The Navy Changes Course

ONE of the saddest chapters in recent US naval history, the year-old Tailhook scandal, came closer to a positive conclusion last week. The Pentagon released a major report criticizing the Navy's botched investigation of the incident, which involved the sexual assault on at least 26 women at a convention of aviators. Two admirals who were cited for inept leadership will resign, and a third will be reassigned.

Although a second study is due in several months, this initial report comes as a welcome sign that the Navy, after months of denials and coverups, is acknowledging its errors and promising to change its ways. As acting Navy Secretary Sean O'Keefe told reporters, "I need to emphasize a very important message: We get it."

If that is true, the unfortunate incident and resulting housecleaning will have served an instructive purpose in helping to change a male-dominated naval culture that has for too long remained overtly hostile toward women. Women's place in the military - and in every other career field - is well-established, and along with equal opportunities must come equal respect.

The lessons of Tailhook should not be confined to those in uniform. Corporate executives, too, can use the incident as a reminder that sexual harassment in any form, on the job or off, will not be tolerated.

Not everyone is convinced that newly enlightened attitudes have spread throughout the Navy. One woman involved in the Tailhook assault charged that some military personnel are blaming the victims for bringing notoriety on the service.

Still, the report could mark the beginning of a promising new chapter in naval history. In addition to the personnel shakeup, it calls for broader civilian control in any future investigations. Now it is up to everyone - from young sailors swabbing decks to highly decorated admirals - to prove that Mr. O'Keefe is right and that the Navy does, indeed, "get it."

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