th, 1945. Plus, because politicians are hotly debating how the current deal with Iran will (or won’t) stop them from enriching uranium, you might assume that nuclear weapons were the single biggest source of human death.
But the atomic bomb, while the most dramatic and devastating, is not the most deadly. That dishonor belongs to a little thing invented in 1945—the same year the bombs were dropped—by a Russian soldier named Mikhail Kalashnikov. The Russians called it the Avtomat Kalashnikov.
We know it as the AK-47.
The AK-47 is really an amazing piece on engineering. It’s cheap and has easily changeable parts. In fact, knock-off models are made in 32 countries, but most of them are so similar that their parts are interchangeable. This makes them useful in areas like jungles, deserts, and mountains, where a hardworking rebel fighter might have to combine two broken AKs into a single, functional weapon.
It’s remarkably powerful, but still light enough that a young boy can wield it with ease. And sadly, many have. There are an estimated 100 million AK-47s in the world, which means that 1 out of every 5 firearms on the planet is an AK-47.
According to a 2006 Washington Post article by Larry Kahaner,
The AK-47 has become the world’s most prolific and effective combat weapon, a device so cheap and simple that it can be bought in many countries for less than the cost of a live chicken. Depicted on the flag and currency of several countries, waved by guerrillas and rebels everywhere, the AK is responsible for about a quarter-million deaths every year. It is the firearm of choice for at least 50 legitimate standing armies and countless fighting forces from Africa and the Middle East to Central America and Los Angeles. It has become a cultural icon, its signature form — that banana-shaped magazine — defining in our consciousness the contours of a deadly weapon. [bold added]
It’s easy to notice the dramatic events: the atomic bombs, the Presidential elections, the public scandals, shark attacks, and plane crashes. And we should. They are big, important things.
But sometimes we forget about how the small things add up.
We don’t notice the cumulative effect of small, negative things: a few extra calories here or there, a sharp word to our spouse because we’re stressed, or letting a co-worker’s offensive comment slide because…what’s the point of making a big deal over something so small?
The point is that each of those 250,000 AK-47 deaths came one at a time.
Of course, the silver lining is that the cumulative effect of small things can work in your favor: tucking in your children at night, attending class everyday, praying for your grandchildren, and standing up for what you know is right. As a person who considers his own life rather mundane, I take comfort in knowing that my days have a cumulative impact. I think this is part of what Jesus meant when he said:
Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” Matthew 17:20