Mudcat Café message #1463282 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #80289   Message #1463282
Posted By: beardedbruce
16-Apr-05 - 10:47 PM
Thread Name: BS: 10,000 arrested in US today
Subject: RE: BS: 10,000 arrested in US today
U.S. plans to invade Canada after the First World War? This is one of the most bizarre stories I've come across on the Internet, and the most bizarre part is that it's true. The U.S. military really did develop a "Joint Army and Navy Basic War Plan--Red" in the 1920s and '30s, and it really did include provisions for an invasion of Canada by the United States.

The document was declassified in 1974, so this isn't really a new story, but there has been some hoopla about it lately. Concerns in some quarters notwithstanding, the whole thing was just a theoretical exercise in military planning. The brass would have made better use of their resources planning for a war with Germany, but that wasn't politically expedient. They reasoned that planning for unlikely wars was better than no planning at all. War Plan Red was never intended to be put into action except in the event of a war with the United Kingdom, an eventuality that everyone would agree was highly unlikely after about 1900.

In the color codes used at that time, "Red" referred not to Canada (that was "Crimson"), but to the United Kingdom. The proposed invasion of Canada wasn't an end in itself; it was just the easiest way to hurt the U.K. The plan called for quickly seizing the key port of Halifax to prevent British resupply; cutting communication between eastern and western Canada by capturing Winnipeg; securing bridgeheads near Buffalo, Detroit, and Sault Ste. Marie; and attacking Quebec overland from New England. If everything went according to plan, the U.S. military hoped to take the Great Lakes region and St. Lawrence valley before moving on the prairies and British Columbia. Later when U.S. naval forces were built up, they might be able to take Bermuda and Britain's Caribbean possessions on the road toward victory.

But there would be a price to pay for any such war. Planners essentially wrote off the Philippines, Guam, and Samoa if the British tried to take them early in the war. Planners also anticipated a possible invasion of the U.S. Pacific coast by an allied force from Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. The last two unfairly had to share the color Scarlet, despite there being plenty of shades of red available for everyone. Who wouldn't want to read about the army of Fuchsia or the navy of Salmon? It just goes to show you that U.S. military planners were a bunch of Maroons.

War Plan Red wasn't the first contingency plan for a war with Britain that included an invasion of Canada. It was just the best known and (as far as we know) last. There had been others over the previous decades, many of them submitted to the Military Information Division by military officers working on their own time. War Plan Red was one of many "color plans" developed in a fairly systematic way in the 1920s and '30s. Except for "Orange" (war with Japan), the plans were primarily academic exercises, lacking detail and offering only broad outlines of strategy. The plans were an outgrowth of military reorganizations that had led to the creation of the U.S. Army War College (1903) and the U.S. Army War Plans Division (1921). Planning capability having been established, the military figured its planners had better get in some practice. The result was a dramatic increase in formal planning for various military contingencies, most of them unlikely.

The idea of systematically developing contingency plans was borrowed from the Prussian-dominated German military, which had been doing similar work since the previous century. Generally the plans weren't requested by civilian authorities (which would indicate an expectation of putting them into practice) but were prepared by the military on its own. However, the plans would be on hand in case the civilian authorities wanted them. There is no evidence that War Plan Red or any other twentieth-century plan for the invasion of Canada was requested by civilian authorities.

Much of the Army's work on Red was done in the mid-1920s. It evidently didn't attract much attention from the Navy until about 1930, because the admirals were preoccupied with Orange before that. They would be preoccupied with Orange again after that too; the period around 1930 was a brief respite from work on Orange, which was largely finished but would soon need to be updated.

Other color plans included "White" (domestic uprising), "Green" (war with Mexico), "Gray" (war with any one of the Caribbean republics), and "Purple" (war in Central America). One scenario pitted the U.S. against the combined forces of France (Gold), Canada, and Britain. Another (Red-Orange) pitted the U.S. against a combination of Japan and Britain. This last had more military justification before 1924, when the Anglo-Japanese Treaty was still in force. This treaty would have required Britain to join a war between the U.S. and Japan, but only if another great power (such as France or Russia) also declared war on Japan.

For political reasons, "Black" (war with Germany) was not highly developed at all. When word of planning for a war with Germany was leaked to the press in 1927, the isolationist public was outraged and the project was shelved. This echoed the situation in 1916 when President Wilson threatened to fire the entire general staff if he learned they were planning for war with Germany. (This was an election year when Wilson's slogan was, "He kept us out of war.") Serious planning for war with Germany was not done until 1939 when work began on the five "Rainbow" plans. These dealt with simultaneous threats from both Atlantic and Pacific--in other words, war with the Axis countries. By that time the threat was too great to ignore, even though public sentiment was still strongly isolationist.

Apparently in the 1920s only certain scenarios could safely be considered: Japan because of the threat it posed to the Philippines, and Latin America because of U.S. interests there. But war against a European power could be contemplated only if such a war was so unlikely that it could be brushed off as a mere exercise if the newspapers got wind of it. That was essentially the case with War Plan Red, though presumably it would have been dusted off and used in the unlikely event the U.S. declared war on Britain. The plan was called "obsolete" and "inapplicable" but was not officially withdrawn until 1939. It was not destroyed as other obsolete plans were because the military felt the naval part of the plan would be helpful in fighting any enemy in the Atlantic.

Much of the recent attention paid to War Plan Red has been due to the writings of one Floyd W. Rudmin, a social psychologist with American and Canadian citizenship. He wrote a 1993 book, which I have not read, titled Bordering on Aggression: Evidence of U.S. Military Preparations against Canada. He views Canadians' generally blasť attitude toward the plan since it was declassified as evidence of blindness to the American threat. He sees the plan in a much more sinister light than do most military historians, implying that there was a high likelihood of its being implemented.

There is a much better, though less recent, example in support of Rudmin's contention of Canadian blindness to the U.S. threat. This was the 1890s border dispute between Venezuela and British Guiana, in which Canada had no direct part. The jingoistic president Grover Cleveland viewed the dispute through the lens of the Monroe Doctrine and sided with Venezuela against Britain, threatening war unless Britain submitted to arbitration by himself. Some British and Canadian officers took the threat of war quite seriously, but Canadian civilians generally laughed it off. In fact, U.S. military planning was much more extensive than the public realized at the time, and Canada would have been the first target. Secretary of the Navy H.A. Herbert in 1896 ordered a plan to seize control of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence in the event of war. As I noted above, the fact that the military makes plans doesn't necessarily mean anything, but a civilian request for a plan indicates that it might well be put into action. However, it's not clear whether Cleveland knew what Herbert was up to. Eventually tensions subsided and the border dispute was resolved by arbitration in 1899. I won't say we were ever on the brink of war during the Venezuela crisis, but we were surely closer then than at any time during the era of War Plan Red. Within a few years, though, various events including the Spanish-American War (and the British reaction to it), the Boer War (and the American reaction to it), and the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty made an Anglo-American war a remote possibility.

The United States wasn't the only country preparing for war in North America after the First World War. There is no evidence Britain continued to plan for war with the U.S. after the war (perhaps because they were freer to plan for war with more likely enemies). But in 1921 Canada's Director of Military Operations and Intelligence, Col. J. Sutherland-Brown, produced a remarkable document called "Defence Scheme Number 1" to deal with possible war with the U.S. As in the U.S., isolationism ran high in Canada and it was politically difficult to plan for war in Europe. "Defence Scheme Number 3" did eventually deal with that scenario, but not until a decade later. ("Defence Scheme Number 2" dealt with war against Japan.) DS1, as the name implies, was primarily a defensive plan, but it included invasions of the U.S. in the first days of war as a means of gaining time until troops from elsewhere in the Empire could arrive. These invasions would have been aimed at Albany, Minneapolis, Seattle, and other northern cities, to be followed by a slow withdrawal and destruction of bridges and railroads. The plan was withdrawn in 1929, about the same time the finishing touches were being put on War Plan Red. There is no evidence that U.S. and Canadian planners knew of each other's work.

NOW you can worry...