So That’s Where All the Weird Guns Came From

During the old unit’s first Afghanistan tour, we kept capturing, or having surrendered to us, caches of the most remarkable armaments. It didn’t take too long to figure out that there was a pattern to these things. Everything surrendered to us was either monumentally obsolete, or something for which ammunition was in constrained supply.

In other words, the local warlords (and war vassals) were fobbing us off with impressive quantities of armaments that were of no practical use to them anyway, and that were nothing but a storage problem and an “attractive nuisance,” in legal terms, that brought in thieves. All while ingratiating themselves with the new invaders, while there was still money to be made off of them. Sure, we got the occasional MANPADS or AK, but mostly, we got stuff that was granddad’s age.

And he was already dead.

But still, we marveled at all the weird weapons, many of them from the period between the end of the Third Anglo-Afghan War (1919) and the Second World War (1939). Everything from Renault FT tanks to Italian artillery to Czech ZB-26s and the bolt action rifles made everywhere from Iberia to Izhevsk showed up in our cache hauls.

And one had to ask: who was running Afghanistan’s weapons procurement in the 1920s and 1930s, Mad King Ludwig? It turns out, though, that the answer was committed to paper long ago, and by a most unlikely source: the British Conservative diplomat, Sir Samuel Hoare, Viscount Templewood. Templewood, whose contemporaries saw him as a “cold fish” in person, wrote several delightful books, including a memoir of his time as a senior diplomat from 1931 to 1940, Nine Troubled Years. In it, on pp. 123-125, he reprints a letter he wrote (in his capacity as Secretary of State for India) to then-PM Ramsay McDonald, in 1932, from the League of Nations Disarmament Conference in Geneva.

I got back from Geneva last night, very glad to have escaped from its curiously artificial and neurotic atmosphere. ….

After a short interval we all … adjourned to the Bâtiment Electoral, the grim hall in which the Disarmament Conference was to take place. …there are few more dismal buildings in Europe.

He went on at some length about the dreariness of the surroundings, and the mind-numbing boredom of the proceedings, which led to the diplomats present tuning out the droning speakers. Or bailing out of the conference completely.

Finding the proceedings very tedious, I interested myself in looking at my fellow delegates. On my left…we were seated alphabetically and I, being “India,” was with the I’s, was the representative of the Hedjaz, dressed as an Arab sheik. He was the only delegate in fancy dress.

In the front row were the Afghans. We asked the Afghans why, Afghanistan not being a member of the League [of Nations], they had come to the Disarmament Conference.

They told that they were short of arms, and that they thought that at a Disarmament Conference there would be a chance of picking up second-hand munitions cheap.

Those short paragraphs not only explain the presence of the output of what seems like all the member-states of the short-lived League in the caves and storerooms of rural ‘Stan, but many more things besides.

  1. Isn’t it just like an Afghan to attend a Disarmament Conference looking not to disarm, but to arm? Unless there was a Swiss Confederation or USA representative, the nations of the 1932 League of Nations Disarmament conference are gone, but this trait of the Afghan race abides.
  2. The Afghans obviously succeeded in their objective, even though the Disarmament Conference was a microcosm of the League of Nations (and its UN successor) in that it was a failure at promoting peace. Our stacks of Enfields, Mausers, and DP-26s tell the tale.
  3. Templewood goes on to note that the Russian delegation includes Litvinov and Karl Radek, perhaps explaining those prewar Mosins, DPs, etc.
  4. Finally, note that the nations that put their trust in diplomacy in general and the League of Nations in particular did not come out well. Ethiopia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Baltic States would all go down the tubes as the diplomats in the talking-shop complained about the insufficiently palatial palaces in which they held their useless meetings.

The failure of the League is not only evident now, it was evident then, even to some of those immersed in it. The three contemporary cartoons (two by (David?) Low) that accompany this post demonstrate that somebody had a pretty good grasp on the utility and consequences of diplomacy and the League. But it’s not there for utility; it’s a salve to the egos of the players.

 That said, as bad as the League was, at least it didn’t turn loose a legion of third-world “peacekeepers” to bugger their way through the children of war-threatened lands.

(Note: Apologies for a bit of post lag today. We’re running about two behind after some technical entanglements yesterday we’re still sorting out –Ed.)

20 thoughts on “So That’s Where All the Weird Guns Came From

  1. John M.

    OK, I had a hunch that you were running a gun buyback program in Afghanistan. Fess up, now: Did you give them $25 Farood Meyeri gift cards in exchange for each gun?

    This is great background, though. And pretty funny, really. “I know, let’s disarm by selling our guns to AFGHANS.”

    I read a while back that in Pashto, the word “disarm” is the same as the word for “surrender.” I think the Pashtuns are actually on to something there.

    How much of the old Russian hardware do you think came from the Soviets arming their “little socialist brothers” in the various Afghan communist governments? I could definitely see them shoveling a whole mess of old Mosins off on those guys.

    -John M.

    Reply
  2. Kirk

    Disarmament is another one of those immortal Good (actually Really, Really Bad…) Ideas(tm) that are essentially immortal–Kinda like Socialism(tm).

    People are still going to be trying for this shit a hundred thousand years from now, assuming we don’t extinctify ourselves, or evolve out of it. The root problem is that the concept doesn’t address the actual underlying condition, merely the symptoms. Nation-states that don’t have designs on their neighbors don’t arm themselves to the teeth, and those who have neighbors doing the arming up have little hope of dissuading them from doing so via diplomacy. The actual rational response to the guys across the border buying a shit-ton of weapons? Taking that as what rationalists call “a clue”, and arming up yourself. Because, not matter what, war is coming.

    It’s kinda like that guy in the bar that’s talking shit, and egging himself on to punch you in the face. Sweet reason ain’t going to dissuade him, and one way or another, there’s going to be a fight. I’ve only ever seen that kind of thing pre-empted, and the guy who did that did so by the simple expedient of walking up to his harasser, and then beating the ever-loving shit out of him. By about the third time his head was striking the surface of the bar with a nice, meaty “Thunk”, his buddies all decided they had better places to be, and turned their backs on the festivities. Inside of a couple of minutes, that fight ended, and our boy the bully looked about like he’d stepped in front of a freight train.

    Observing that, you could say that learning had occurred.

    Reply
    1. bloke_from_ohio

      Kirk,

      I am acquiring the first two paragraphs from that comment. It is a reasonably succinct way to put what I have been meditating on for a while into words. Thanks for the nugget of wisdom.

      Reply
  3. Kirk

    Disarmament is another one of those immortal Good (actually Really, Really Bad…) Ideas(tm) that are essentially immortal–Kinda like Socialism(tm).

    People are still going to be trying for this shit a hundred thousand years from now, assuming we don’t extinctify ourselves, or evolve out of it. The root problem is that the concept doesn’t address the actual underlying condition, merely the symptoms. Nation-states that don’t have designs on their neighbors don’t arm themselves to the teeth, and those who have neighbors doing the arming up have little hope of dissuading them from doing so via diplomacy. The actual rational response to the guys across the border buying a shit-ton of weapons? Taking that as what rationalists call “a clue”, and arming up yourself. Because, not matter what, war is coming.

    It’s kinda like that guy in the bar that’s talking shit, and egging himself on to punch you in the face. Sweet reason ain’t going to dissuade him, and one way or another, there’s going to be a fight. I’ve only ever seen that kind of thing pre-empted, and the guy who did that did so by the simple expedient of walking up to his harasser, and then beating the ever-loving shit out of him. By about the third time his head was striking the surface of the bar with a nice, meaty “Thunk”, his buddies all decided they had better places to be, and turned their backs on the festivities. Inside of a couple of minutes, that fight ended, and our boy the bully looked about like he’d stepped in front of a freight train.

    Observing that, you could say that learning had occurred.

    Reply
  4. Boat Guy

    “That said, as bad as the League was, at least it didn’t turn loose a legion of third-world “peacekeepers” to bugger their way through the children of war-threatened lands. ”

    Right, there; THAT is a damning and accurate distinction. “We” have learned NOTHING.

    Reply
  5. Keith

    The modern UN continues to be nothing but a sink hole of money and a haven for the Progressive/Tranzi/Cosmo Pravda that wants to disarm and eliminate countries and religion world wide.

    They should be declared the clear and present danger to all we hold true here but the fellow travelers in this country wont allow that.

    Keep your powder dry and your faith in God.

    Reply
  6. Pericles

    Attending a disarmament conference to buy used weapons – now, that is “outside the box” thinking.

    Reply
  7. staghounds

    1. The Afghans have not remained independent through not seeing opportunities.

    2. Sir Samuel once negotiated a treaty in France. In a speech opposing the agreement, an M.P. famously said “We should send no more coals to Newcastle, nor Hoares to Paris”.

    3. Afghanistan was the world’s most expensive gun (small arms division) buyback ever.

    Reply
    1. Haxo Angmark

      LOLz….sounds like one of WC’s zingers.

      Noel Coward to WC: “here’s 2 tickets to the premiere of my new play. Bring a friend. If you have one.”

      Churchill replies: “can’t attend first performance, but will attend second. If there is one.”

      Reply
  8. W. Fleetwood

    Slightly off topic, but I’ve been wondering. Mr. H, in Afghanistan and/or Iraq did you encounter the following sequence of events?

    1) Some bright spark, usually in the Cop Shop, passes out multicolor, cartoon level, “Cash rewards for weapons/munitions turn in.” leaflets to, apparently, every single human being in the country.

    2) Every insurgent logistics boss in said country has a light bulb appear over his head.

    3) The insurgent women and kids auxiliary force starts to move arms/ammunition in penny packets and broad daylight.

    4) When the 1% get caught they each have a multicolor leaflet and have memorized the Magic Words; “I found it in the bushes. You guys are the Proper Authorities, right? Where’s my money?”.

    Sadly, I never got a Ross rifle out of the deal.

    Wafa Wafa, Wasara Wasara.

    Reply
    1. Hognose Post author

      Afghans will see African bush entrepreneurship and raise you Chinese HN-5 MANPADS.

      “It’s from the jihad against the Russians.”

      “It’s dated May, 2002.”

      “The radio said $1,500.”

      We found out a general in a bordering large nation was selling them out of his army’s depot stock. I wanted to have the dips deliver the write-up to the nation in question, figuring that the supply line would get plugged at their end (and the general would get plugged, too). There was actually some chick from some agency who complained that that was unfair. (Who did she think she was, Stimson?)

      Dunno what decision was finally taken. Probably nothing — the intel crowd are great at inertia. It would probably have been too hard to try to turn the general, but that would have been the optimum outcome.

      Reply
  9. BDFT

    Nothing changes. Replace Hitler in the last cartoon with a mad mullah or ISIS lunatic and the message remains the same. The game never changes. Only the players.

    Reply
  10. archy

    Once upon a time I was amused and pleased to come across a batch of 11 M1 Garands, [2004, not real far from Khost] stripped a few spare parts off the clunkier ones, picked the best one [happily, a Winchester, with a 1954 rebuild SA barrel] and turned the rest in. Iranian ammo was on hand,[may have been the source for the rifles] and it worked, but it was in Browning MG links, and Garand clips weren’t to be had, probably the reason we got the things instead of their being cached. I had 40 clips FedEx’ed in to Kabul, and about a week later they finally made their way to our site. Once so set up and zeroed, I figured I was pretty near equal to the abilities of any visiting Dukhai with his SVD and trust in Allah.
    In the event anyone ever needs field expedient LBE web gear for a Garand: two loaded Garand clips fit okay in each pouch of a Chicom SKS chest rig, one up, one down; 10 pockets x 2 clips of 8 each= 160 rounds on board, a little heavy to go swimming with, but that was not much of a consideration at the time. When a lighter load was called for, a half-dozen clips tossed into a 2-liter bladder canteen shoulder bag or an NVG belt pouch worked, but they were in demand for hauling M79 ammo. Add in a couple-three clips stuck on the Garand sling loaded with 8 of the MG belt 1-in-5 tracers, and i was right in bizness.
    My bet is that there’s at least as much hardware and ammo buried/hidden in forgotten Afghan caches beneath the ground as there is above it, and that works out to quite a lot in both places.

    Reply
    1. H

      If that doesn’t compromise some kinda personal OPSEC thing, you might consider submittal of that story, with a bit of augmentation and hopefully pics, to the GCA (Garand Collector’s Association) for their publication. They run that kinda stuff; the most recent issue has an article by a member who fired an M1 at Chu Chi, one of the weapons the Vietnamese rent out to tourists.

      Reply
  11. Blackshoe

    The WWII After WWII website you posted as Wednesday Website of the Week has some fascinating entries for Afghanistan

    Reply
  12. bloke_from_ohio

    There are “gun people” who will attend buy backs and buy stuff from the folks looking to turn stuff in. If you do it right you could get a sweet deal on old stuff from people who either don’t know better or don’t care. I have not done it, but it warms my heart that it happens.

    Reply

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