In 1921, Canada developed a secret plan to invade the U.S.

America's fear of an Anglo-Japanese alliance led Canada to worry about a U.S. attack—and in the end, devise a scheme for a 'pre-emptive invasion' of its southern neighbor.

“Very dishonest and weak”: that’s what Trump called Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau just a few months ago. And now the president wants to exclude Canada from a revised NAFTA. Yes, U.S.-Canada relations have been better.

They’ve also been a lot worse.

Less than a century ago, simmering tensions between the two countries led generals on both sides to draw up plans to invade their neighbor. Canada’s 1921 plan for a ‘pre-emptive invasion’ of the northern U.S. was called Defence Scheme No. 1. America’s plan to knock out Canada, developed a few years later, had a rather more belligerent title: War Plan Red.

Why would Canada want to invade the U.S.? Paradoxically, because it felt offense was the best defense against an imminent American attack. Here’s a quote from the document itself:

“The first thing apparent in the defence of Canada is that we lack depth. Depth can only be gained by Offensive Action. To carry out an Offensive Action against the United States, with our population in a ratio of 1 to 12 and the United States’ Regular Army of 175,000 Enlisted Men, and with between two and four millions of men who were lately embodied for service, is a difficult and on the surface an almost hopeless task, but on further study, it would be found out that it is not as hopeless as it appears on the surface and that Canada has a good many advantages in her favour”.

This map shows which routes the Canadians were contemplating. Here’s a summary of the General Instructions for Offensive Action listed in Defence Scheme No. 1:

  • The field troops of Canada’s Pacific Command were to advance into and occupy the strategic points including Spokane, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon, bounded by the Columbia River.
  • The Prairie Command would converge towards Fargo in North Dakota and then continue a general advance in the direction of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The occupation of Minneapolis and St. Paul would cut most of the lines leading to Duluth and would protect Canada’s railway communications through the Kenora and Rainy River Districts.
  • The Great Lakes Command would remain on the defensive, but rapid and well-organized raids would be made across the Niagara Frontier, the St. Clair Frontier, the Detroit Frontier, and the St. Mary’s Frontier, with sufficient troops to establish bridgeheads.
  • The Quebec Command would take the offensive on both sides of the Adirondack Mountains with a view of converging in the vicinity of Albany, N.Y. 
  • The Maritime Command would make an offensive into the State of Maine.

The border between the U.S. and Canada is not just the longest international border between two countries, but these days also called “the friendliest border in the world”. How could things have been so different as relatively recently as the 1920s?

Because back then, Canada was still firmly in the orbit of the British Empire. And the Brits were still not quite ready yet for a ‘Special Relationship’ with the U.S.—in fact, Britain’s demotion from a first- to a second-rate world power—which developed during and after the Second World War.

Instead, the British after the First World War cultivated a special relationship with the Japanese Empire, then firmly in the ascendant. The Americans, already wary of Japanese competition in the Pacific, were worried about the risk of an Anglo-Japanese alliance, which had the potential to turn Canada into hostile territory in case of conflict between the U.S. and Japan.

Canada, in turn, had to consider the potential of its much more powerful southern neighbor turning into a hostile aggressor. It wouldn’t have been the first time. Unbeknownst to many on either side of the 49th parallel, there is quite a violent streak to U.S.-Canada relations, right from the start.

Both during the War of Independence and in the War of 1812, the U.S. tried to invade and conquer what is now Canada—failing twice. In the latter conflict, the British ended up occupying Washington DC and burning down the White House (an aggression Donald Trump recently seemed to want to pin on the Canadians, too).

Subsequent decades saw a number of territorial disputes flare up. The Pork and Beans War of 1838-39 was a conflict over the course of the border between Maine and New Brunswick. The Pig War of 1859 erupted over who controlled the San Juan Islands, between Vancouver and Seattle. Despite their names, both were bloodless conflicts (with the exception of that one pig).

More recently, in the 1960s, the U.S. sent the USS Manhattan through the Northwest Passage, arguing that it was an international waterway. Canada protested, but the U.S. only conceded that they would give advance warning next time.

Still in dispute: Machias Seal Island, off the coast of Maine. The main reason Canada employs a lighthouse keeper instead of automating the signal is to keep the U.S. out.

Right after the First World War, with Britain and Japan in an active alliance (until 1921), the prospect of war with the United States was not entirely unthinkable. Then as now, most of Canada’s population, industry and infrastructure hugged the American border. Despite its enormous size, Canada lacked strategic depth. Hence the Scheme’s strategy to take the fight to the enemy.

Defence Scheme No. 1 was devised by James Sutherland (‘Buster’) Brown, a veteran of the First World War with a healthy suspicion of America’s designs upon his homeland. Part of the preparation for the Canadian plan consisted of concerted, clandestine reconnaissance missions, with Canadian secret agents in Ford Model-Ts driving through the northern U.S., taking pictures and making notes.

In 1920, the U.S. has a population of 106 million, while Canada had about 8 million inhabitants. To overcome that enormous disadvantage, Brown’s plan relied on surprise and speed. In a lightning offensive, Canadian troops would press as far south as Oregon.

In view of the limits imposed by Canada’s numerical inferiority, the plan was to withdraw soon. But not without destroying bridges, roads, factories and other targets – thus creating strategic depth on the other side of the border.

The gamble was that this would disrupt America’ offensive capabilities long enough to give British Imperial forces a window to sail to Canada’s aid. Back then, the British Empire had a total population of 680 million, providing a large base from which to draw troops for the defence of Canada against a U.S. invasion.

Still, a pre-emptive invasion by a much weaker Canada would have been an extremely risky strategy. The plan would probably only have been activated if an American invasion of Canada would have seemed inevitable.

But there would have been a chance that Canada need not start the fight on its own. Defence Scheme No. 1 also lists a number of potential allies in the war against the U.S.:

  • “(T)here is not much doubt, in case of war between the British Empire and the United States, that Japan would take immediate military action against the American Republics”.
  • “In case of war with the United States, it is not unlikely that Mexico would cause trouble on the Southern Frontier, causing a goodly force of United States’ troops to be concentrated towards Mexico. If Mexico became an active participant in a War against the United States, it would be an area of operation for Britannic or British Empire troops against the Southern States, having for its object the capture of Galveston and New Orleans, and blocking the Mississippi River.”
  • “(Many of t)he South American Republics (…) are not hostile to British interests and might decide to support the British Empire. Many of these Republics possess Navies of a useful size which would be a tremendous factor in operations against the Panama Canal.”

This map shows how these allies could coordinate their attacks with those of the Canadians. Japan would invade the West Coast, while Mexico would conduct border incursions. British naval forces could be launched from Mexico against New Orleans. In combination with Canada’s various attacks, this would force the U.S. to divide its forces.

Defence Plan No.1 already foresaw the targets of an American (counter)offensive: not just major urban centres as Montréal, Ottawa and Toronto, Québec, Winnipeg and Vancouver; but also the “grain-growing provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, which now have (more than 50%) of Americans (…) there is just a possibility that they might make the conquest of these Provinces the ultimate objective of their campaign”.

America’s own attack plan was first developed by the U.S. Army in 1927, approved by Secretary of War Patrick J. Hurley and Secretary of the Navy Charles Francis Adams III in 1930, and updated in 1934-35.

The Americans were concerned that the British would not be prepared to pay back the considerable war loans to the U.S. Furthermore, the relative rise of the U.S. and decline of the Empire caused tensions between both countries that could conceivably turn into armed conflict.

War Plan Red was a contingency plan to eliminate the ‘red’ – the usual colour of the British Empire on world maps – from North America. The U.S. thought they could muster 12.5 million men in 40 days. As a mirror image of Canada’s ‘pre-emptive invasion’ scheme, War Plan Red focused on the major urban centres just across the border. However, the possibility of a long war with a major naval component was not discounted.

Both the Americans and Canadians had other military schemes. The American ones were colour-coded: War Plan Gray was a scheme to invade the Caribbean, War Plan Black gamed the possibility of war with Germany and War Plan Orange foresaw a war with Japan. War Plan Red-Orange envisages a two-front war against both Japan and Britain.

Canada’s Defence Plans No. 2 concerned with war with Japan, while Nos. 3 and 4 were plans to send Canadian troops for the defence of British interests in Europe and the colonies, respectively.

Defence Scheme No. 1 and its American counterpart faded away as Anglo-American relations continued to improve. The American plans were declassified in the 1970s. Defence Scheme No. 1 was largely an internal discussion within the army, not fully disclosed to the government.

First and third map found here on The Morning News. Both are from the book War Plan Red by Kevin Lippert. Second map found here on

Strange Maps #935

Got a strange map? Let me know at

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.

Freud is renowned, but his ideas are ill-substantiated

The Oedipal complex, repressed memories, penis envy? Sigmund Freud's ideas are far-reaching, but few have withstood the onslaught of empirical evidence.

Mind & Brain
  • Sigmund Freud stands alongside Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein as one of history's best-known scientists.
  • Despite his claim of creating a new science, Freud's psychoanalysis is unfalsifiable and based on scant empirical evidence.
  • Studies continue to show that Freud's ideas are unfounded, and Freud has come under scrutiny for fabricating his most famous case studies.

Few thinkers are as celebrated as Sigmund Freud, a figure as well-known as Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein. Neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, Freud's ideas didn't simply shift the paradigms in academia and psychotherapy. They indelibly disseminated into our cultural consciousness. Ideas like transference, repression, the unconscious iceberg, and the superego are ubiquitous in today's popular discourse.

Despite this renown, Freud's ideas have proven to be ill-substantiated. Worse, it is now believed that Freud himself may have fabricated many of his results, opportunistically disregarding evidence with the conscious aim of promoting preferred beliefs.

"[Freud] really didn't test his ideas," Harold Takooshian, professor of psychology at Fordham University, told ATI. "He was just very persuasive. He said things no one said before, and said them in such a way that people actually moved from their homes to Vienna and study with him."

Unlike Darwin and Einstein, Freud's brand of psychology presents the impression of a scientific endeavor but ultimately lack two of vital scientific components: falsification and empirical evidence.


Freud's therapeutic approach may be unfounded, but at least it was more humane than other therapies of the day. In 1903, this patient is being treated in "auto-conduction cage" as a part of his electrotherapy. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The discipline of psychotherapy is arguably Freud's greatest contribution to psychology. In the post-World War II era, psychoanalysis spread through Western academia, influencing not only psychotherapy but even fields such as literary criticism in profound ways.

The aim of psychoanalysis is to treat mental disorders housed in the patient's psyche. Proponents believe that such conflicts arise between conscious thoughts and unconscious drives and manifest as dreams, blunders, anxiety, depression, or neurosis. To help, therapists attempt to unearth unconscious desires that have been blocked by the mind's defense mechanisms. By raising repressed emotions and memories to the conscious fore, the therapist can liberate and help the patient heal.

That's the idea at least, but the psychoanalytic technique stands on shaky empirical ground. Data leans heavily on a therapist's arbitrary interpretations, offering no safe guards against presuppositions and implicit biases. And the free association method offers not buttress to the idea of unconscious motivation.

Don't get us wrong. Patients have improved and even claimed to be cured thanks to psychoanalytic therapy. However, the lack of methodological rigor means the division between effective treatment and placebo effect is ill-defined.

Repressed memories

Sigmund Freud, circa 1921. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Nor has Freud's concept of repressed memories held up. Many papers and articles have been written to dispel the confusion surrounding repressed (aka dissociated) memories. Their arguments center on two facts of the mind neurologists have become better acquainted with since Freud's day.

First, our memories are malleable, not perfect recordings of events stored on a biological hard drive. People forget things. Childhood memories fade or are revised to suit a preferred narrative. We recall blurry gists rather than clean, sharp images. Physical changes to the brain can result in loss of memory. These realities of our mental slipperiness can easily be misinterpreted under Freud's model as repression of trauma.

Second, people who face trauma and abuse often remember it. The release of stress hormones imprints the experience, strengthening neural connections and rendering it difficult to forget. It's one of the reasons victims continue to suffer long after. As the American Psychological Association points out, there is "little or no empirical support" for dissociated memory theory, and potential occurrences are a rarity, not the norm.

More worryingly, there is evidence that people are vulnerable to constructing false memories (aka pseudomemories). A 1996 study found it could use suggestion to make one-fifth of participants believe in a fictitious childhood memory in which they were lost in a mall. And a 2007 study found that a therapy-based recollection of childhood abuse "was less likely to be corroborated by other evidence than when the memories came without help."

This has led many to wonder if the expectations of psychoanalytic therapy may inadvertently become a self-fulfilling prophecy with some patients.

"The use of various dubious techniques by therapists and counselors aimed at recovering allegedly repressed memories of [trauma] can often produce detailed and horrific false memories," writes Chris French, a professor of psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London. "In fact, there is a consensus among scientists studying memory that traumatic events are more likely to be remembered than forgotten, often leading to post-traumatic stress disorder."

The Oedipal complex

The Blind Oedipus Commending His Children to the Gods by Benigne Gagneraux. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

During the phallic stage, children develop fierce erotic feelings for their opposite-sex parent. This desire, in turn, leads them to hate their same-sex parent. Boys wish to replace their father and possess their mother; girls become jealous of their mothers and desire their fathers. Since they can do neither, they repress those feelings for fear of reprisal. If unresolved, the complex can result in neurosis later in life.

That's the Oedipal complex in a nutshell. You'd think such a counterintuitive theory would require strong evidence to back it up, but that isn't the case.

Studies claiming to prove the Oedipal complex look to positive sexual imprinting — that is, the phenomenon in which people choose partners with physical characteristics matching their same-sex parent. For example, a man's wife and mother have the same eye color, or woman's husband and father sport a similar nose.

But such studies don't often show strong correlation. One study reporting "a correction of 92.8 percent between the relative jaw width of a man's mother and that of [his] mates" had to be retracted for factual errors and incorrect analysis. Studies showing causation seem absent from the literature, and as we'll see, the veracity of Freud's own case studies supporting the complex is openly questioned today.

Better supported, yet still hypothetical, is the Westermarck effect. Also called reverse sexual imprinting, the effect predicts that people develop a sexual aversion to those they grow up in close proximity with, as a mean to avoid inbreeding. The effect isn't just shown in parents and siblings; even step-siblings will grow sexual averse to each other if they grow up from early childhood.

An analysis published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology evaluated the literature on human mate choice. The analysis found little evidence for positive imprinting, citing study design flaws and an unwillingness of researchers to seek alternative explanations. In contrast, it found better support for negative sexual imprinting, though it did note the need for further research.

The Freudian slip

Mark notices Deborah enter the office whistling an upbeat tune. He turns to his coworker to say, "Deborah's pretty cheery this morning," but accidentally blunders, "Deborah's pretty cherry this morning." Simple slip up? Not according to Freud, who would label this a parapraxis. Today, it's colloquially known as a "Freudian slip."

"Almost invariably I discover a disturbing influence from something outside of the intended speech," Freud wrote in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. "The disturbing element is a single unconscious thought, which comes to light through the special blunder."

In the Freudian view, Mark's mistaken word choice resulted from his unconscious desire for Deborah, as evident by the sexually-charged meanings of the word "cherry." But Rob Hartsuiker, a psycholinguist from Ghent University, says that such inferences miss the mark by ignoring how our brains process language.

According to Hartsuiker, our brains organize words by similarity and meaning. First, we must select the word in that network and then process the word's sounds. In this interplay, all sorts of conditions can prevent us from grasping the proper phonemes: inattention, sleepiness, recent activation, and even age. In a study co-authored by Hartsuiker, brain scans showed our minds can recognize and correct for taboo utterances internally.

"This is very typical, and it's also something Freud rather ignored," Hartsuiker told BBC. He added that evidence for true Freudian slips is scant.

Freud's case studies

Sergej Pankejeff, known as the "Wolf Man" in Freud's case study, claimed that Freud's analysis of his condition was "propaganda."

It's worth noting that there is much debate as to the extent that Freud falsified his own case studies. One famous example is the case of the "Wolf Man," real name Sergej Pankejeff. During their sessions, Pankejeff told Freud about a dream in which he was lying in bed and saw white wolves through an open window. Freud interpreted the dream as the manifestation of a repressed trauma. Specifically, he claimed that Pankejeff must have witnessed his parents in coitus.

For Freud this was case closed. He claimed Pankejeff successfully cured and his case as evidence for psychoanalysis's merit. Pankejeff disagreed. He found Freud's interpretation implausible and said that Freud's handling of his story was "propaganda." He remained in therapy on and off for over 60 years.

Many of Freud's other case studies, such "Dora" and "the Rat Man" cases, have come under similar scrutiny.

Sigmund Freud and his legacy

Freud's ideas may not live up to scientific inquiry, but their long shelf-life in film, literature, and criticism has created some fun readings of popular stories. Sometimes a face is just a face, but that face is a murderous phallic symbol. (Photo: Flickr)

Of course, there are many ideas we've left out. Homosexuality originating from arrested sexual development in anal phase? No way. Freudian psychosexual development theory? Unfalsifiable. Women's penis envy? Unfounded and insulting. Men's castration anxiety? Not in the way Freud meant it.

If Freud's legacy is so ill-informed, so unfounded, how did he and his cigars cast such a long shadow over the 20th century? Because there was nothing better to offer at the time.

When Freud came onto the scene, neurology was engaged in a giddy free-for-all. As New Yorker writer Louis Menand points out, the era's treatments included hypnosis, cocaine, hydrotherapy, female castration, and institutionalization. By contemporary standards, it was a horror show (as evident by these "treatments" featuring so prominently in our horror movies).

Psychoanalysis offered a comparably clement and humane alternative. "Freud's theories were like a flashlight in a candle factory," anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann told Menand.

But Freud and his advocates triumph his techniques as a science, and this is wrong. The empirical evidence for his ideas is limited and arbitrary, and his conclusions are unfalsifiable. The theory that explains every possible outcome explains none of them.

With that said, one might consider Freud's ideas to be a proto-science. As astrology heralded astronomy, and alchemy preceded chemistry, so to did Freud's psychoanalysis popularize psychology, paving the way for its more rapid development as a scientific discipline. But like astrology and alchemy, we should recognize Freud's ideas as the historic artifacts they are.

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Do human beings have a magnetic sense? Biologists know other animals do. They think it helps creatures including bees, turtles and birds navigate through the world.

Keep reading Show less