Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Post Revisionist Firearms History

As you may have noticed recently, firearms have become...well...hot. Look at the success of History Channel's Extreme Marksman, Future Weapons on Discovery or my own shows on Outdoor Channel. Other channels are actively shopping for "gun stuff;" BBC's got a huge AK-47 dcoumentary in the hopper (as well as three competing AK books, Michael Hodges' AK-47 The Story of a Gun; Larry Kahaner's AK-47: The Weapon That Changed the Face of War (which received vicious reviews, BTW) and Mikhail Kalashnikov and Elena Joy's Kalashnikov: The Gun That Changed the World.

I just got a copy of Mr. Gatlin's Terrible Marvel by Julia Keller, which I'll read when I finish up Tom Kratman's relentlessly grim novel Caliphate, on an Islamized Europe and an Imperialized America. I've always been fascinated with Gatling, but I'm not expecting all that much from the book, partly because of comments from Dave Kopel, who read an advance copy, but also considering this line from the book, quoted in a review, "The fact that arms are necessary to a nation's survival is a grubby and uncomfortable truth."

Hmmmmm...perhaps not the way I would phrase it. It's one of the unfortunate truths that most of the historical/scholarly books written about weapons (other than the "how to" books we all know and love) are created by journalists who hate weapons. They're the people who can sell the books to dreadfully liberal publishing establishment. It was interesting when I was trying to sell my gun book, Bullet Points: Postcards From the Heart of the Gun Culture, that even the big conservative houses took a pass, and for the same reason the mainstream New York publishing houses weren't interested. The rejection letters stopped just short of the same slur Obama used in San Fran...you peckerwoods and your damn guns!

While I was "between jobs" last year, I tried to read up a bunch on gun history. The two most interesting books on military weapons I found was Anthony Smith's Machine Gun: The Story of the Men and the Weapon that Changed the Face of War, which I picked up off an airport bookrack at Heathrow in London, and A Social History of the Machine Gun by John Ellis.

I think the great nonfiction book on the role of guns in both historical and modern American culture remains to be written — one of these days I will take a shot at it. And I'd love to see Stephen Hunter try, since he has a profound understanding of guns and culture. The closest thing to such a book are the introductory chapters of John Ross' Unintended Consequences, where he essentially outlines the beginnings of what we refer to as the "gun culture."

As it happens, one of the points of contention when I was circulating the proposal for Bullet Points was whether there was actually such a thing as a "gun culture." As one of the rejections put it, "Is it possible that Mr. Bane overspeaks because of his advocacy position?"


Anonymous said...

The reviewer quoted simply reflects his education and social training.

Also, there is not a "gun culture". Rather it is what was American culture; one where attributes such as honor, self reliance and critical thinking were valued and encouraged.

We are loosing if we have not already lost this.

Walt Rauch

Anonymous said...

Picked up a copy last year of "It's a Daisy!" by Cass Hough at the NRA Annual meeting in St. Louis. The Daisy booth was small but a must stop for a gun guy. The book is by one of the principles of the company. Chronicles the origins and history of the Daisy BB gun company. Great read. Takes you through a business growing and struggling, the 19th and 20th century culture, and how individuals make things happen or not. Recommend it to anyone looking to get the big picture of the US and guns.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely on the mark comment...the American Culture includes guns, honor, self-reliance, thought, etc. The gun culture is Americana....not something on the outside looking in. Everyone should promote guns in some way...for instance, today, at a major U.S symposium on shale gas reserves in Oklahoma City, OK, today, sponsored by Core Labs with all major oil companies and dozens of minor companies, I was wearing my new polo shirt from USSA and was asked by the sponsors what USSA was and where it was so they could participate. Wider participation is a good thing..be bold and live it and enjoy the questions from those who want to participate in our culture and that are hungry to find a way back into the culture they were born in. So much for the run-on sentences...but it would help if everyone would live it by doing something as minor as bringing up the guns and the shooting sports in business casual conversations...it works!


Anonymous said...

One of the worst things about my parties (GOP) politics since that end of the Eisenhower administration has been the use of division by "wedge" issues. Once we split off voters by use of a "gun wedge" issue, we then tear that element apart from the fabric of society as a whole.

Walt, I'd really like to see you spend a few years as president of the NRA. The few minutes we had to chat at the SHOT Show in Vegas this year impressed me greatly. You'd be an asset to America, not just the "gun culture".

Jerry The Geek said...

If you liked Ross's "Unintended Consequences", you should pick up Kratman's first (2003) novel, "A State of Disobedience".

Borders has it in paperback.

Kevin said...

If you haven't read it, I strongly urge you to pick up a copy of Abigail Kohn's book Shooters: Myths and Realities of America's Gun Cultures - note the plural, cultureS. Ms. Kohn is a cultural anthropologist by trade, and decided to concentrate on that strange and dangerous, uniquely American tribe, the gun owner.

What she found shocked and surprised her.

For a taste of what her book is about, you can read her Reason magazine piece Their Aim is True.