In Time Of War: Hitler's Terrorist Attack On America
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 11 Mar 2015
In a time of war, democratic and authoritarian governments limit civil liberties alike. During WW2, eight German saboteurs were captured on American soil, and US President Franklin Roosevelt intended to rush them through a military tribunal. Harvard Law School graduate Colonel Kenneth Royall (who later would become the Secretary of War and Secretary of the Army) ultimately brought the case all the way up to the highest court of the United States, the Supreme Court, challenging Roosevelt's constitutional authority in ignoring the rights of these saboteurs, two of whom were US citizens. Even though his efforts would not be successful, it would become one of the most important work of Royall's career.
Author Pierce O'Donnell's misleadingly titled In Time Of War: Hitler's Terrorist Attack On America was a legal thriller that documented this landmark trial. His fast-paced narratives detailed the drama surrounding the case, with Royall balancing his sworn duty to obey his superior's orders and his professional ethics as an attorney. The author, who was an attorney himself, did a great job in explaining to the laymen the legal precedents which had taken place in prior wars, the military and legal hurdles and obstacles in Royall's path, and how WW2-era legal rulings impacted events of later periods, including those of the War on Terror. His research conducted through tribunal transcripts, unpublished memoirs, and old newspapers was thorough, as reflected by the book's content. I found the author lost focus often, however. For example, he dove deeply into ethnic relations between blacks and whites in 1940s America, and wrote in length about his personal opinions on President George Bush's handling of the Guantanamo Bay controversy. Those chapters strayed off topic so much that I had to take the time to revisit the final paragraphs of a prior relevant chapter so that I could be reminded where the main story left off. Looking past this shortcoming, O'Donnell nevertheless put together a wonderfully suspenseful work that told of the history of the trial with a writing style that rivaled a novel.
I had reviewed the audio edition of this title. Raymond Todd did a very nice job with the reading, and I had enjoyed his voice acting.
I would recommend In Time Of War to those interested in the history of American law, especially those concerning military tribunals and those granting and limiting the powers of the executive branch of the US government. For those not particularly familiar with legal jargon, it might be useful to brush up on terms suchs as habeas corpus, ex parte, and others, or have a web browser or dictionary handy!
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945