C. J. Chivers

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C. J. Chivers in 2010

Christopher John Chivers (born 1964) is an American journalist and author best known for his work with The New York Times and Esquire magazine. Along with several reporters and photographers based in Pakistan and Afghanistan, he contributed to a New York Times staff entry that received the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting in 2009. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 2017. His book, The Gun, a work of history published by Simon & Schuster, was released in October, 2010. Chivers is considered one of the most important war correspondents of his generation, noted for his expertise on weapons. He is currently assigned to The New York Times Magazine and the newspaper's Investigations Desk as a long-form writer and investigative reporter.


  • Classified reports from Vietnam were giving the AR-15 high marks and providing a surprise. Reports from the field claimed that when a bullet fired from the AR-15 struck a man, it inflicted devastating injuries.
    The causes were apparently twofold. First, the metal jacket of early AR-15 bullets tended to shatter on impact, sending fragmentation slicing through victims. (In the army, this was variously seen as attractive and worrisome. In classified correspondence, some officers were thrilled by the perceived wounding characteristics, which one prominent army doctor described as "explosive effects." Others wondered whether the .223 round might be illegal under international convention.) Second, the bullets often turned sideways inside a victim, a phenomenon known as yaw. In one respect, the effects of yaw somewhat resemble what could be seen on the surface of a lake when a speedboat turned sharply. In this case, the energy delivery manifested itself as a shock wave within a human body, which could create stretching or rupturing injury to tissue not directly in a bullet's path. By turning, the bullet also crushed and cut more tissue as it passed through a victim, creating a larger wound channel.
  • ArmaLite was an infant and an upstart, a company that began as a workshop in the Hollywood garage of George Sullivan, the patent counsel for Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. Sullivan was an engineer fascinated with the possibilities of applying new materials to change the way rifles looked and felt. In 1953, he met Paul Cleaveland, secretary of the Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation, at an industry luncheon. The pair talked about lightweight firearms and new ways to manufacture them. Cleaveland mentioned the conversation to Richard Boutelle, Fairchild's president, who was a gun buff, too. Boutelle and Sullivan agreed to collaborate, and ArmaLite was founded in 1954 as a tiny Fairchild division. It hired a former Marine, Eugene Stoner, as a designer.
    One of the early creations was the AR-15, made at the informal request of an Army general who wanted a prototype rifle that would fire a small, high-speed round. The AR-15 looked like nothing else in military service. It had an aluminum receiver, plastic furniture, and an odd-looking carrying handle. It was thirty-nine inches long. It weighed, when unloaded, roughly 6.5 pounds, about half the weight of an automatic M14. Its appearance — small, dark, lean, and synthetically futuristic — stirred emotions. To its champions, the AR-15 was an embodiment of fresh thinking. Critics saw an ugly toy. Wherever one stood, no one denied the ballistics were intriguing. Stoner had designed a narrow but powerful new cartridge, the .223, for his weapon. The cartridge's propellant and the AR-15's twenty-inch barrel worked together to move a tiny bullet along at ultrafast speeds — in excess of thirty-two hundred feet per second, almost three times the speed of sound.
  • A half-century later, AR-15s and M-16s are made in varied forms by multiple manufacturers, and updated versions, including the M-4 carbine, remain the standard shoulder-fired weapon for most American service members and many allies.
    Civilian versions have many trade and model names, but are generally referred to as AR-15s, although this name is a rough description and does not indicate whether a particular specimen of the rifle is capable of both semiautomatic fire and automatic fire, or is semiautomatic only.
  • The main functional difference between the military’s M16 and M4 rifles and a civilian AR-15 is the “burst” mode on many military models, which allow three rounds to be fired with one trigger pull. Some military versions of the rifles have a full automatic feature, which fires until the trigger is released or a magazine is empty of ammunition.
    But in actual American combat these technical differences are less significant than they seem. For decades the American military has trained its conventional troops to fire their M4s and M16s in the semiautomatic mode — one bullet per trigger pull — instead of on “burst” or automatic in almost all shooting situations. The weapons are more accurate this way, and thus more lethal.
    The National Rifle Association and other pro-gun groups highlight the fully automatic feature in military M4s and M16s. But the American military, after a long experience with fully automatic M16s reaching back to Vietnam, decided by the 1980s to issue M16s, and later M4s, to most conventional troops without the fully automatic function, and to train them to fire in a more controlled fashion.
    What all of this means is that the Parkland gunman, in practical terms, had the same rifle firepower as an American grunt using a standard infantry rifle in the standard way...
    A New York Times analysis of a video from a Florida classroom estimates that during his crime the gunman fired his AR-15 as quickly as one-and-a-half rounds per second. The military trains soldiers to fire at a sustained rate of 12 to 15 rounds per minute, or a round every four or five seconds.
  • Many factors determine the severity of a wound, including a bullet’s mass, velocity and composition, and where it strikes. The AR-15, like the M4 and M16 rifles issued to American soldiers, shoots lightweight, high-speed bullets that can cause grievous bone and soft tissue wounds, in part by turning sideways, or “yawing,” when they hit a person. Surgeons say the weapons produce the same sort of horrific injuries seen on battlefields.
    Civilian owners of military-style weapons can also buy soft-nosed or hollow-point ammunition, often used for hunting, that lacks a full metal jacket and can expand and fragment on impact. Such bullets, which can cause wider wound channels, are proscribed in most military use.

Quotes about C. J. Chivers[edit]

  • We know this because of the work of C. J. Chivers of The New York Times, also a frequent contributor to Esquire, whose expertise in ballistics and battlefield tactics—and nearly unprecedented experience reporting from war zones—has made him the most important war correspondent of his time...A former Marine officer, he might know how to handle himself in a war zone, the paper figured. What the Times could not have known was that Chivers would develop a brand of journalism unique in the world for, among other things, its study of the weapons we use to kill one another. After reporting on a firefight—whether he was in Iraq, Afghanistan, South Ossetia, Libya, or Syria—he'd look for shell casings and ordnance fragments. If he was embedded with American soldiers or Marines, he'd ask them if he could look through what they had found for an hour or so—"finger fucking," he'd call it—and ask his photographer to take pictures of ammunition stamps and serial numbers. Over time and in this way he would reveal a vast world of small-arms trade and secret trafficking that no other journalist had known existed before.
  • As Ismay finished his service commitment with the Navy in 2010, he read a New York Times piece detailing the complex origins of weapons found inside a Taliban gun locker. He then began corresponding with C. J. Chivers, the paper’s longtime conflict and arms reporter who wrote the piece. Ismay calls him Chris, but for seven years ending in 1994, he was Captain Chivers, a Marine infantry officer who served in the Gulf War.
  • A graduate of Cornell University and the Columbia School of Journalism, Chivers is often referred to as the best war correspondent of his generation. The 2017 prize for feature writing is the second Pulitzer for Chivers; he won in 2009 as part of a team of NY Times reporters honored for their dispatches from Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is also the author of "The Gun," a historical work.
  • [Chivers] writes both with technical precision and the humanity that comes with understanding the invariably unhappy and all too often horrific consequences of the weapon’s effects. All this makes for a delicate and at times fascinating balancing act, as Mr. Chivers the enthusiast and expert shares the page with Mr. Chivers the historian and journalist — the expert dealing well with the detailed mechanics of his subject, the journalist at other times brilliantly illuminating the book with highly effective vignettes of human courage, ingenuity and, mostly, suffering...Sometimes, however, he dwells, perhaps indulgently, on a particular theme or episode. We are for example more than a third of the way through before we encounter the sometimes pathetic, sometimes tragic figure of Mikhail Kalashnikov and his eponymous rifle. Mr. Chivers’s account of the general development of automatic weapons and the men who pioneered them is impressive.
  • This is a fascinating story, and Chivers, a New York Times writer, tells it very well. He exploits his firearms expertise and combat experience as a Marine officer and later war correspondent to explain how the arcane science of ballistics and weapons design has impacted on the battlefields of the world. My only regret about his work is that he has superimposed upon the history of the contest between the AK-47 and M-16 a wider examination of the history of machine guns, which seems an unnecessary diversion...Chivers has written the best book so far about what is probably the most influential weapons system of our times.

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