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‘They sent What?!’ (Fuses are blown)

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Rick Horowitz
April 1, 2008

What you’ve got on your hands all of a sudden is an international incident and a ton of embarrassment. And the thing is: It was totally avoidable.


You heard about this, didn’t you? The government of Taiwan orders helicopter batteries from the United States, from the Pentagon. And instead of helicopter batteries, the Pentagon sends them something slightly different. The Pentagon sends them electrical fuses for nuclear warheads.


No, really! Electrical fuses for Minuteman nuclear warheads.


Oops.


This was a year and a half ago. Except that the Pentagon didn’t even realize what it had done until just a week or two ago!


Think the Chinese government is a bit perturbed? The mainland Chinese government, that is. They don’t like it when we send any American weapons to Taiwan. They wouldn’t have been crazy about helicopter batteries. (They wouldn’t have been crazy about wristwatch batteries.) But fuses for nuclear warheads?


And all we can do—we being the Pentagon, that is, not you or I, who technically speaking, don’t actually supply Taiwan with anything—is claim it was a “bureaucratic snafu” between us and the Taiwanese government.


Quick Quiz:


A: The Chinese government believes us. Or B: The Chinese government thinks we’re full of rice noodles.


And there’ll be an investigation. Naturally. The Secretary of Defense has demanded a full investigation. He wants to know why, and he wants to know how, and he especially wants to know that this is absolutely the last time the inventory goes astray. Because this isn’t the first time the inventory has gone astray.


“Extremely embarrassing,” senior Pentagon officials are saying.


You think?


Here’s the thing: None of this would have happened if they’d used Amazon.com.


I’ve been buying stuff on Amazon.com for years—books, videos, CDs, all kinds of stuff. And not once have they ever messed up my order. Not once have I ever ordered helicopter batteries and gotten fuses for nuclear warheads.


I order a video, I get the video. I order a book, I get…


OK, once I got two copies of the book instead of one, but that was my own fault. I was trying to order that Michael Chabon novel, “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union,” to give to someone for Christmas…


Don’t ask.


Anyway, that’s what I was trying to order, and I wasn’t sure the transaction had gone through, so I hit the “OK” button, or the “Bill Me” button, or whatever it is they have up there on the screen, a second time. And before I knew it, I had two copies in my shopping cart, and on my credit card.


But like I said, that was my fault. If I’d have been patient, and ordered only one, I’d have gotten only one—and not some components for a nuclear nosecone.


Look, I’m sure the guy on the Pentagon loading dock was doing the best he could. But this was important—a critical region of the world at a time of great tension. You can’t afford to mess up.


Sometimes you just have to call in the experts.


Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at rickhoro@execpc.com.

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