One Woman's Army: The Commanding General of Abu Ghraib Tells Her Story by General Janis Karpinski with Steven Strasser.
A friend pulled this title out of a remainder bin, skimmed it, and passed it on: "You should read this." She was right.
As the title makes clear, this is Karpinski's side of the story of the torture scandal, for which she was the highest ranking officer to be rebuked. As far as her apologia is concerned, on some subjects, like the complete muddle Donald Rumsfeld's Department of Defense had made of Army Reserve, she is very persuasive.
She is less able to document her central contention about the torture scandal -- though subsequent revelations about the sadistic inclinations of our rulers seem to bear her out:
But this material is not what I found so interesting about this book. What drew me in, as a Vietnam-era feminist whose life experience made the attractions of the military opaque, is Karpinski's tale of what attracted her to the Army and how she persevered despite discouragement and actual abuse from its male hierarchy.
Karpinski didn't understand how women soldiers were being used to track men into less desirable jobs when she enlisted -- nor does it seem that she would have objected if she had known it. This is a woman who consistently identifies with management, a useful state of mind in a rigid hierarchy. But she's also no dope. Her struggle with her status as a woman in a man's world is interesting.
Well maybe. It worked for a long time for Karpinski. She aced paratrooper training. She fought off superior officers with wandering hands. She worked for male officers who respected her -- and male officers who were terribly threatened by her competence. She rose up the ranks -- and ended up learning Arabic and training women in the United Arab Emirates for military service. She was eventually promoted to brigadier general of MPs in the Reserves.
And then, as Bush's Iraq invasion went sour, after all the contortions she put herself through to rise in the institution she loved, she was made the Pentagon's scapegoat for Abu Ghraib. She still believes in the hierarchy she both submitted to and climbed but insists:
The book is a fascinating cultural period piece and an angle on the war worth more attention from those of us trying to end it.