Admiral’s Okinawa Rape Remark Creates Furor : Diplomacy: Japanese remain incensed despite Pacific commander’s resignation after insensitive comment.
Vice President Al Gore stepped off Air Force Two on Saturday and into a political maelstrom caused by a U.S. admiral’s insensitive remarks about the abduction and rape of an Okinawan schoolgirl.
The crime, allegedly committed by three American servicemen, has inflamed passions in Japan against the U.S. military presence on Okinawa and strained Washington’s relations with Tokyo.
Adm. Richard C. Macke, commander of all U.S. military operations in the Pacific, agreed to early retirement Friday, hours after saying the servicemen should have hired a prostitute.
“I think that it was absolutely stupid, I’ve said several times,” Macke, 57, said during a breakfast interview with defense writers. “For the price they paid to rent the car, they could have had a girl.”
Macke, who commands 330,000 U.S. troops in the Pacific and Asia, issued a statement of apology after making the comment. But it was not enough, and his decision to retire early was announced by Defense Secretary William J. Perry on Friday night after Perry met with Macke at the Pentagon.
Administration officials said privately that top Pentagon and White House officials were furious over the comments.
In Osaka, where Japan is hosting a Pacific Rim trade summit, U.S. Ambassador Walter F. Mondale issued a swift apology--but the damage was done. Okinawans and women’s activists were outraged, and Japanese government officials were incredulous.
“I absolutely cannot believe this statement,” Foreign Minister Yohei Kono told reporters.
Chief Foreign Ministry spokesman Hiroshi Hashimoto said Mondale had met with Kono and explained that the admiral’s comment “doesn’t reflect the Clinton Administration’s position.”
“I hope the Okinawans will understand that,” Hashimoto said.
They didn’t. Fumiko Maeda, head of the Okinawa chapter of a national women’s group, said Macke’s statement trivialized the brutality of the attack and degraded Japanese women.
“The remarks are unforgivable,” she said. “Each time we have swallowed our anger and sorrow, but we can’t stand it any more.”
“Macke insulted all of us women and the Japanese,” echoed women’s rights activist Noriko Yamaguchi.
Among the people meeting Gore’s plane was Okinawa Gov. Masahide Ota, who has called the U.S. military “uninvited guests” and is refusing to force landowners to renew base leases.
The vice president, filling in at the summit because President Clinton was kept home by the U.S. budget standoff, will meet with Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama today. The U.S. military presence in Japan is to be among the matters discussed.
Both the U.S. and Japanese governments had hoped that the Clinton visit would help to lay the Okinawa controversy to rest.
The rape, and discontent over the heavy U.S. troop presence, has set off massive protests on tiny Okinawa, where nearly one-fifth of the island is leased to the U.S. military.
One of the three servicemen has pleaded guilty to the rape, while the other two have acknowledged helping to plan and carry it out.