Band of Sisters Review

Band of Sisters: American Women at War in Iraq by Kirsten Holmstedt

Okay. So if you read this book let me apologize. Somewhere I had read that it was good. I need to hunt that review down because now I’m certain it’s a unicorn. I was so excited to read because I am woefully ignorant about women in combat; I looked forward to hearing women’s stories about their time fighting in Iraq. But as I quickly discovered I wasn’t going to get to hear the women’s voices tell their own stories, but rather I’d hear them through the author’s filter of “she said, she thought, she did” and that made this book just…bad. The stories were interesting but the way in which it was written impinged upon my ability to enjoy them. The writer sounded like a 14-year-old, there’s no other way to describe it. Each chapter was a different woman’s story, and instead of letting the woman’s voice shine the writer chose to tell their stories for them.

Here’s an example:

At one door, Blais thought she saw a big lock. Knowing that she wouldn’t be able to penetrate the lock, she kicked the door hard and knocked it down. This got her blood flowing. She was pumped. The force that she used to kick down the door drew the admiration of the male Marines in the hallway but not from Kispetik, who would later tease Blais, saying the door was made of something resembling particle board and not oak. Anyone could have knocked it down. After clearing the rooms on all four floors, most of the Marines settled into a large classroom on the second level.

Wouldn’t that story be neat…if it was actually in Blais’ own voice? Not only would it sound more interesting, but I’d believe it more, I’d understanding it more if it were in her own words. The whole time I was reading this I’d get distracted when the author would write “she was pumped.” How do you know?? Did she say “I was pumped.” Why feel the need to change the tense? There’s so much value and power in words, and the author completely stripped voices.

I also have this big issue with people co-opting others stories. It’s Blais’ story. Let her tell it. While I appreciate you collecting the stories from (potentially reluctant) storytellers, there’s no need to co-opt and in in that manner change their stories. What was the point of taking away her voice of her own story? I just don’t get it.

(Sidenote: The Girls Who Went Away, our next book, also collects women’s stories and yet does an amazing job at letting their voices shine. It does everything I wish BOS would’ve done but failed at.)

To be honest, I don’t have much to say about this book other than I didn’t like it. The writing was juvenile and melodramatic and hindered me from enjoying the stories. If you did manage to read it, let me know what you thought–am I alone in my distaste? The reviews on Amazon are so positive, I’m confused. Or, if you know of any other books about women in combat (or even about women’s wartime contributions) that are actually decent, please let me know.


5 responses to “Band of Sisters Review

  1. I didn’t like this book because I disagree with the basic premise that women belong in all varieties of combat units across the armed forces. And, also, it was written terribly.

  2. Too bad about the book.

    Why do you disagree with the basic premise?

    • As a very basic example: basic training, the first step in changing a civilian into a member of the armed forces. Since combat and other units were integrated (by gender, I’m talking about), the level of strength, agility, and general ability needed to get through basic training has….dropped.

      Not strong enough to climb a rope? Use your “time out” card – a card you flash to let the instructor or sergeant know that you are too tired/weak to climb the rope, scale the wall, crawl through the sand. This basically negates the point of going through basic training and gaining the physical prowess to be able to do these things.

      Male bodies and female bodies are different. On the average, men are faster and have more upper body strength than women. (ON AVERAGE. There are exceptions on both sides.) Instead of ensuring that women in the armed forces can “keep up” – and therefore maintain the level of physicality that is necessary for troops – the bar has been lowered to the point that PT is a joke. The inability to carry out what the military considers basic physical tasks endangers lives.

      • But even though women’s and men’s bodies are different, that doesn’t mean that we should exclude women from the military. To reflect these differences the basic training requirements are different for men and women, and even within gender by age category. The army doesn’t just let anyone in– if you can’t cut it, you’re going home– the recruitment/rejection rates reflect that.

        Even though we’re talking about PT, I think that’s completely missing the point: how many soldiers are even involved in hand-to-hand combat anymore? This is the era of so-called “push-button warfare,” so why does it matter who’s pushing the button? (I heard this argument in HHNF, I think Pat Schroeder said it. Or a member of DACOWITS?) There are no front lines, so excluding women from certain “combat” positions whilst allowing them to be in other “non-combat” positions (like convoy drivers which are much more often the targets of IEDs and firefights) is counterintuitive.

        Reading BOS, you don’t get the impression that these women are weakening the fabric of our military at all. Almost all of them discuss not wanting preferential treatment, not wanting to be treated as a woman but rather as a Soldier. A few of them discuss needing to go above and beyond their male counterparts in basic training, or needing to work even harder than the men in their platoons in order to be taken seriously. I don’t have the book in front of me at the moment, but I think one woman said that she wanted to be #1 in her platoon, and could’ve been, but sacrificed that desire when a fellow soldier was injured and falling behind, so she went back and ran with him. That’s the definition of soldier, not leaving a fallen comrade behind.

        Or you could just listen to the women who serve and are successfully fulfilling their roles, like Col. McSally (profiled in HHNF): “I hope that I am a role model to both men and women, because we are a fighting force and should not be concerned with the differences between us.”

  3. ARGH, where is the reply button?!

    I never said that women should be excluded from military service.

    Since the military is an all-volunteer force with relatively few people volunteering, there aren’t that many rejections. Sure, people get rejected for having absolutely terrible vision, chronic physical ailments, or get discharged for similar problems, but the armed forces don’t have the luxury of turning most people away.

    The move away from actual physical combat raises several interesting points.

    1) Is it a good thing that soldiers do not engage in hand-to-hand combat, or in firefights? Is it better – morally speaking – to use superior technology to bomb enemies from afar? Especially when such bombings have a greater chance of injuring, maiming, or killing civilians? Is something lost when no one has to see or engage the enemy and the human element is removed from warfare?

    2) The move towards using drones, long-range bombs, etc has become so powerful in part BECAUSE fewer troops are capable of engaging the enemy in firefights hand-to-hand combat. Not only does such warfare protect our soldiers, but it also means that the military can accept more members by lowering its standards of physical fitness. How fit does one need to be when one is remote-piloting a drone from 6,000 miles away?

    I don’t think that the inclusion of women in the military at large weakens the military as a whole. I do not think that all female soldiers are incapable of “competing”, so to speak, with male soldiers. I DO think that it is ridiculous to eliminate or lower important, potentially life-saving physical requirements in order to avoid claims of sexism, etc.

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