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The American rifle abroad


In a detailed and fascinating article for the New Inquiry, Patrick Blanchfield tells the history of the origin and influence of the AR-15 assault rifle, which was first developed and manufactured in the US in the 1950s. The US government’s enthusiasm for arming its military with the AR-15—sometimes called “America’s rifle”—is matched only by its enthusiasm for facilitating the sale of massive quantities of the rifle to militaries abroad. As Blanchfield notes, the US does this while still calling itself a “peace-loving” nation. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Gun violence is an undeniable problem in the United States, but as with so many social issues, our perception of it is constrained by a deeply ingrained chauvinism, an American exceptionalism that is both self-righteous and hypocritical. “Gun violence” is our embarrassment, as a “developed nation,” as civilized, advanced, and wealthy. And so we divide the rest of the world between two categories. There are states with fewer gun deaths than ours, with whom we imagine ourselves as being on a parallel plane of sophistication, and whose superior track record shames us. And there are the squalid, undeveloped hellholes with more gun deaths than ours. We might make billions destabilizing their regimes and flooding their borders with weapons, but our complicity in that violence is not what shames us. Our shame is the fear that “we” might somehow be like “them”…

Today, the US remains the world’s top exporter of weapons, and our arms manufacturing firms consistently dominate the list of the world’s largest and most profitable. Precise figures can be difficult to come by: manufacturers adopt ever more sophisticated strategies for shielding the specifics of their sales while clients resist disclosing their purchases. And yet certain trends are clearly visible. Domestic distaste for “boots-on-the-ground” warfare dovetails with domestic commitments to arms-related manufacturing jobs, making it ever more politically attractive to arm foreign allies instead of doing the fighting ourselves. Demand is increasing with the escalation of tensions in hotspots and zones of triangulation in the Middle East and East Asia, along with new markets and opportunities for “cooperation” with India and Vietnam. Indeed, the latter development marks a particularly ironic case of déjà vu: decades after we armed Saigon’s ARVN against the Viet Cong, we have returned to selling arms on the Vietnamese Peninsula, this time to our former enemies: mounting friction with the Chinese makes them eager customers.

Image: President John F. Kennedy inspects an M15 rifle in the Oval Office, 1961. Via New Inquiry.