This International Women's Day, I remember the summer of 1990, when I circled the glassy doldrums off the west coast of Africa for two months on a tank landing ship, the USS Sumter LST-1181. The Marines on board shined their canteens out of boredom. We threw our garbage in the ocean and it sat around and stank for days.


At the 60-day mark, the USS Milwaukee shot a line over and resupplied us with food, fuel, and- due to an arcane Naval policy- enough cases of Old Milwaukee for every man on board to have a single can of cold American beer. Sailors lined the railings to catch a glimpse of any female on board the supply ship, life-jacketed and boondocked, sexless as a pylon from 30 yards away, and yet as powerfully feminine as any bare-breasted enchantress on the cliffs of the Sirenuse.


After the ships parted ways, sober men sold their beers to the highest bidder for the ship-wide party. A drum kit appeared on the fourth deck and we jammed bad Zeppelin covers with half-remembered lyrics. Married men were allowed into the cryptic radio room for a single crackling phone call home to their wives.


Soon after, the order finally came to do what we were there to do. We helicoptered Americans out of Monrovia, Liberia. We left over two hundred Marines behind to protect Americans and American interests in the city named after our fifth president.


We never left the ship and the ship never docked. By the time we scrubbed off in Puerto Rico, we had been on the water for a month longer than Columbus on that first transatlantic voyage.


I wondered for years what really happened in the city that I only saw from the water, as unknowable then as all the women aboard the USS Milwaukee. About twenty years later I picked up this book and found out. The twenty-year-old me looking for the curve of a hip in a faraway pair of dungarees knew nothing about the power of women. Here is the grisly and breathtaking true story of how a coalition of Christian and Muslim women ended the Liberian Civil War with faith, cunning, and womanhood as their only weapons.


Mighty Be Our Powers

Leymah Gbowee

Winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize