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In Time Of War: Hitler's Terrorist Attack On America Hardcover – June 23, 2005

4.0 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1942, Nazi U-boats landed eight German-Americans with sabotage gear on the U.S. coast. Almost immediately, their leader phoned the FBI to turn everyone in. Traditionally, historians treat this episode as WWII comic relief. Despite the misleading title, O'Donnell treats it not as terrorism but as a sad example of national hysteria trumping justice—one with real relevance today. The arrests made headlines, producing universal outrage and cries for revenge. Anxious to gratify public clamor, President Roosevelt ordered a secret trial by a military commission operating only under the "laws of war." After three weeks of silence, a bulletin announced the execution of six defendants and long prison terms for two. Public opinion enthusiastically approved. The author, a lawyer, agrees with most legal scholars that Roosevelt's order and the trial were a disgrace. But current Bush administration officials consider FDR's handling of the saboteurs a precedent. O'Donnell devotes his final 70 pages to refuting this, quoting liberally from court transcripts of appeals filed by the prisoners. His account of the German saboteurs is also dense with legal maneuvering and now-available trial records. Readers expecting wartime fireworks will be disappointed; this book is a passionate defense of the Bill of Rights. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"The Nazi saboteur case is a blot on our law, and is being used by the Bush administration now to defend its attacks on civil liberties." —Anthony Lewis

"O’Donnell is a master storyteller who vividly brings to life the trying times of World War II and a nation gripped by fear. " —Johnnie Cochran

"Reads like a spy novel, only it’s all true." —David Cole, author of Enemy Aliens

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 444 pages
  • Publisher: The New Press; First Edition edition (June 23, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565849582
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565849587
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,919,781 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Eugene Sullivan on July 18, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book is timely and has intellectual weight. It is a well-researched and well-written story of the eight German terrorists who traveled by U-boats to America and landed on the beaches of New York and Florida during World War II. The book outlines the terrorists' backgrounds, their motivations, the circumstances of their arrests, and an interesting view of their trial by a military commission set up by FDR. This book of history is a pleasure to read because it moves like a fast-paced novel with characters of depth. As for the legal analysis following the history portion of the book (i.e. Chapter 22 and following chapters), I make no comment nor take any position.

However in the history portion, Pierce O'Donnell demonstrated that he is not only a great trial lawyer, but a great writer. Bravo!! A well-deserved 5 star read.
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Format: Hardcover
Reading Pierce O'Donnell's book is like holding a magnifying glass and a secret decoder ring up to today's headlines - the war in Iraq and the detention of suspected Taliban and Al-Qaeda members in Guantánamo without benefit of trial by jury or protection of Geneva Conventions. At first I thought Mr. O'Donnell's book was just an extremely well-documented look at a little-known case of these Nazi saboteurs in 1942, who were quickly tried and fried by President Roosevelt exercising his war powers. Yet the book is much more than that. It's an in-depth examination of the exigencies of denying civil liberties during times of war and really demystifies the writ of habeus corpus for us laymen.

O'Donnell expertly guides the reader through the legal battles of Lincoln and Roosevelt - two presidents faced with war during times when the very life of our nation was in peril. The book brings us right into 2005 and the Bush administration's compounding woes as it suspends the writ of habeus corpus, civil liberties and adherence to Geneva Conventions with abandon. O'Donnell is very bright because he doesn't demonize Bush. Instead his book is a cautionary tale about the exponential troubles being brought upon our nation - a country founded on law -- by a president bending the rule of law to engage in unconstitutional, unlawful actions.

In his essay on "Prudence" Emerson wrote "In skating over thin ice, our safety is in our speed." That sound you hear is the ice is cracking under President Bush and Vice President Cheney.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Pierce O'Donnell's "In Time of War: Hitler's Terrorist Attack on America" is a book that lets a good story be ruined by the author's biases and thinly-disguised motives for writing it. The first three-quarters is an interesting tale about the "Nazi saboteurs' trial" during World War II, while the last quarter is a diatribe against the Bush Administration's legal tactics in the current war on terror.

O'Donnell tells the story of eight German saboteurs, landed on Americans soil in 1942 by German U-Boats, on a secret mission to sabotage American industry. He tells the story of their capture (after one of the Germans turned himself in to the FBI) and their subsequent secret trial by a military commission. This story focuses on then-Colonel Kenneth C. Royall, the US Army officer detailed to defend the saboteurs. This part of the book, drawn heavily from the transcripts of the military commission and Royall's unpublished memoirs, is an easy read that is written more like a novel than history. O'Donnell tells a good story and does a good job describing the military commission and the dramas surrounding it (including the hurried Supreme Court arguments).

Although interesting and well-written, O'Donnell loses focus at times, including a detailed history of the FBI (only tangentially related to the story), a discussion of the internment of the Japanese (tangentially related to his theme but not to the story), and a long discussion on the plights of blacks in Washington, DC, during the 1940s. O'Donnell also incorrectly calls the German saboteurs terrorists (even in the title), despite the fact that these were German soldiers intending to inflict damage on the American infrastructure and thus harm the war effort.
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Format: Hardcover
Just as I started reading this book I watched a news program give a few minutes discussion on the extension of the so called Patriots Act. I am reminded of the quotation from Benjamin Franklin, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

It also seems that the security authorities always want more power, which they promise to not abuse. This happened when Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. It happened in the aftermath of 9/11, and as beautifully described in this book it happened during World War II when the Germans landed eight men to sabotage aircraft plants and railway hubs in the US.

The planned acts of sabotage never happened, the eight men were captured when one of them turned himself in. Six of them were executed, the other two sentenced to long prison terms. Public opinion was strongly for this action. Legally, Mr. O'Donnell explains the situation was rather disgraceful. And this is the precedent that President Bush is using to justify his actions in detaining "enemy combatants" in Cuba.

These are strange times in which we are living, but as this book says, it isn't the first. Let's hope we pull out of this as well as we have in the past.
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