A Few Good Women: America's Military Women From World War I to the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (review)
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A Few Good Women: America's Military Women From World War I to the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. By Evelyn M. Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee. (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2010. Pp. xi, 475. $32.50 cloth)

Evelyn Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee have undertaken an ambitious task in their most recent collaboration. A Few Good Women chronicles the contributions that women in the United States military have made in the most pivotal conflicts of the past hundred years, with particular attention to World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. This hefty volume follows three other books by Monahan and Neidel-Greenlee, which detail narrower topics, such as the experiences of American nurses in World War I combat zones. In this largely popular history, the authors explore the growing importance of women's military services throughout the twentieth century. They consider a broad spectrum of women's activities in the military, including women's volunteer efforts, their participation in more institutionalized organizations like the Women's Army Corps, as well as women's roles in current frontline deployments. Many readers will undoubtedly enjoy the storytelling approach and the numerous photographs of individual [End Page 301] women who broke ground in this mostly male bastion.

As veterans of the women's military corps themselves, Monahan and Neidel-Greenlee credit the women who blazed a trail as they provided such valuable work to the nation; the authors also examine how these women struggled to become recognized by those services. Because of the military background of the authors, the narrative has a "righting the wrongs" quality; they wish to establish a record of women's contribution in a largely male domain, the military. Despite its 475 pages and its attempt at breadth, the book sometimes reads as a listing of where and when some women served and the conditions of their service, without adequate insight into women's feelings or the meanings of those experiences. In that way, the material seems like a collection of individual anecdotal experiences, rather than a more systematic analysis.

Although Monahan and Neidel-Greenlee are consistently critical of unfair policies and practices, the later chapters are more damning of decision-makers, particularly the administration of George W. Bush. The authors maintain that a lack of proper planning and military overcommitment to Iraq and Afghanistan have threatened the effectiveness of the U.S. military and have endangered the safety of military personnel, male and female.

For academics, this popular history falls short of providing a thorough overview of women's experiences in the American military services. In addition to its often-anecdotal quality, the authors' sources are insufficient. There are few from public archives; much of the material comes second-hand from newspapers. Primary sources include oral interviews (some from twenty years ago) and material from private collections.

Students interested in learning more about the history of women in the military will likely also be disappointed, as the table of contents does not provide any detail on the content of the chapters. Only the very ambitious will dig through this volume in search of information on a topic.

Overall, this book provides an introductory account of women [End Page 302] in the U.S. military services. The authors underscore the institutional discrimination that impeded women's opportunities, as well as the ways in which women helped to shape the military. Readers looking for a popular history will enjoy parts of this book such as the photographs and the stories of individual women. Academics, however, will be left unsatisfied because of the incomplete sourcing and the overly narrative quality of the book.

Natalie Atkin

Natalie Atkin teaches at the University of Windsor, in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, specializing in modern U.S. history, and designs initiatives to facilitate the transition of students into first-year university. Her research focuses on the connections among the Vietnam antiwar movement and the women's movement.

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