WASHINGTON — "All My Sons," a play by Arthur Miller, backgrounds the suicide of an American defense contractor who supplied faulty parts for our World War II warplanes, bringing some down.
Although the 1947 drama is a revival staple, its stark, simple lesson seems to be lost on this era's Defense Department, White House and, with few exceptions, Congress.
Two weeks ago, the Senate Armed Services Committee staff produced its alarming final report about the hazards of using in our missiles, aircraft and other materiel unreliable, uninspected counterfeit electronic junk produced in the back country of Communist China, a probable enemy. Oh, we forget: It's a "strategic competitor." There were equipment failures traced to these parts. But they have not yet been linked to any of the sudden crashes that killed American military personnel. But for that we have to trust post mortems by the Department of Defense, generals and admirals, and U.S. defense contractors, who have tried to brush over the trail of how these dangerous components got into our weapons in the first place.
The cover-up of more than a million recycled and mislabeled fakes in our weapons system is detailed in the committee's voluminous report and attachments. Almost all of the stuff originated in China. The panel traced 70 percent of the goods directly to China, with 11 percent from the United Kingdom, and 9 percent from Canada. The Canadian and British contractors, the report states, were mere intermediaries for the Chinese.
Middlemen for the Chinese were also in France and Israel. To reprise an earlier column, many of these parts are pulled from electronic junk, washed in Chinese creeks or gutters, and whose original labels are ground off by rubbing them on sidewalks.
Alan Tonelson, researcher for the U.S. Business and Industry Council, warned last week that given Chinese penetration of our weapons system purchases, 28 percent, controlling the flow of rip offs will be very difficult.
Outsourcing to China, he said, began in the "early 1990s," meaning under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Letting the Chinese make any of our weapons systems is madness. Who's to say they're not outsourcing our work to North Korea?
If the government were serious about stopping this dangerous trade, Tonelson says, buying American would in the long run save the taxpayers money and boost our own domestic defense industries and employment.
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N. Y., a member of the committee, has co-sponsored amendments to the 2013 Defense Authorization Act that call for such components to be bought from "trusted" contractors, and moving the work back to the United States.
"It is critical that we do everything we can to ensure the equipment our military uses is safe and effective," Gillibrand said. "These provisions would not only ensure our men and women in uniform are protected with the best equipment, butitpreservesmanufacturing jobs in upstate New York." But the act doesn't mandate it all be made here, nor does it specify new criminal penalties for defense contractors who slip this junk into our materiel, or for generals and admirals who let them do it.
Gillibrand is an original cosponsor, with Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, that does mandate any components "critical" to national security be made in America. The bill has languished in the committee's pigeonhole since Valentine's Day.
It has no support from Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., or its top Republican, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, or the White House. Why?
As an indicator of the massive power of China's lobbyists here, neither the Democratic president nor congressional Republicans are calling on China to stop manipulating its currency, an indirect subsidy of all its exports.