And while we’re on the subject of military rifles, it’s worth mentioning that the U.S. has less than a terrific record on equipping our troops with the latest and best. Consider:

  • The Union Army fought the Civil War with single-shot muzzle-loaders, despite the fact that practical breechloading repeaters were available for almost all of that period.
  • After the war, the Army went with the single-shot Model 1873 .45/70 Springfield, despite the demonstrated superiority of repeaters. General Custer could tell you about this.
  • We stayed with the Model 1873 right up until the Spanish American War in 1898, when we met up with the Mauser, firing smokeless powder. Ooops. Our mistake.
  • Despite the availability of the Mauser, we replaced the Model 1873s with a strange Danish bolt-action called the Krag-Jorgensen. It lasted all of ten years or so.
  • We fought World War I with the Springfield Model 1903, a great rifle, and a flagrant copy of the Mauser. Mauser sued the U.S. Government for patent infringement and won.
  • For the first year of World War II we got by with the Springfield. Then M-1s got to the troops. It was the best rifle of the war for two years until the Germans came up with the MP43—the first assault rifle.
  • Korea was fought with World War II surplus.
    In 1963, the Army began issuing the M-14, an improved (?) M-1. it was obsolete the day it was first issued.
  • The M-16 was our weapon of choice for our excellent adventure in Southeast Asia. Its introduction was a disaster, due to: a) the Army’s alteration of the inventor’s design; b) the use of ball powder instead of the original extruded powder; and c) no cleaning equipment was issued with the rifle, despite the fact that it required frequent and careful cleaning.
  • Despite this, the M-16 has had a 40-year run as our standard infantry weapon, having been tortured into an acceptable state. Why, however, are we still using it, considering that all our other Vietnam-era equipment, from helmets to jet fighters, is stone age compared to what he have today?