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Posted on May 1, 2006 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

One Woman’s Army – Book Review

By Michael Durand

karpinsky.jpgBook Review: One Woman’s Army: The Commanding General of Abu Ghraib Tells Her Story
Hard cover, 256 pages, published by Miramax Books, $24.95

Karpinsky unloads on us a difficult story in ONE WOMAN’S ARMY. Trading her rifle for a pen, she angrily shouts back at the male dominated military. Glazing over her exciting career with utmost briefness her tale morphs into a political statement about the Bush administration’s efforts in Iraq and the ineffectiveness of the command structure on the ground. Karpinsky rightly cries foul concerning lack of unit cohesion and cloudy mission objectives endured during her stint as commander. Truly she should scream to high heaven for taking the fall for the prison abuse scandal so highly publicized and illustrated and magnified in the person of Lynndie England. She is a soldier burdened by the shame of having her promotion to General vacated.


The focal point of the book is the Abu Ghraib scandal. She blazes through and interesting career and upon promotion to Brigadier General she takes the reins of the entire defunct prison system in Iraq so shattered by the exiting Saddam Hussein and his cronies. Tasked to carry out this mission is her 800th Military Police Brigade, which is a Reserve unit; trained for combat support, not prison administration. Many of Saddam’s holding facilities have been stripped of everything that was not nailed down and in some instances even taken the bricks of the walls for use in their own homes. Hovering like vultures nearby are rival tribal chiefs, religious leaders and the local officials hoping to fill the power vacuum created in the post war countryside. No easy task for anyone especially in murky command climate created by the occupying US Army.

That being said, she is far from being the only commander forced into a difficult situation during wartime, and her written efforts beg comparison with others who have penned similar stories. Not so long ago David Hackworth stood up against outdated doctrine and the cumbersome status quo in the Vietnam War. In his book, STEEL MY SOLDIERS HEARTS, Col. Hackworth documented the efforts of his nine-month tour. He effectively assessed the problems and changed his SOP to bring about victory in his AO. Likewise Maj. Stanton documented similar challenges in SOMALIA ON FIVE DOLLARS A DAY with the 10th Mountain division. For both of these soldiers, and our military today, rapidly changing mission objectives have become the norm rather than the exception. Both Hackworth and Stanton fought their battles with what they had on hand, especially in Somalia. In retelling their story, both authors faithfully documented meeting and overcoming the trials and tribulations dished out to them. Karpinsky’s triumph’s, thrilling though they may be are overshadowed her personal feelings about weak male leaders.

It is easy to shake your head in wonder about Karpinsky’s demotion, or taking the lion’s share of the blame from Abu Ghraib. Possibly it was because of gender but that is a tough sell when reflecting upon the exciting and extraordinary career that she had. She progressed through the ranks to become a General Officer rapidly when many other fantastic officers retire at or below Lt. Colonel. Still her experience is relevant for any female enlistee or officer candidate looking for a career. This book poses the question; will the US Army ever comfortably assimilate women into the inevitable combat roles facing today’s military? If she knows the answer she has kept it to herself. That she has a great story to serve up is undeniable, but she has only given us a glance at the menu and not the meal that history buffs so crave.

1 Comment

  1. This story concerns me greatly and has for awhile. Now that Buch/Cheny are so openly bragging about water boarding, will anything be done to release those soldiers serving time for it? i always thought it was against the law as we hung Some japs. Having two in the military, one a daughter, with 18 yrs., this is some concern.