A Few Good Women: America's Military Women From World War I to the War in Iraq and Afghanistan
Evelyn M. Monahan
Reviewed by Kate X Messer, Fri., April 2, 2010
A Few Good Women: America's Military Women From World War I to the War in Iraq and Afghanistanby Evelyn M. Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee
Knopf, 496 pp., $32.50
Certainly more than a "few" good women have answered the call. Authors Monahan and Neidel-Greenlee did, both in the 1960s – in the Women's Army Corps and U.S. Navy Nurse Corps, respectively. Later, both stayed connected to the military as civilians working at the Veterans Administration. There, the two embarked on a mission to trace and collect the myriad women's voices all too silent in American military history. Their extensive pursuits have already yielded three books organized around stories of servicewomen (And If I Perish: Frontline U.S. Army Nurses in World War II, Albanian Escape: The True Story of U.S. Army Nurses Behind Enemy Lines, and All This Hell: U.S. Nurses Imprisoned by the Japanese). Organization is key in such a dense assimilation of facts and personal accounts, and while the ambition to cover the history of women's service since World War I is noble, its delivery often overwhelms.
Through newspaper and personal vignettes, the range runs deep: from House Rep. Edith Nourse Rogers' introduction of a bill in 1941 to create the Women's Army Corps to legitimize, upgrade, and provide protection for women; to the creation of a special division of women pilots to ferry planes; to the trouble with "oral addicts," aka homosexuals; to the creation of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington in 1997; to the Department of Defense's shockingly tardy creation of a policy on, "or even a definition of," sexual assault – in 2005. Curiously, in the last few chapters, much space is devoted to the culture of violence within the ranks of current quagmires Afghanistan and Iraq – the two main examples given, the rape and murder by U.S. soldiers of 14-year-old Iraqi Abeer Hamza and the horrors of Abu Ghraib. Yet, despite the book's focus on women, there is no mention of Lynndie England and precious little of prison Gen. Janis Karpinski.
Thorough research and engaging anecdotal testimonies follow a rough chronology, but some sections plod – with paragraph after paragraph succumbing to dateline laziness: "On 20 October 1945 ...," "In late October 1945 ...," "In November 1945 ...." Out of respect, we'll not liken it to the Bataan Death March, but you get the idea. To their credit, the authors do occasionally weigh in with opinion and analysis, but in the end, the sheer heft of data speaks for itself, testifying to the U.S. military's byzantine and bizarre treatment of its own.