War Plan Red
O Canada! The dividing line between the United States and its great northern neighbor is often called “the friendliest border in the world.” Which goes to show how quickly people forget that, over the years, the two countries have wanted to invade each other over everything from dreams of Irish independence to a squabble over a single pig.
The Morning News spoke to Princeton Architectural Press publisher Kevin Lippert about War Plan Red: The United States’ Secret Plan to Invade Canada and Canada’s Secret Plan to Invade the United States, his new book chronicling the sometimes fraught and often ridiculous history of tension between the two nations.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The Morning News: I have to ask: how did you become interested in this topic? How did the history of US-Canada land disputes, which isn’t very well-known, come to your attention?
Kevin Lippert: I was having a conversation with one of [Princeton Architectural Press’s] Canadian distributors, a woman whose job is to sell our books in Canada, and she goes, “Are you working on anything that will be of interest to Canadians?’ I say, “I don’t know, what interests Canadians?” She says something like, “Canadians are very worried about what Americans are thinking of them.”
Then, two days later, I saw an article online where somebody had asked Obama if America had any plans to invade Canada and he laughed it off. But the article added that in the 1930s the United States did have a very detailed plan to invade Canada called “War Plan Red.” That information was shocking and there was something funny about the fact that that was shocking—like, when we think Canada, we don’t care enough to have a plan to invade them. We liked Iraq enough to invade them, but we don’t like Canada enough, it’s not as interesting.
So I dug into that history and it turns out that, like in many things, Canada was 10 years ahead of us and had developed their own plan to invade the United States in 1920. Now we’re such good neighbors and good friends, the idea seems kind of laughable. In fact, several people thought the book was a parody, that I had cooked the whole thing up and sort of forged these so-called authentic historic documents.
TMN: But the history is about more than just War Plan Red, which was in the 1930s, right? Your book discusses all these other times the US tried to invade Canada, such as during the War of 1812 which, it seems, did not go well.
Kevin: Yeah, there has been a long history of border conflicts between the US and Canada, which somehow nobody remembers. The War of 1812 was a major one, where we actually tried to invade. Either I didn’t pay attention in high school or we fast-forwarded past that war, which was a disastrous war for the United States in many regards anyway.
TMN: Why did the attempt fail so badly? Was it just arrogance at thinking that Canada would be easy to take over?
Kevin: It was a bit of arrogance, coupled with some incredible incompetence and some bad luck. Americans in 1812 really thought that conquering Canada would be, as Thomas Jefferson wrote, “a matter of marching.” I mean, we did have eight million people versus 500,000 Canadians, and our army was twice as large as theirs, and we had an increasingly powerful navy.
So I think Americans really thought it was just going to be a cakewalk. But, also, think about it this way. There’s one quote from somebody writing to President Madison saying something like, “Even the most pessimistic thinkers couldn’t imagine how undertrained and inexperienced our men are.” We were terrible soldiers and all our plans to invade Canada fell flat. People are shouting at each other in the dark, one guy rowed off with all the oars for the invasion boats—it was actually comical.
To be fair, some of it was weather-related and some of the troops were sick, but there were other larger factors as well. The war in general plunged the United States into terrible financial crisis—that was the first time the US defaulted—and so it had no money to pay its troops, and desertion was extremely high. I think 15 percent of the army deserted at one point, and there were a great number of executions as result of desertions. So morale was very low, and Canada, as it turns out, is very cold, so they were unhappy troops who weren’t getting paid in this incredibly unpopular war.
In a lot of these cases, there’s this recurring theme in which the US thinks they’re going to be welcomed as liberators. They invaded Canada during the Revolutionary War, for example, and thought the Québécois would join us in a fight against the British. We’ve heard this rhetoric in Iraq as well. Read full article on link below;
posted by f. sheikh