Down the Road: A Few Words from the Secretary of Defense

         Forgoing his usual badinage with reporters and the light banter that has long characterized his opening remarks at press briefings,

Shepard Fairey
the Secretary of Defense appeared somber as he announced problems with weapons and other material the United States had purchased from Chinese suppliers.

         This appearance was a far cry from last month’s briefing, when he called critics of the administration’s invasion of China “either ill-informed or sissies.” The Secretary said recent developments had led him to believe that the faulty equipment resulted from deliberate actions by the manufacturers. He said the U. S. government would not tolerate the shoddy workmanship that characterized the last two shipments from the Chinese contractors, claiming that two Air Force plane crashes last week were the direct result of malfunctioning parts in the aircrafts, and that neither plane had been fired upon by the enemy. He added there have been other reports of weapons jamming and misfiring linked to Chinese suppliers. “I expect those corporations with whom we entered good faith agreements will take immediate corrective action,” he said. “The Chinese manufacturers have engaged in an egregious breach of etiquette here, and to cut corners on vital military goods cannot help them widen their markets in the rest of the world.

         “Let me caution those companies responsible; we are immediately cancelling the transfers of payment for these seriously flawed products, and are returning the many thousands of malfunctioning items now in our possession. We expect full credit to our account before any future orders will be submitted. I say this with full approval of the President, who is angry, and frankly heartsick over this development.

         “This damaged weaponry has harmed the morale of American troops and contributed to the deaths and injuries of many.”

         The Washington Bureau Chief of the Fargo, North Dakota Forum asked why, since the war with China was underway, did the Defense Department not go elsewhere for military supplies.

         “We entered into these agreements several years before our invasion of the Chinese mainland,” he said. “It wasn’t until after the incursion was well underway that we received material of a vastly inferior nature. We’d never had any prior complaints about the Chinese manufacturers with whom we’ve heretofore enjoyed excellent, even cordial relationships. We feel they must continue to honor their obligations and meet the standards explicitly spelled out in the contracts.

         “There are those, even within the President’s own party who have criticized the arrangements with the Chinese, arguing that America needed to re-establish heavy industries at home, rather than contracting with foreign firms. The President and a majority in Congress have placed the interests of the American taxpayers and consumers at the forefront. While this has resulted in the loss of some manufacturing jobs in the U. S., the consumer has greatly benefited and we have managed to reduce taxes, giving consumers more in their bank accounts and pocketbooks. You never hear union bosses mention that.

         “We do not apologize for this; we applaud it, and believe that when businesspeople of good will come together, everybody wins. We expect this to be the case with our Chinese friends.

         A Spooner, Wisconsin Advocate reporter inquired about that feasibility since the Chinese were now our battlefield enemy.

         “Not quite so,” said the Secretary. “The people of China have never been enemies of the United States. It is the government of China with whom we differ, not the citizens of that country. Furthermore, their captains of industry understand full well the principle of giving good value at competitive prices. It is that principle that has developed and sustained the American economy and democracy since its inception. It is not the system that produces this predicament, but rather those who seek to profit from deceit and deception. But in the long run that doesn’t work. The tragedy is that it has cost not only money, but the lives of young, dedicated Americans who have answered their nation’s call to serve in her armed forces. You can’t replace those battered lives as easily as some of those Chinese industrialists might place a take-out order for moo-goo-gai-pan, or wor shu op.”

         Another reporter, a young woman from an Owyhee County, Idaho alternative weekly, asked if the Secretary thought it was time to get American manufacturing up and running again so such problems wouldn’t arise in the future. “The world has undergone sea changes since our grandparents’ generation,” he said. “With few exceptions this president believes, and I support him—that a universal marketplace-based economy holds the greatest opportunity for the enhancement of capitalistic democracies worldwide, and we should in no way impede that progress. Indeed, it would be disingenuous for us to do so.”

         “Do you and the President really believe you can trust the Chinese in this matter?” a blogger from Duluth, Georgia asked.

         “You may remember that when we made these arrangements nearly two years ago, representatives from Chinese industries as well as high ranking government officials met and signed contracts here in Washington. The President invited them to a White House luncheon; he looked into the eyes of his guests, and afterward told me, ‘Y’know, I like what I saw. I got a hunch we can trust this bunch.’ The President and I remain of one accord here, and we will see our way through to satisfaction.”

         “Playing devil’s advocate,” interjected the senior political correspondent from the Topeka Capital-Times, “are we not up the proverbial creek without a paddle on this issue?”

         The Secretary said that war is always unfortunate, and that this war particularly so, since America has important financial dealings with China. “I believe that despite our present differences, the wiser heads in China will realize what they stand to lose by defaulting on their contracts with us. We still are, after all, the world’s number one economic power, and they can’t afford to lose our business, anymore than we can afford to lose this war.”

Michael Fedo has placed other stories in NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW, WEBER STUDIES, AMERICAN WAY, AMERICA WEST AIRLINES MAGAZINE, NORTH DAKOTA QUARTERLY, and elsewhere. He has published a short novel, "Indians in the Arborvitae," and six nonfiction books, most notably, "The Lynchings in Duluth," and "The Man From Lake Wobegon."

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