Searching for Subversives

The Story of Italian Internment in Wartime America

By Mary Elizabeth Basile Chopas

250 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 7 halftones, 4 graphs, appends., notes, bibl., index, approx 95,000 words

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-3434-0
    Published: November 2017
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3433-3
    Published: November 2017
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-3435-7
    Published: October 2017
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5232-8
    Published: October 2017

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When the United States entered World War II, Italian nationals living in this country were declared enemy aliens and faced with legal restrictions. Several thousand aliens and a few U.S. citizens were arrested and underwent flawed hearings, and hundreds were interned. Shedding new light on an injustice often overshadowed by the mass confinement of Japanese Americans, Mary Elizabeth Basile Chopas traces how government and military leaders constructed wartime policies affecting Italian residents. Based on new archival research into the alien enemy hearings, this in-depth legal analysis illuminates a process not widely understood. From presumptive guilt in the arrest and internment based on membership in social and political organizations, to hurdles in attaining American citizenship, Chopas uncovers many layers of repression not heretofore revealed in scholarship about the World War II home front.

In telling the stories of former internees and persons excluded from military zones as they attempted to resume their lives after the war, Chopas demonstrates the lasting social and cultural effects of government policies on the Italian American community, and addresses the modern problem of identifying threats in a largely loyal and peaceful population.

About the Author

Mary Elizabeth Basile Chopas is a lecturer at Harvard Law School.
For more information about Mary Elizabeth Basile Chopas, visit the Author Page.


"An important contribution to Italian American studies and US ethnic history."--CHOICE

“Adds a good deal to our understanding of the internment process for Italian enemy aliens.”--H-Net Reviews

“Masterfully untangles the American government’s process for interning 343 Italian American enemy aliens during World War II. . . . The lessons derived raise timely questions about how democracies can and should protect civil liberties when experiencing threats to national security.”--Journal of Social History

“An important book with material relevance to some of the most important political and social issues of our time. By tapping into new and revealing archival research, Chopas has enriched the field of Italian American studies and American political and legal history in general.” --American Historical Review

“This is one of the most impressive studies of its kind. Chopas has produced a model study, one that mixes detailed research with carefully nuanced readings and thoughtful analysis. This is an original and valuable addition to the literature of American history.”—Greg Robinson, author of A Tragedy of Democracy

"Searching for Subversives is a significant addition to our understanding of civilian internment in the United States during World War II. Chopas’s compilation and analysis of individual cases, as well as her examination of the role of hearing boards, is one of a kind."--Stephen Fox, author of Against All Enemies