Enemies among Us Cover

Enemies among Us

The Relocation, Internment and Repatriation of German, Italian, and Japanese Americans During the Second World War

John E. Schmitz

University of Lincoln Press, Nebraska, 2021, 430 pages

Book Review published on: February 3, 2023

In the book Enemies among Us: The Relocation, Internment and Repatriation of German, Italian, and Japanese Americans During the Second World War, John E. Schmitz, a professor of history at Northern Virginia Community College-Annadale, weaves a fascinating narrative on the brutal treatment of American citizens and legal immigrants by the United States government during the Second World War. While the horrific treatment of those of Japanese descent or association is well known, the aggressive internment of German and Italian citizens is not. Schmitz details these abuses at the hand of the government using official primary sources and individual accounts. Filled with heart-wrenching stories, such as parents seized in the night because of their ethnicity, Enemies among Us highlights the legislation and executive orders that allowed these things to happen.

Framed as an investigative look into his genealogy, Schmitz begins the book with an account that sets the stage for his excellent work. “It often began with a simple knock on the door as FBI agents advised, ‘you had better pack some things … but you won’t be gone long.’ At 2:30 a.m. agents entered his Milwaukee home … [taking] Peter and his wife, Marie, into custody and [leaving] their three children to fend for themselves. After two months Marie was released, but she found the children gone and the home robbed. She herself was now on the street while Peter … spent the next few years in three different internment camps” (p. 1). Beginning with this snippet, Schmitz marks the FBI establishment on 8 May 1934 as the turning point in America’s Constitutional protections. Propped up by presidential fiat and legislative malfeasance, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI acted as a secret police force, eventually combining its capabilities with the War Department’s to snatch and imprison hundreds of thousands of American citizens.

Using government propaganda tools at the national level and supported by local media outlets on both coasts, President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced and perpetuated the myth of a “fifth column” threat. Explicitly stating that foreigners living in the United States were working against American interests, he ordered Executive Branch agencies to spy on and detain Americans of Japanese, German, or Italian lineage—or those associated with them. Later authorized by Congressional statute, internment camps were established and populated nationwide. Run by military officers such as Gen. Hugh Aloysius Drum, some of these locations still thrive today though their purpose is no longer to subjugate political prisoners.

This book is a work that stands outside what one usually finds in historical accounts, and the reader will become quickly engrossed in Schmitz’s narrative. Well organized, the book contains a timeline of significant events from 1930 to 1949, a comprehensive notes section, and a valuable index to locate specific people or events of interest. This book is a must-read for anyone unfamiliar with the events of those dark days in America. Additionally, academics and public policy experts will benefit from the extensive list of resources and citations that the author used in his work. This is a captivating read, recommended without reservation.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Carl P. (Pete) Johnson, U.S. Army, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas