Adm. Richard C. Macke, the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, retired under pressure Friday after saying the U.S. servicemen who allegedly raped a 12-year-old Okinawan girl last September could have hired a prostitute for the money they spent to rent the car in which the crime was committed.
Macke, a four-star admiral and 35-year Navy veteran, resigned effective immediately after what amounted to an expression of no-confidence by Defense Secretary William J. Perry.
Macke’s comments, made during a breakfast interview with reporters here, came only a few hours before President Clinton once again apologized for the rape incident during an interview with Japanese journalists.
Clinton had been seeking to smooth ruffled feathers in Japan over his decision to cancel a planned visit there this week because of the budget fight in Washington. The continued use of Okinawa for U.S. military bases was to have been a major topic during his trip.
Asked about the incident at the interview, Macke replied: “I think it was absolutely stupid, I’ve said several times. For the price they paid to rent the car, they could have had a girl.”
Twelve hours after he made the statement, Macke, whose command comprises U.S. forces throughout Japan and the Pacific and Indian oceans, issued a formal retraction, admitting he had “made a serious mistake this morning” in saying what he did.
“My recent comment was the result of my frustration over the stupidity of this heinous and incomprehensible crime against the young lady,” he said. “I regret any misunderstanding my comment may have caused.”
However, Pentagon officials said Perry had decided ultimately that in the wake of the remark, it would be “impossible (for Macke) to do his job effectively.” A few minutes later, the Defense Department announced that Macke had retired.
Ironically, Macke had been named to the post to replace Adm. Stanley Arthur, whose appointment had run into opposition from some women’s groups over his handling of a sexual harassment case. Although supporters said Arthur did no wrong, he eventually retired.
The remark about the prostitute was not the only one of that sort that Macke made at his breakfast session with reporters.
At one point, seeking to illustrate the difference between cultures of various countries, he pointed out that in South Korea, society is so straight-laced that “even patting your own wife on the fanny” is frowned upon. By contrast, he said, in Italy reaction is not as strong.
The Navy has mounted an all-out campaign to alter attitudes on gender-related issues in the wake of the so-called Tailhook scandal in 1991. The scandal erupted when naval aviators attending a convention in Las Vegas groped and fondled women who were attending the meeting.
The White House remained silent on the Macke issue, allowing the Pentagon to handle the situation on its own. Defense Secretary Perry, just back from a trip to the Bosnian peace talks in Dayton, Ohio, conferred with key aides until late in the evening.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Commission, said she was stunned by the admiral’s remarks.
“I would say to Navy Secretary John Dalton, your guys still don’t get it,” Feinstein said. “Rape isn’t about money and it isn’t about sex. It’s about power over women, and it’s a very degrading, terrible, major felony.”
The rape of the 12-year-old girl last September not only mortified top policy-makers here, it also set off a vehement reaction among Okinawans and renewed demands by local officials there that the United States remove its military units from the island.
Clinton said in an interview with Japanese journalists here Friday that he wanted the Japanese people to know that all Americans “share their outrage and their pain.”
“It’s a terrible thing, and every father in the world of a young daughter, including the president of the United States, was struck by this incident,” he said.