"In Time Of War" by Pierce O'Donnell

I have seen in an Oxfam shop, a book I think raises troublesome issues-on both sides of the “pond”, “In Time Of War: Hitler’s Terrorist Attack On America” by attorney Pierce O’Donnell ( The New Press, 2005) dealing with the trial of the eight Nazi saboteurs tried by military commission in 1942( leading to the execution by electric chair of six of their number- whilst the US Supreme Court was still considering their appeal which was issued two months after their execution- ex parte Quirin) and the “Roosevelt Court’s” attitude to the internment of Japanese Americans beginning in February)
Some may argue that these people got pretty much what they deserved- just as terrorists( be they Al Qaeda for Americans or the Provisional IRA in the UK during the NI “Troubles”),do nowadays but as us Brits found out during the “Troubles”( and Americans I suspect will find out with Al Qaeda), you play fast and loose with the rights of even those you most passionately and deservedly despise at your own peril.

“Enhanced interrogation techniques”, “military commissions”- once the floodgate opens for some, sooner and later, they will be used against others( Mafiosi, violent white supremacits, paedophiles)

If there is a hero in this book, it was US Army Brigadier General Kenneth C.Royall who acted as defence counsel for a group of people that most Americans in 1942 would have been happy to see summarily shot, and if there is a villain(next to the Nazi regime),it was the US Supreme Court of the day, whose submission to the White House(FDR informed the Court that irrespective of how they ruled. he would have them shot using his authority as Commander in Chief of the US Armed Forces. O’Donnell makes the point that such ex parte communications were arguably not just unethical but impeachable- definitely NOT a"profile in courage"(to quote the title of a book by future President John F.Kennedy) just as its upholding of the internment of Japanese Americans( Korematsu v. United States) was.

The book’s title comes from the Latin phrase “inter arma ligens silencia”( in time of war, the laws are silent); perhaps the best commentary on the Court in those far off times is that it reflected the uncritical “Uncle Sam knows best” attitude that was typical of the America of the pre- Vietnam War, pre-Watergate generation.

Fortunately, the recent rulings by SCOTUS( esp Rasul v Bush, Hamdi v Rumsfeld) have reflected a more critical view of executive power in times of crisis!


but as us Brits found out during the “Troubles”

You are referencing the second period known by that name, however the British should have already learnt from their experience during the original period with the same name that torture is not profitable as British forces routinely used torture and oppressive methods during this period including burning down towns at times.

Britain has a long history of using torture during independence struggles, your points with regards to the American experience are ones I would largely agree with as such methods create a great deal of future poison and animosity.

All the more reason for Americans NOT to follow in our footsteps, so to speak, vis a vis Al Qaeda, wouldn’t you agree?


I agree, the US use of torture in the current era is disgusting. I have serious concerns with the way Irish airspace was used to render up prisoners via rendition flights over the last few years.


The limits of US Presidential power( esp in war, be it Civil, World War , Cold or “War on Terror” for Presidents Lincoln, Roosevelt and Richard Nixon) will always be debatable but there is no doubt to my mind that whilst the execution of the saboteurs in 1942 may have been defensible-spies and saboteurs have no rights in wartime- FDR’s mass relocation of
Japanese Americans even if upheld by the Supreme Court in Korematsu v US, amounted to an abuse of his power( wartime hysteria and prejudice rather than indications of “subversive” intent, as much as John Yoo’s claims that the President had the right to order the crushing of a terrorist’s child(male presumably)'s testicles in a vice( crushing the testicles of a terrorist even his innocent son sounds more reminiscent of societies like like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq or Stalin’s Soviet Union than the United States of America, to my mind!).


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.