Monday, June 17, 2013

More bang for your buck

I just read two books about firearms by two guys who could have shared a beer, and gotten along famously, despite having very different political views.
The Gun, by C.J. Chivers isn't merely a history of the AK-47.  It's a history of Stalin's madness, Soviet bureaucracy, the 1956 Hungarian Revolution,  the Cold War, African massacres, and bureaucratic incompetence.  Even if you don't care about guns, this book is a good read.  Ostensibly, this book is a history of the AK-47, but the M-16 is discussed at length.

Former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle was working on American Gun when he was murdered by a friend he took out for some firearms practice.  Chris was trying to help a veteran who has not done well since he came home, and got shot for his trouble.  Although William Doyle helped Chris' widow finish the book, you can hear Chris' voice, as you read the pages.  This book is a quick romp through American history.  The technical details of American firearms are cleverly woven into casual histories of various battles and skirmishes-starting with highly accurate flintlocks called American Long Guns or Kentucky Rifles-used during the American Revolution to shoot British army officers from enormous distances.  Chris takes the reader through the Civil War, the Spanish American War, World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam. To his credit, he acknowledges the bravery, skill, and gunsmithing ability of America's foes over the last two centuries.
When he gets to the introduction of the M-16 in Vietnam, Chris breezes over the problems with the M-16 when it was first manufactured, and issued to front line combat troops.  Unlike Chivers-who extensively details and documents the high rate of failure and the horrific numbers of soldiers and marines whose M-16s either blew up in their face, or jammed after the first round-Chris side-skirts the extensive damage done to American troops by the general staff, and Colt's executives.  In plain English, American troops died unnecessarily and horribly.
I'm going to defend Chris on that last one, even though I'm not happy about it: when I was in, we were brainwashed into thinking that the M-16 was a technologically superior, awesome, precise, well-made piece of American technology, unlike that big, bulky, piece-of-crap AK-47.  I have no trouble believing that Chris was sold the same pile of zebra poop.  Interestingly, Chivers finishes The Gun with coverage of American troops being taught how to disassemble, clean, and re-assemble an AK-47, in an exercise titled "Just in Case". 
Thank God.
Chris Klye does, however, detail the extensive work done over the decades to update and improve the M-16-something that Chivers should have covered in more detail.  Hey, it only took the American military-industrial complex 40 years to fix the M-16.
Much to my horror, the Fed is willing to sell you an original model M-16, without the forward bolt assist.  Holy crap, are you guys kidding?
Note the forward bolt assist a.k.a. "forward assist" on the M-16A1 (lower image).  Any military firearm that comes with a button you gotta push during a fire fight, to unstick your gun, is a scary proposition.
Read both books.  They overlap and complement each other perfectly.

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