This isn't new territory for Chivers, who has written on small arms before for the Times and plans to publish a book next Spring called Killing Machine: A Social History of the AK-47, The Rifle of the Revolution from the Cold War to the Jihad. But I'll read pretty much anything this guy writes. Seriously, he could switch to the John & Kate Plus 8 beat and I'd be all over it.
Few issues are more personal to soldiers than the question of whether they can trust their rifles. And few rifles in history have generated more controversy over their reliability than the American M-16 assault rifle and its carbine version, the M-4.
In recent weeks, a fresh round of complaints about weapon malfunctions in Afghanistan, mentioned in an Army historian’s report that documented small-arms jamming during the fierce battle in Wanat last year, has rekindled the discussion. Are the M-16 and M-4 the best rifles available for American troops? Or are they fussy and punchless and less than ideal for war?
Don’t expect a clear answer any time soon. Expect several clear answers at once – many of them contradictory. This is because when talk turns to the M-16 and the M-4, it enters emotionally charged territory. The conversation is burdened by history, cluttered with conflicting anecdotes, and argued over by passionate camps.
This much is indisputable: Since the mid-1960s, when at Gen. William C. Westmoreland’s request an earlier version of the M-16 became the primary American rifle in Vietnam, the reputation of the M-16 family has been checkered.
Anyone with experience downrange have opinions on the M-16 controversy?