AT LEAST SOMEONE in the Pentagon gets it. Adm. Richard C. Macke commanded all U.S. military forces in East Asia and the Pacific. His responsibilities went far beyond the morale of the men and women under his care. It included the security of the Pacific Rim, and the U.S. relationship with the nations hosting his forces.
The speed with which Secretary of Defense William J. Perry accepted Admiral Macke's retirement Friday, hours after the frustrated commander trivialized a brutal crime against an Okinawa 12-year-old girl by three servicemen, was appropriate. Mr. Perry had humbled himself apologizing to the Japanese people two weeks earlier. Admiral Macke undercut him by telling American journalists in Washington the men should merely have used the money spent renting a car on prostitutes instead.
That might have been understandable from a petty officer. It won't do from a four-star admiral who has the care of U.S. relations with allies in his brief, as well as his share of bringing PTC the Navy into modern times. Empathy for three young men far from home who pleaded guilty in a Japanese court to the crime -- two of abduction and one of rape -- is not enough. Empathy for the victim, for her family, for the population of Okinawa, for women in and out of the Navy who have been victimized by the attitude they are fair game, were equally his responsibility. In view of his role at the pinnacle of military justice, so was knowing the difference between consensual sex and brutal crime.
The U.S. Navy cannot do without the knowledge and skills of the women in its ranks. Nor can it allow sailors and marines to think themselves above the law of their own or other countries. To do its job effectively, it must rid itself of the attitudes that brought on the Tailhook convention scandal of 1991. With base rights drying up around the world, it must behave as a decent guest where it is still welcome.
The three young servicemen may not have understood that their actions last September jeopardized U.S. base rights in Japan. The four-star admiral, veteran of 35 years honorable service, had no excuse not to understand that his words would, too.
Secretary Perry was right to conclude that the admiral could no longer perform his duties effectively. Damage control is something commanders are supposed to know how to do, especially when the damage is self-inflicted.