Monday, August 22, 2011

"The Right Arm Of The Free World"

I admit to being sentimental about firearms. After all, the history of guns is essentially the history of the modern day. The rifle carried by the Libyan fighter above, is one of the most iconic of the 20th century: the FAL.

After World War Two, major armies- having learned hard lessons about the realities of modern combat and the inadequacies of (largely) turn-of-the-century infantry weapons- set out to design new "battle rifles" to meet these new requirements. The Belgian firm Fabrique Nationale, spurred by the recent creation of NATO and the opportunity to capture the market on infantry rifles- devised the Fusil Automatique Leger- "Light Automatic Rifle"- with the encouragement of the British, who sought to have a common rifle used by all NATO member nations. The FAL never became universal: The United States insisted on adopting its own, equally-capable rifle, the M14; some nations opted to purchase the alternative Heckler and Koch G3; and some nations allied themselves with the Soviet Union and recieved generous shipments of the ubiquitous AK-47 series.

The FAL, however, did see worldwide acceptance. It became the official service rifle of Britain and most of the Commonwealth nations, the majority of NATO countries, and Israel. In fact, nearly 90 countries have issued it at one time or another. It was the symbolic counterpoint to the USSR's widely-distributed AK-47. The FAL's widespread adoption by Western nations earned it the nickname it still carries today: "The Right Arm of the Free World".

The FAL saw service in nearly every conflict of the Cold War era, virtually always on the side of the "good guys". In some cases, such as the Falklands War, the FAL's ubiquity meant it was carried by troops on both sides of the conflict. Perhaps most noteworthy, it was the standard rifle carried by Israeli troops in the Six Day War.

One of the recent developments in the Libyan conflict has brought the FAL to the forefront yet again: Libyan rebels captured a government arsenal, and among the weapons seized were thousands of Cold War-era FALs like the one in the photo. Although I share the concerns some Americans have about the participants in this rebellion, I can't help but feel a small thrill of nostalgia. "The Right Arm of the Free World" has, once again, been called to serve in the cause of liberty.

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