America's Plan to Invade Everyone

Before that whole treason thing sullied his historical legacy, Benedict Arnold led an invasion force into Canada during the American Revolution. He failed miserably.

In 1839, a cow (American), a pig (Canadian) and a handful of militiamen (American) were injured in the Aroostook War, a short and unofficial conflict between Maine and Canada over a border dispute.

Invading Canada, it seems, is as American as apple pie. The only problem is that we suck at it. Well, traitors and lumberjacks do, anyway. If you want a job done right, you have to go to the big boys, but surely the federal government wouldn't ever dream of invading friendly, free-trading Canada. Would they?

Turns out, the United States government did have a plan to invade Canada. "Joint Army and Navy Basic War Plan - Red" is a 94-page, step-by-step plan to invade, capture and annex the land of maple syrup.

us_canada_flags.jpgThe plan was one of a handful of color-coded war plans developed as strategies for various hypothetical war scenarios by a War Department with too much time on its hands in the 1920s and 30s. In War Plan Red, the government imagined a conflict between the United States and England over international trade, with Canada, still a semi-independent British dominion at the time, as the launching point for English ground attacks.

Plan Red outlines a series of possible campaigns aimed at capturing key ports, cities and railroad lines before British reinforcements could arrive, preventing them from using Canadian resources and infrastructure to their advantage.

While a joint Army-Navy overseas force captured the port city of Halifax, cutting Canada off from the Atlantic, the U.S. Army would attack on three fronts, advancing from North Dakota, Vermont, and the upper Midwest to capture Winnipeg, Montreal and the nickel mines of Ontario, respectively. American forces were also supposed to capture British colonies in the Caribbean to defend the country from an attack from the south.

The Canadian Response

busterbrown.jpgThose wily Canucks were one step ahead of us, though. Colonel James "Buster" Sutherland Brown developed a plan called Defence Scheme No. 1 a full nine years before War Plan Red was drawn up. Buster's plan called for Canadian troops to attack and occupy Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis and St. Paul and Albany in order to divert American forces to the flanks long enough for English reinforcements to arrive. This isn't a bad plan considering the Canadian department responsible for war planning had an annual budget of $1,200, and Buster did most of his reconnaissance by driving across the border, taking photos and grabbing free maps at gas stations.

The hypothetical war, of course, never happened. Canada and the United States became allies during World War II, and partners in NATO and NAFTA. Today, the two countries share the world's longest demilitarized border, which has the world's largest number of legal crossings. War Plan Red and its color-coded siblings were withdrawn in 1939 and declassified in 1974. They now reside in the National Archives, where foreign spies can photocopy them for 15 cents a page (War Plan Red is online, too). And everyone lived happily ever after.

And those other color plans? Well, here are my favorites:

War Plan Citron: an invasion of Brazil

War Plan Emerald: intervention in Ireland in conjunction with War Plan Red

War Plan Green: war with Mexico in order to establish a pro-American government

War Plan Indigo: an invasion of Iceland (in 1941, parts of the plan were actually used during Battle of the Atlantic when the US relieved British occupation forces)

War Plan Lemon: an invasion of Portugal

War Plan White: plan for dealing with civil disturbances cause by Communist insurgents

Which Terrestrial Planet?
You Can Sip Coffee and Play Games While This Helmet Scans Your Brain

Brain scanning is a delicate operation, one that typically involves staying very still. Researchers use imaging techniques like magnetoencephalography (MEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging to get an idea of how the brain functions and what neurons are being activated, but it's not an easy task. Current scanners are huge, requiring patients to sit unmoving inside them, lest their head movements mess up the data. There may soon be a better way—one that would allow patients to act normally while still getting reliable data.

Researchers from the University of Nottingham in the UK report in Nature that they've developed a prototype brain scanner that can be worn like a helmet, one that can generate reliable data even if the subject moves.

It uses lightweight quantum magnetic-field sensors held against the scalp by a 3D-printed helmet that's custom-made for the patient. For the study, one of the researchers volunteered to be the patient and was fitted with a white plastic helmet that looks kind of like a cross between a Roman Centurion helmet and a Jason Voorhees Halloween mask. She was positioned between two large panels equipped with electromagnetic coils that cancel out the Earth's magnetic field so that it doesn't interfere with the magnetic data picked up from the brain. As long as the patient stayed between the panels, she was free to move—nod her head, stretch, drink coffee, and bounce a ball with a paddle—all while the scanner picked up data about on par with what a traditional scanner (seen below) might gather.

A man sits inside an MEG scanner.

The more flexible scanning system is exciting for a number of reasons, including that it would allow squirmy children to have their brains scanned easily. Since patients can move around, it could measure brain function in more natural situations, while they're moving or socializing, and allow patients with neurodegenerative or developmental disorders to get MEG scans.

The current helmet is just a prototype, and the researchers want to eventually build a more generic design that doesn't require custom fitting.


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