An Enemy Like Me by Teri Brown – Book Review

Teri Brown’s historical novel, “An Enemy Like Me,” focuses on the life of a soldier named Jacob Miller in World War II. Teri Brown overturns the popular idea of a glorious war hero by showing the daily life of Jacob Miller before the war. The ordinary human conflicts of the American soldiers outside the battlefield are highlighted in this novel through the depiction of Jacob and Bonnie Miller’s love marriage and their struggle for acceptance in their family. ‘An Enemy Like Me’ is also a novel that deals with the protagonist coming to terms with his identity. Jacob Miller is a first-generation American of German descent. After World War I, the anti-German rhetoric was strong in the United States, and Jacob Miller is seen anxious to prove his patriotic identity as an American. Protecting one’s country is seen as being synonymous with protecting one’s family, therefore Jacob Miller, who is a loving husband and a dedicated father, joins World War II as a soldier after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The relationship between Jacob and his son William, through whose perspective Teri M Brown shows events unfolding, is treated with sympathetic delicacy. While the background of the novel sees a struggle for power between Bonnie and Elisabet, Jacob’s mother, the imminent shadow of war looms over all of their interactions, with Jacob being continually preoccupied with the American attack on the Japanese and his role in helping his country win their freedom. The family lives in fear of being targeted for their German descent, and Jacob wishes to secure their lives in America. Bonnie starts working in order to cover their expenses during the war, showing the changing lifestyles of war widows whose husbands were sent off to the battlefields. Jacob’s identity crisis comes full circle when he learns that he has to fight the Germans, not the Japanese, raising the question of cultural and racial belonging over nationalism, as Jacob tries to come to terms with fighting an enemy ‘that looks more like him.’ As the war with Germany escalates, Jacob begins to envision his own family in the midst of the conflict—widows and orphaned children he encounters after attacking the Germans. The dehumanization of war becomes apparent in Brown’s writing when Jacob realizes that his enemy is neither the Japanese nor the German, but whichever gun is pointing towards him. He identifies with the Germans when he interacts with a prisoner of war in Germany, while awaiting his return to the U.S., and begins to harbor humanitarian feelings of brotherhood and sympathy towards all the people whose lives were affected by the war. This helps him survive the harsh realities of war and return to his family, though he is forever scarred by what he has witnessed and what he has done. His son William’s coming of age is shown through his acceptance of a childhood spent in the background of war, and his identification with his father’s struggles and sacrifices in the name of peace and his own aspirations for the same bring the novel to a full circle.

Teri Brown’s novel ‘An Enemy Like Me’ is very accurate in capturing the prevalent views of war and its far-reaching consequences that transcend generations. However, she is limited in her diagnosis of the cause of destruction and violence on such a large scale, never fully identifying the paradox of the situation: it is Jacob Miller’s insecurity about his German descent that makes him join the war under the garb of patriotism, and these insecurities lead him to kill German people in order to secure his life as an American citizen. ‘An Enemy Like Me’ is commendable in its exploration of the consequences of war upon ordinary citizens, an issue that continues to gain momentum in an ever-escalating series of international conflicts around the world.

In today’s world, different countries are competing with each other for the ownership of dangerous weapons, including nuclear weapons such as the atomic bomb, which have the ability to injure and kill a large number of people in seconds. With the race for armament and nuclear weaponry at a high in both developed and developing nations, the problem of considering someone belonging to the opposite side as our personal enemy, instead of just another human being, for the sake of serving one’s country, as highlighted by Teri Brown, remains significant. The fall of the Soviet Union and the invasion of Iraq after the bombing of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, made sure that the United States emerged as the dominant global power on the international front. Closer to home, in the South-East Asian subcontinent, nuclear weaponry began to be developed, posing the threat of a Third World War, only this time the countries involved would be “Third World” countries still in the developmental stages. The Pokhran-II nuclear tests conducted in India in May 1998 were steps towards the escalation of nuclear war, as similar tests happened in Pakistan. Tensions between India and Pakistan had risen significantly following Bangladesh’s independence war in 1971. Arguments in favor of nuclear testing and nuclear weaponry became popular through the media, and they spiraled into a nationalist, patriotic discourse where owning nuclear weapons meant being strong against the enemy. The threats of storing nuclear energy near innocent civilians were ignored in favour of the pro-war rhetoric, which sought to divide people on the basis of territories and nationalities. If there are leaks in the storage system, the maximum amount of damage will be borne not by the people who developed it, but by the innocent civilians who know very little about the full effects of nuclear energy on their physical health, which includes diseases such as cancer, genetic mutations, and death.

The main issue that is brought up to justify nuclear war is the existence of controversial versions of history, about which very little can be confirmed. Like Jacob Miller in Teri Brown’s novel, people are made insecure about their belonging to their country for different reasons, such as ethnicity, race, culture, language, and religion. Then they are asked to prove their loyalty to their country, and in this process, they forget about the violence that they are going to inflict on the ‘enemy’ country. Only if people are made to face the reality of all sorts of violence can they realise that their so-called enemy is just another human being like them. People’s loyalty to their country is shown only by maintaining enmity with the members of the country’s rival power. If they are shown as not being loyal to their country, they are branded as traitors, and their security is no longer safeguarded by the police and the army, just as the German and Japanese immigrants were being rounded up in America in Teri Brown’s novel without their having done anything against the law. All the human sides of the “enemy” are suppressed, and they are shown as being wholly evil to justify their destruction. People’s everyday lives and problems begin to seem insignificant in the context of war, just as Bonnie and Elisabeth’s fights appear insignificant in the context of WWII. Children who grow up in areas where there is a lot of violent conflict because of differences in ethnicity, culture, etc. cannot lead a normal childhood. They are constantly threatened by the loss of their parents and family, and they can never be fully secure about their own futures, like William Miller in ‘An Enemy Like Me’.

Although the growth of globalization has helped people to transcend borders and embrace the ideas of universalism, the seeds of war are still regularly sown by the mass media to divide people according to the national interests and make them forget that beneath the different layers of identity, we are all simply human beings. Our personal problems are not insignificant just because they are different from the national conflicts, and just as the Miller family grows in its own ways throughout the war, we too have to confront our realities and solve our own disputes, instead of ignoring what is wrong in front of our eyes and focusing only on the borders of our countries. Our search for peace is important and essential for our developing as compassionate and complete human beings, which is what Teri Brown emphasizes at the end of ‘An Enemy Like Me’ and which is something that we, in the contemporary world, have to realize as well.

The book also tells us that blindly following whatever we are told by the media will make us do things that we never thought ourselves capable of doing, including war crimes in the background of a national war being fought. Sacrificing values of love for our family and neighbours in favour of values of aggressive nationalism will bring us to a point where we will not understand who is our enemy, and who is our friend. This is told to us repeatedly in the novel, as the Miller family faces the consequences of World War II.

Finally, Teri Brown shows us that the after-effects of war continue long after the war itself, with multiple generations being affected by what has occurred in the past. For those who have fought in person during the war, post-traumatic stress disorder is a serious risk, and the feeling of constantly being in survival mode is one that they have to live through even after the war. Remembering the values for which we sacrificed peace, which is so important for stable human development, becomes important to the survivors. Only after making sense of the past can we fully live out the future. Therefore, to understand the cost of war in any form is essential for human beings in the contemporary world, so that we may avoid the mistakes that we have made repeatedly in the past, which have led to death and destruction on an immense scale all over.

Also Check: Teri Brown interview

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