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December 30, 2005

War Plan Red: The Secret U.S. Plan to Invade Canada


No, you haven't ended up on The Onion's website — the above is the subject of Peter Carlson's front–page story in today's Washington Post Style section.

War Plan Red was created in 1930, updated during the 1930s, and finally declassified in 1974.

But wait — it gets even better.

Turns out that Canada wasn't just sitting there like a bump on a pickle: back in 1921 they'd developed a plan to invade the U.S.

Here's the sensational article:

    Raiding the Icebox

    Behind Its Warm Front, the United States Made Cold Calculations to Subdue Canada

    Invading Canada won't be like invading Iraq: When we invade Canada, nobody will be able to grumble that we didn't have a plan.

    The United States government does have a plan to invade Canada. It's a 94-page document called "Joint Army and Navy Basic War Plan -- Red," with the word SECRET stamped on the cover.

    It's a bold plan, a bodacious plan, a step-by-step plan to invade, seize and annex our neighbor to the north.

    It goes like this:

    First, we send a joint Army-Navy overseas force to capture the port city of Halifax, cutting the Canadians off from their British allies.

    Then we seize Canadian power plants near Niagara Falls, so they freeze in the dark.

    Then the U.S. Army invades on three fronts -- marching from Vermont to take Montreal and Quebec, charging out of North Dakota to grab the railroad center at Winnipeg, and storming out of the Midwest to capture the strategic nickel mines of Ontario.

    Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy seizes the Great Lakes and blockades Canada's Atlantic and Pacific ports.

    At that point, it's only a matter of time before we bring these Molson-swigging, maple-mongering Zamboni drivers to their knees!

    Or, as the official planners wrote, stating their objective in bold capital letters: "ULTIMATELY TO GAIN COMPLETE CONTROL."

    * * *

    It sounds like a joke but it's not.

    War Plan Red is real.

    It was drawn up and approved by the War Department in 1930, then updated in 1934 and 1935.

    It was declassified in 1974 and the word "SECRET" crossed out with a heavy pencil.

    Now it sits in a little gray box in the National Archives in College Park, available to anybody, even Canadian spies.

    They can photocopy it for 15 cents a page.

    War Plan Red was actually designed for a war with England.

    In the late 1920s, American military strategists developed plans for a war with Japan (code name Orange), Germany (Black), Mexico (Green) and England (Red).

    The Americans imagined a conflict between the United States (Blue) and England over international trade: "The war aim of RED in a war with BLUE is conceived to be the definite elimination of BLUE as an important economic and commercial rival."

    In the event of war, the American planners figured that England would use Canada (Crimson) -- then a quasi-pseudo-semi-independent British dominion -- as a launching pad for "a direct invasion of BLUE territory."

    That invasion might come overland, with British and Canadian troops attacking Buffalo, Detroit and Albany.

    Or it might come by sea, with amphibious landings on various American beaches -- including Rehoboth and Ocean City, both of which were identified by the planners as "excellent" sites for a Brit beachhead.

    The planners anticipated a war "of long duration" because "the RED race" is "more or less phlegmatic" but "noted for its ability to fight to a finish."

    Also, the Brits could be reinforced by "colored" troops from their colonies: "Some of the colored races however come of good fighting stock, and, under white leadership, can be made into very efficient troops."

    The stakes were high: If the British and Canadians won the war, the planners predicted, "CRIMSON will demand that Alaska be awarded to her."

    Imagine that! Canada demanding a huge chunk of U.S. territory!

    Them's fightin' words!

    And so the American strategists planned to fight England by seizing Canada. (Also Jamaica, Barbados and Bermuda.)

    And they didn't plan to give them back.

    "Blue intentions are to hold in perpetuity all CRIMSON and RED territory gained," Army planners wrote in an appendix to the war plan.

    "The policy will be to prepare the provinces and territories of CRIMSON and RED to become states and territories of the BLUE union upon the declaration of peace."


    None of this information is new.

    After the plan was declassified in 1974, several historians and journalists wrote about War Plan Red.

    But still it remains virtually unknown on both sides of the world's largest undefended border.

    "I've never heard of it," said David Biette, director of the Canada Institute in Washington, which thinks about Canada.

    "I remember sort of hearing about this," said Bernard Etzinger, spokesman for the Canadian Embassy in Washington.

    "It's the first I've heard of it," said David Courtemanche, mayor of Sudbury, Ontario, whose nickel mines were targeted in the war plan.

    Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said he'd never heard of the plan.

    He also said he wouldn't admit to knowing about such a plan if he did.

    "We don't talk about any of our contingency plans," he said.

    Has the Pentagon updated War Plan Red since the '30s?

    "The Defense Department never talks about its contingency plans for any countries," Whitman said.

    "We don't acknowledge which countries we have contingency plans for."

    Out in Winnipeg -- the Manitoba capital, whose rail yards were slated to be seized in the plan -- Brad Salyn, the city's director of communications, said he didn't think Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz knew anything about War Plan Red: "You know he would have no clue about what you're talking about, eh?"

    "I'm sure Winnipeggers will stand up tall in defense of our country," Mayor Katz said later. "We have many, many weapons."

    What kind of weapons?

    "We have peashooters, slingshots and snowballs," he said, laughing.

    But the Canadians' best weapon, Katz added, is their weather.

    "It gets to about minus-50 Celsius with a wind chill," he said.

    "It will be like Napoleon's invasion of Russia. I'm quite convinced that you'll meet your Waterloo on the banks of the Assiniboine River."


    As it turns out, Katz isn't the first Canadian to speculate on how to fight the U.S.A.

    In fact, Canadian military strategists developed a plan to invade the United States in 1921 -- nine years before their American counterparts created War Plan Red.

    The Canadian plan was developed by the country's director of military operations and intelligence, a World War I hero named James Sutherland "Buster" Brown.

    Apparently Buster believed that the best defense was a good offense: His "Defence Scheme No. 1" called for Canadian soldiers to invade the United States, charging toward Albany, Minneapolis, Seattle and Great Falls, Mont., at the first signs of a possible U.S. invasion.

    "His plan was to start sending people south quickly because surprise would be more important than preparation," said Floyd Rudmin, a Canadian psychology professor and author of "Bordering on Aggression: Evidence of U.S. Military Preparations Against Canada," a 1993 book about both nations' war plans.

    "At a certain point, he figured they'd be stopped and then retreat, blowing up bridges and tearing up railroad tracks to slow the Americans down."

    Brown's idea was to buy time for the British to come to Canada's rescue.

    Buster even entered the United States in civilian clothing to do some reconnaissance.

    "He had a total annual budget of $1,200," said Rudmin, "so he himself would drive to the areas where they were going to invade and take pictures and pick up free maps at gas stations."

    Rudmin got interested in these war plans in the 1980s when he was living in Kingston, Ontario, just across the St. Lawrence River from Fort Drum, the huge Army base in Upstate New York.

    Why would the Americans put an Army base in such a wretched, frigid wilderness? he wondered.

    Could it be there to . . . fight Canada?

    He did some digging.

    He found "War Plan Red" and "Defence Scheme No. 1."

    At the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., he found a 1935 update of War Plan Red, which specified which roads to use in the invasion ("The best practicable route to Vancouver is via Route 99").

    Rudmin also learned about an American plan from 1935 to build three military airfields near the Canadian border and disguise them as civilian airports.

    The secret scheme was revealed after the testimony of two generals in a closed-door session of the House Military Affairs Committee was published by mistake.

    When the Canadian government protested the plan, President Franklin Roosevelt reassured it that he wasn't contemplating war.

    The whole brouhaha made the front page of the New York Times on May 1, 1935.

    That summer, however, the Army held what were the biggest war games in American history on the site of what is now Fort Drum, Rudmin said.

    Is he worried that the Yanks will invade his country from Fort Drum?

    "Not now ," he said.

    "Now the U.S. is kind of busy in Iraq. But I wouldn't put it past them."

    He's not paranoid, he hastened to add, and he doesn't think the States will simply invade Canada the way Hitler invaded Russia.

    But if some kind of crisis -- perhaps something involving the perennially grumpy French Canadians -- destabilized Canada, then . . . well, Fort Drum is just across the river.

    "We most certainly are not preparing to invade Canada," said Ben Abel, the official spokesman for Fort Drum.

    The fort, he added, is home to the legendary 10th Mountain Division, which is training for its third deployment in Afghanistan.

    There are also 1,200 Canadian troops in Afghanistan.

    "I find it very hard to believe that we'd be planning to invade Canada," Abel said.

    "We have a lot of Canadian soldiers training here. I bumped into a Canadian officer in the bathroom the other day."


    Invading Canada is an old American tradition.

    Invading Canada successfully is not.

    During the American Revolution, Benedict Arnold -- then in his pre-traitor days -- led an invasion of Canada from Maine.

    It failed.

    During the War of 1812, American troops invaded Canada several times.

    They were driven back.

    In 1839, Americans from Maine confronted Canadians in a border dispute known as the Aroostook War.

    "There were never any shots fired," said Etzinger, the Canadian Embassy spokesman, "but I think an American cow was injured -- and a Canadian pig."

    In 1866, about 800 Irish Americans in the Fenian Brotherhood decided to strike a blow for Irish independence by invading Canada.

    They crossed the Niagara River into Ontario, where they defeated a Canadian militia.

    But when British troops approached, the Fenians fled back to the United States, where many were arrested.

    After that, Americans stopped invading Canada and took up other hobbies, such as invading Mexico, Haiti, Nicaragua, Grenada and, of course, Iraq.

    But the dream of invading Canada lives on in the American psyche, occasionally manifesting itself in bizarre ways.

    Movies, for instance.

    In the 1995 movie "Canadian Bacon," the U.S. president, played by Alan Alda, decides to jump-start the economy by picking a fight with Canada.

    His battle cry: "Surrender pronto or we'll level Toronto."

    In the 1999 movie "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut," Americans, angered that their kids have been corrupted by a pair of foulmouthed, flatulent Canadian comedians, go to war.

    Canada responds by sending its air force to bomb the Hollywood home of the Baldwin brothers -- a far more popular defensive strategy than anything Buster Brown devised.

    Moviegoers left theaters humming the film's theme:

    Blame Canada! Blame Canada!
    With all their hockey hullabaloo
    And that bitch Anne Murray too!
    Blame Canada! Shame on Canada!

    But it's not just movies.

    The urge to invade Canada comes in myriad forms.

    In 2002, the conservative magazine National Review published an essay called "Bomb Canada: The Case for War."

    The author, Jonah Goldberg, suggested that the United States "launch a quick raid into Canada" and blow something up -- "perhaps an empty hockey stadium."

    That would cause Canada to stop wasting its money on universal health insurance and instead fund a military worthy of the name, so that "Canada's neurotic anti-Americanism would be transformed into manly resolve."

    And let's not forget the Web site http://invadecanada.us, which lists many compelling reasons for doing do: "let's make Alaska actually connected to the U.S. again!" and "they're just a little too proud" and "the surrender will come quickly, they're French after all."

    The site also sells T-shirts, buttons, teddy bears and thong underwear, all of them decorated with the classic picture of Uncle Sam atop the slogan "I WANT YOU to Invade Canada."

    What's going on here?

    Why do Americans love to joke about invading Canada?

    Because Americans see Canadians as goody-goodies, said Biette, the Canada Institute director.

    Canadians didn't rebel against the British, remaining loyal colonial subjects.

    They didn't have a Wild West, settling their land without the kind of theatrical gunfights that make for good movies.

    And they like to hector us about our misbehavior.

    "We're 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' and they're 'peace, order and good government,' " Biette said.

    "So if you're a wild American, you look at them and say, 'They're just a bunch of Boy Scouts.' "


    Canadians are well aware of our invasion talk.

    Not surprisingly, they take it a bit more seriously than we do.

    When "The West Wing" had a subplot last winter about a U.S.-Canada border incident, Canadian newspapers took note.

    When Jon Stewart joked about invading Canada on "The Daily Show" last March, Canadian newspapers covered the story.

    When the Toronto Star interviewed comedian Jimmy Kimmel last year, the reporter asked him: "Is it only a matter of time before America invades Canada?"

    "I'm not sure," Kimmel replied.

    In 2003, the Canadian army set up an Internet chat room where soldiers and civilians could discuss defense issues.

    "One of the hottest topics on the site discusses whether the U.S. will invade Canada to seize its natural resources," the Ottawa Citizen reported.

    "If the attack did come, Canada could rely on a scorched-earth policy similar to what Russia did when invaded by Nazi Germany, one participant recommends. 'With such emmense [sic] land, and with our cold climates, we may be able to hold them off, even though we have the much weaker military,' the individual concludes."

    Etzinger, the Canadian Embassy spokesman, isn't worried about an American invasion because Canada has a secret weapon -- actually thousands of secret weapons.

    "We've got thousands of Canadians in the U.S. right now, in place secretly," he said.

    "They could be on your street. We've sent people like Celine Dion and Mike Myers to secretly infiltrate American society."

    Pretty funny, Mr. Etzinger.

    But the strategists who wrote War Plan Red were prepared for that problem.

    They noted that "it would be necessary to deal internally" with the "large number" of Brits and Canadians living in the United States -- and also with "a small number of professional pacifists and communists."

    The planners did not specify exactly what would be done with those undesirables.

    But it would be kinda fun to see Celine Dion and Mike Myers wearing orange jumpsuits down in Guantanamo.


December 30, 2005 at 10:31 AM | Permalink


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This article was very entertaining. It forgets tot mention, however, the numerous previous plans-of-action the USA had developed to be taken against Canada in a myriad of other possible world occurences. Not to mention that by the time Canada developed its defence strategy, the USA (in differing formats) had already attempted to invade Canada multiple times.

Posted by: Ben Rankel | Sep 19, 2006 2:22:48 PM

I'm a spy. Bilingual too - I can say "eh" and "y'all" in the same sentence.

Posted by: Joan | Dec 31, 2005 9:32:53 AM

My take on the invasion of Canada.

Posted by: Scott | Dec 30, 2005 3:36:17 PM

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