In Time of War: Hitler's Terrorist Attack on America

Pierce O'Donnell, Author, Anthony Lewis, Introduction by . New Press $27.95 (444p) ISBN 978-1-56584-958-7

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)

Reviewed on: 05/23/2005
Release date: 06/01/2005
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