WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Pacific commander abruptly agreed to retire last night, just hours after saying that the rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan schoolgirl was "stupid" because the assailants could have hired a prostitute.
The 35-year naval career of Adm. Richard C. Macke, commander in chief of the American military forces in the East Asian and Pacific region, ended with dizzying swiftness as Defense
Secretary William J. Perry accepted his offer to retire after discussing the admiral's remarks with him.
Mr. Perry said in a statement that he and Admiral Macke, a 1960 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, decided that "his lapse of judgment was so serious" that he would be unable to effectively perform his duties.
The Pentagon chief praised the admiral for serving the nation with distinction but added, "The obstacles he faces in working effectively with the government and the people of Japan in the future left no other choice."
The ignominious conclusion to Admiral Macke's long career was triggered by his comments earlier yesterday. Though the admiral apologized later in the day, Mr. Perry clearly did not view the apology as adequate at a time when the rape case has strained relations with Japan.
"I think it was absolutely stupid," the admiral said at the end of a breakfast with reporters in Washington. "I've said several times that for the price they paid to rent the car, they could have had a girl." The comment came at the end of a breakfast with reporters in Washington.
Admiral Macke apologized in a written statement released by the Pentagon after reporters began inquiring about the statement.
"My recent comment was the result of my frustration over the stupidity of this heinous and incomprehensible crime against the young lady. I regret any misunderstanding my comment may have caused," Admiral Macke said in the statement.
Three U.S. servicemen have pleaded guilty to conspiring to abduct and rape the girl in a case that has caused an uproar in Japan and fueled calls for the United States to withdraw or
reduce its military presence there.
In a briefing in Washington Admiral Macke called the rape a "terrible action" and said he was particularly concerned about making sure the servicemen under his command learned more about Asian customs and culture in an effort to prevent a recurrence.
But his comments nevertheless prompted experts on rape to say he was either insensitive or didn't understand the crime.
"Oh my God," was the initial reaction of Susan Brownmiller, author of "Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape," which portrayed rape first and foremost as a crime of violence. "I'm pleased he takes the case seriously, but he doesn't seem to understand -- yet -- that rape does not depend on the availability of free sex or paid sex elsewhere but is a crime of violence in its own right."
"It does show insensitivity on his part," said Charlene Muehlenhard, a psychologist at the University of Kansas who is an expert on rape. "If all they were looking for was sexual gratification it's unlikely they would have gone about it this way."
Japanese prosecutors have charged that the three servicemen rented a car and planned the rape.
While all three men have pleaded guilty to conspiracy, the pleas have differed on more specific charges. Seaman Marcus D. Gill, 22, of Woodville, Tex., has pleaded guilty to beating and raping the victim, a sixth-grader. The other two, Pfc. Kendrick M. Ledet and Pfc. Rodrico Harp, 21, denied taking part in the rape.
The admiral's remarks came the same day that President Clinton, who canceled a trip to Japan because of the budget crisis, voiced regret over the incident in an interview with Japanese media.
"On behalf of the American people, we want the Japanese people to know that we share their outrage and pain it's a terrible thing," Mr. Clinton said.