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We called their President a moron, and they called us the "retarded cousin." Their ambassador warned about the repercussions of aggressive rhetoric, and our Prime Minister aggressively asserted we will not be "dictated to."

In another age -- or in a Marx Brothers movie -- the escalation of insults and diplomatic contretemps could lead to only one thing: "Of course you know," Groucho famously intoned, "this means war."

Perhaps as a public service to their side, The Washington Post yesterday dusted off a 75-year-old U.S. plan to invade Canada, offering it as a contrast to the situation in Iraq, where, it suggested, there was no plan.

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First approved in 1930, Joint Army and Navy Basic War Plan - Red was drawn up to defend the United States in the event of war with Britain.

It was one of a series of such contingency plans produced in the late 1920s. Canada, identified as Crimson, would be invaded to prevent the Britons from using it as a staging ground to attack the United States.

But having successfully captured Canada, the military planners had no intention of giving it up. "Blue [the Americans']intentions are to hold in perpetuity all CRIMSON and RED territory gained," they wrote in an appendix.

The plan was withdrawn in 1939, declassified in 1974 and had gone largely unnoticed in a grey box at the National Archives until The Post, echoing the call-to-arms one hears from the drum-bangers at Fox News and elsewhere, resuscitated it under the headline, "Raiding the icebox."

The Post writer helpfully noted the presence of a potential fifth column in the Americans' midst, and chortled at the prospect of Celine Dion and Mike Myers being carted off to Guantanamo Bay in orange jumpsuits.

Canadian officials, predictably, refused to take seriously the report of a 75-year-old U.S. invasion plan.

"We found it amusing, and we'll just have to make sure that our plans are up to date as well," laughed Jasmine Panthaky, a spokeswoman for the Canadian embassy in Washington.

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"From time to time, this thing does come up. I guess it's one of those curiosities in the relationship, given that we've been in the news a fair bit. . . . This is just a question of something that has resonance at a time when Canada is receiving its 15 minutes of fame."

Clearly, there are some U.S. radar screens you'd rather not be on.

Having once promised to repair a strained relationship, Prime Minister Paul Martin has apparently decided that an election campaign is a good time to chide the Bush administration for its failings. The U.S. ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins, responded in kind, urging the Prime Minister to cool the rhetoric or face repercussions -- a message to which Mr. Martin responded like a big-league slugger hitting a batting-practice lob over the fence.

The professional stirrers of strife on U.S. cable channels briefly focused on Canada and didn't like want they saw. MSNBC's Tucker Carlson said that all the intelligent Canadians had long since moved to New York and likened the country to a "retarded cousin." On Fox News, where embattled anger is the abiding emotion, talk show host Neil Cavuto said Canadians had "gotten too big for their britches" and may soon be an enemy of the United States.

Which brings us back to that 1930s-era invasion plan.

It starts with a seaborne assault on Halifax to cut Canada off from its British ally. A later version, approved in 1935, allowed for first-strike use of poison gas and strategic bombing of the city, if necessary.

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It also posits that the U.S. invading forces take out Niagara Falls, seize Sudbury's strategic nickel mines, capture Winnipeg as the critical east-west rail juncture and attack Vancouver to deprive the British of a West Coast maritime base.

The 94-page document is rather long on geographic information -- important ports, main industries, transportation links -- and on published assessments of Canadian military strength. But it is rather skimpy on tactical details of a theoretical invasion.

Canada had its own plan, written nine years earlier, to counter a U.S. attack by invading the northern United States.

Likely, few Americans have spent time worrying about a Canadian invasion, other than in comedy clubs.

But the existence of War Plan - Red fed the imaginations of those Canadians who worried about the world's longest undefended border.

They believed that the Americans had always had a covetous view of their resource-rich country, and that the United States was always poised to invade if the opportunity arose.

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The chief proponent of the invasion theorists is Floyd Rudmin, a U.S.-born, former Queen's University social psychology professor who has since decamped to the University of Tromso in Norway.

In the early 1990s, Prof. Rudmin wrote several articles -- much amplified in the Toronto Star -- on the U.S. expansion of Fort Drum in northern New York, arguing that the Americans were preparing to intervene if Canada experienced serious instability as a result of a Quebec secessionist movement.

Prof. Rudmin was critical of what he dubbed "the blind eye perspective" that Canadians maintained toward what he saw as obvious U.S. hostility toward its northern neighbour.

But as The Post noted, Canadians can probably relax for the foreseeable future, despite the bluster from the pundits. The U.S. military is otherwise occupied at the moment. Or are they just practising?

Battle plans

U.S. Joint Army and Navy

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Basic War Plan -- Red

Key strategies

Capture Halifax to block British reinforcements

Seize key Winnipeg rail junction

Cut power by assault on Niagara Falls

March from Michigan to Sudbury nickel mines

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Blockade both coasts

Use secret airbases to control airspace over Ontario

Victory

U.S. annexes captured territory

Canadian Defence

Scheme No. 1

Key strategies

Pre-emptive strikes from sea to sea

On word of U.S. invasion plan, Canadian forces would move to capture Spokane, Great Falls, Minneapolis, Buffalo, Albany and parts of Maine.

In face of U.S. counterattack, Canadian forces would retreat, blowing up bridges and railways, buying time until reinforcements from Britain could arrive.

Victory

Canada keeps Alaska

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