Against All Enemies

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Harold Coyle’s Against All Enemies presents a grim, nobody-wins crisis in the United States of the 1990’s. Following a devastating act of domestic terrorism, the Federal Bureau of Investigation mistakenly pursues an ultra-right wing militia in Wyoming. The FBI’s heavy-handed tactics alienate conservative westerners already disgruntled over federal dominance. Idaho’s populist governor seizes the opportunity to make a stand for states’ rights. He expels all Federal officials and orders the Idaho National Guard to defend the borders. Reactionary militias rally to his cause, and then hijack it.

The general commanding a U.S. Army division in Colorado is ordered to retake Idaho for the nation. The mission causes him deep personal unease and places in jeopardy his wife, a broadcast journalist, and his son, a paratrooper. At the same time, a National Guard colonel must decide between keeping her oath to Idaho leaders whom she despises or helping out the U.S. Army, to which she once belonged and loved. After skirmishes and air raids, a climactic battle occurs in southern Idaho, and Americans on both sides face up to the prospect of killing their countrymen. In addition to these themes of patriotism, divided loyalties, and state-federal tensions, Coyle fires off bitter criticism at the national news media and politicians in general.

Coyle wrote the book in 1996, and it does not show the deftness in style or narrative of his subsequently written best-sellers. Part of the problem is the novel’s scope. There is a lot of story to tell—too much to leave room for convincing characterization or plot. The well-described combat scenes will please devotees of military fiction, yet even though the action switches rapidly among the major characters, the pace feels dogged. Moreover, some themes seem overlays, and the context is murky.