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Raiding the Icebox

Canadian Mounties
Any invasion of Canada by U.S. forces shouldn't underestimate the legendary Royal Canadian Mounted Police. (Patterson Clark -- The Washington Post)

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"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."

Gas Station Strategy

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.


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