U.S. and Canada Prepare for War Against … Each Other?

Today’s post is written by Larry Shockley, Archives Specialist in the Office of Innovation.

Map of Canada 17427283

A 1995 comedic film titled Canadian Bacon was directed by Michael Moore, and starred Alan Alda as a U.S. President whose approval ratings were tanking. In order to give his administration the desired boost with his base the president and his advisors concocted a ludicrous plan: They would go to war with Canada!

While the film itself, which also starred John Candy, Rhea Perlman, Bill Nunn, Kevin J. O’Conner, and Rip Torn stands as one of the most underrated comedic films of its era, much of the humor rests in the “absurd” notion that America would ever think of invading Canada. It is no small irony then, that in the late 1920’s the United States Military began drawing up plans to do just that.

Completed in 1930, and declassified in 1974, Joint Board 325 – Serial 435 (NAID 16749799), from General Correspondence, 1903-1938, Record Group 225: Records of the Joint Army and Navy Boards and Committees, and abbreviated asWar Plan-Red,called for invading Canada (CRIMSON) in the event of a war with Great Britain (RED). During the war the state of Maine would serve as a base in order to either cut communications between Quebec and Montreal with the Maritime Provinces, or to launch land and/or air strikes against Halifax and New Brunswick. It was believed that taking over control of the Niagara power and coal from Great Britain and the western Canadian provinces would result in “an immediate strangulation of its manufacturing and munitioning capacity.”

Image of text from Joint Board 325 - Serial 435, NAID 16749799
Joint Estimate of The Situation, Blue-Red., Red Situation, I. Geographic, no. 16., Page 3, 1930.

According to the plan, in the event of a war between the U.S. and Great Britain, it would be “advantageous” to the U.S. for Canada to forgo neutrality and remain allied with Great Britain so the U.S. “would be free to employ her greatly superior man-power in overrunning CRIMSON.”

Image of text from Join Board 325 - serial 435
Joint Estimate of The Situation, Blue-Red., Red Situation, I. Internal Conditions,, no. 31., Page 7. 1930.

It was believed that the most likely cause of war between the U.S. and Great Britain would be the increasing economic and commercial expansion into geographical regions once controlled by the British. In this view, increased economic expansion by the U.S. would eventually become a “menace” to British standards of living and thus “threaten economic ruin.”

Image of text from Joint Board 325 - Serial 435
Joint Estimate of The Situation, Blue-Red., Red Situation, I. Foreign Policy and Internal Conditions,, no. 41-42., Page 8. 1930.

Obviously no invasion of Canada, or war with Great Britain ever took place post 1930, however this report does stand as an example of how the U.S. military found a need to be “prepared for anything” during the interwar years of 1919 through 1938.

It is also interesting to note that nearly a decade earlier in 1921, the Canadian Director of Military Operations and Intelligence; Lieutenant Colonel James “Buster” Sutherland Brown, had helped create“Defence Scheme No. 1” which called for counter attacks against U.S. targets should the need arise.

Thankfully, almost a century after Defence Scheme No. 1, Canada’s biggest threats to the U.S. are hockey, universal healthcare and Justin Bieber.

5 thoughts on “U.S. and Canada Prepare for War Against … Each Other?

  1. Though seemingly absurd, and a substantial waste of military planning time and resources, the U.S. military develops war plans for every country and contingency.

    1. Not always the case, though. While war raged in Europe during WWI and the US was neutral, Woodrow Wilson was appalled to find that the (still relatively new) Army General Staff was drawing up plans for a potential conflict with Imperial Germany. Of course, that was before Wilson himself requested a declaration of war in April 1917. (Even at that time, there were people convinced that there was no way the US would send ground forces to Europe. To paraphrase one Congressman: “Good Lord, you’re not actually going to send our boys over there?”)

      Given the woeful state of preparedness for war against a Great Power in 1917, it is perhaps unsurprising that after WWI that both Army and Navy staffs began making up for lost time. More specifically in the case of the UK, there was also something of a post-WWI naval rivalry between the two countries in addition to the aforementioned trade matters. (These were intertwined issues to be sure!) And, as this wasn’t a one-way street, it made sense for the British and Canadians to at least do some examination of a possible conflict, too. Thankfully, it never came to that – although the Canadian invasion of the US comedian market was pretty successful. “Take off, eh!”

      Perhaps the most important thing to be learned from this is that the now long-standing notion of a US/UK “Special Relationship” isn’t necessarily as long-standing (or as “Special”) as some folks probably think!

  2. This 1930 U.S. military plan for an invasion of Canada should be considered along with the actual invasions of 1775 and 1812-14 (and a little-known 1778 plan involving U.S. and French forces ) in light of Canada’s legal link to Britain at those times. Given Canada’s 20th century (post-1930) move to independence from the U.K., the latter country could not be seen as directly involved in warfare between North America’s two largest nations (especially if the U.S. leaves NATO). Access to fresh water, or some other potential source of conflict, is another matter….

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