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War Plan Red

In the more than 200 years since the American Revolution, the United States and Great Britain have moved from enmity to a firm alliance often spoken of as the "special relationship." However, the road to this friendship was not smooth.

The hostility aroused in the United States by the American Revolution was inflamed by various disputes that arose between the two nations during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815). The main issue was the forcible seizure of American seamen by the British Navy but disputes also arose about commerce, Indian policy, and boundaries. The spiraling anger culminated in what is known in the United States as the War of 1812, a conflict considered in Britain as a sideshow to the struggle against Napoleon. More or less a draw, the war was concluded in 1814 by the Treaty of Ghent. The treaty resolved none of the issues for which the United States had fought, but it created a framework for future friendly relations between the United States and Great Britain.

In the following decades, the two nations quarreled about the Canadian boundary but settled the disputes by negotiation. The American Civil War brought Britain and the United States to the edge of hostilities because of attacks against Union commerce by Southern ships fitted out in British ports. After the war the British apologized to the United States for their part in the actions of the Confederate marauders and paid a large indemnity for losses suffered, a sign that the United States had emerged from the war as a powerful nation whose good will Britain now wished to secure.

The last significant foreign-policy dispute between the United States and Britain occurred in 1895 over an American demand that Britain submit to international arbitration its dispute with Venezuela about the western boundary of British Guiana, near which gold had been discovered. Because neither the United States nor Britain wanted trouble, the dispute was resolved amicably.

Ever since the United States fought at Britain's side during World War I, relations between the two countries have grown so close that they habitually act in concert in war and diplomacy. The alliance of what Winston Churchill memorably called the "English-speaking peoples" in World War II is still fresh in many memories. The "special relationship" shows no signs of weakening.

In PLAN RED, the Atlantic Strategic War Plan, the strategists theorized that there would be a war with Great Britain. They did this because England was locked in a strategic alliance with Japan, the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902, which was renewed and lasted until the Washington Conference of 1921-22. American planners thought that England's imperial reach would bring it into conflict with the US.

Another contingency war plan they developed was the RED-ORANGE PLAN, which hypothesized a two-theater war, seeking to win first in the Atlantic, against England, while fighting a holding battle in the Pacific, and then defeating Japan. When World War Two broke out, military and naval planners simply dusted off the old RED-ORANGE PLAN and substituted Germany for England in the Atlantic Theater.

For Uncle Sam, the resentments arising from two wars, one for independence and one for sailors' rights, became traditional, an inheritance handed from one generation to another. Knowing little of Europe except England, he personified in that country, really most like himself, many of those assumptions of caste which he had discarded. John Bull, on the other hand, or at any rate his dominant classes who were the only vocal part of him in the Napoleonic era, agreed with most other European observers that our political system was a short-lived experiment, foredoomed to failure. Knowing little of democracies except the recent " red fool fury of the Seine," he believed as a matter of course that our great and growing empire and population would in time outgrow the ignorant turbulence of an unbalanced suffrage or else would crash in chaos.

One powerful influence for harmony was the English adoption of a free trade policy in 1846 which changed the traditional English attitude towards commercial competition, and drove even the sons of old Tories in Canada into the arms of the United States in the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854. When Cobden, the apostle of free trade, became the oracle of England's economic policies, colonists were considered only as customers. Their allegiance was a matter of indifference. Cobden was thinking of a federation of the world and not of British imperial unities. The Tories believed that colonies, which under free trade could not be exploited, would become an intolerable burden. The Whigs argued that free trade would be as advantageous for colonies as for the motherland, but that if a colony wanted political as well as economic freedom it ought to have it. In this doctrine all leaders. Peel and Disraeli as well as Gladstone and Russell, coincided. Consequently, English sentiment, intent more and more exclusively upon commercial wealth, agreed that the United States should assume control of Central America, and offered but mild censure of the many voices that were raised in Canada for annexation.

The genesis of this British view of Anglo-American diplomatic relations may be traced, long before the days of Cobden and free trade, as far back as the Rush-Bagot agreement of 1818, in which Lord Castlereagh prevailed over his colleagues in the Ministry who would have guarded Canada with fleets and armies. Instead it was agreed that neither the United States nor England should maintain a warfleet upon any of the Great Lakes. This was the most outstanding example of a diplomatic triumph of economic common-sense over political rivalries in the nineteenth century prior to the Geneva arbitration. In the same spirit the long-protracted boundary disputes affecting Maine and Oregon were settled in 1842 to 1846, the Central American and Isthmian questions disposed of in 1850 and 1856 on the basis of joint Anglo-American interest in a neutralized canal, and the old British claim to a right of search was abandoned in 1858.

Lincoln's repression of Seward's rash desire to quarrel with England and France in 1861 was exactly duplicated in England six months later by the Prince Consort and Queen Victoria, who took the sting out of Lord Russell's dispatch concerning the seizure of Mason and Slidell. Both nations were happy in the possession of rulers who remained sane, even when the people were angry and politicians lost their heads.

It was already determined in 1864 that the United States would not renew the Reciprocity Treaty with Canada, which would come to its term in 1866. That treaty was doomed not only by the resentment against both England and Canada, but also by the rapid growth of protectionist sentiment in the United States under the new war tariff.

At the time of the Civil War, Canada sheltered many Southern sympathizers and Confederate refugees who planned to wreck bridges and railway trains, to scatter disease germs in Northern cities, and who directed brigand raids across the border. For this menace upon our Northern frontier the North held both Canada and England responsible, although it is sufficiently evident that officers of the law in Canada were not intentionally remiss in preserving neutrality.

The raids of Confederate sympathizers across the Canadian border in 1864 directly impelled the Federal Government to notify Great Britain that the agreement of 1817 for mutual disarmament on the Great Lakes would end in the following year. Lord Lyons wrote to his chief: " There can, unhappily, be no doubt that three-quarters of the American people are eagerly longing for a safe opportunity of making'war with England. . . . The ill-will shows itself in many ways -- principally in vexatious proceedings in regard to the neighboring colonies." In the American and Canadian parliaments alike members began to talk of gunboats and fortifications on the frontiers. In the House of Commons Lord Palmerston in February, 1865, need these words of studied moderation : " We cannot deny that things did take place on the Lakes of which the United States were justly entitled to complain; and if the measures to which they have recourse are simply calculated, as they say, for the protection of their commerce and their citizens, I think they are perfectly justified in having recourse to them."

The new strength of the United States evoked an answering assertion of national power in Canada. This rising tide of British loyalty was swollen by a fresh threat of war along the border from Fenian organizations in the United States. The militant Irish on both sides of the ocean confidently expected that the controversies between England and the United States would result in war. as soon as our armies and fleets were free to act. Finding that the wounds showed some tendency to heal rather than to fester, the Fenian leaders started to conquer England by way of Canada on their own account in 1866, in 1870, and again in 1871, ridiculous affairs in which many ignorant honest men were dupes. These disgraceful provocations were ended forever by the triumph of peaceful diplomacy in the treaty of Washington in 1871 and the ensuing arbitration tribunal at Geneva in 1872.

The Fenian adventurers defeated their own object. Our Government could not afford to be lax in policing Canadian borders at the time when it was pressing upon England a claim for damages because England had been remiss in performing its neutral duties.

The worst obstacle to peaceful solutions was not the Fenian, but the incendiary talk of reckless politicians in our Congress and in our press, and the extravagant plans of dreamers like Charles Sumner. Senator Sumner in 1869 wielded for the moment an exceptional influence. He was chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, and by reason of his long martyrdom from Brook.0' assault no less than by reason of his abilities he was a dominant intellectual force in the Republican party. He was supposed to have the confidence of the new President, Grant, and he secured the appointment of his close friend, John Lothrop Motley, as Minister to England. Sumner agreed with Seward that England should be held responsible for all losses that Americans had suffered not only by the depredations of Confederate privateers, but by the substitution of the British merchant marine for our own. His bill for these losses was two and a half billions of dollars.

He told the Senate and the world that the only way to ensure peace in this hemisphere was to banish the English flag from it and substitute the Stars and Stripes. Estimating that the whole of British America was fairly worth about two and a half billions of dollars, he seriously proposed to cancel all claims against England and begin the new reign of peace and brotherly love on condition of receiving from England the title to all her possessions, continental and insular, within the New World.

English statesmen, on the other hand, were only waiting to appeal from Philip drunk to Philip sober. The traditional belief among them that the American republic would not long endure died when Lee surrendered. English public opinion, except among a few extreme Tories, admitted that Americans had cause for complaint, and that some reparation was due for the mistakes of Palmerston's administration. With the Liberal party, which came into power in 1869, were aligned most of the English groups who had been staunch supporters of the North during the war. Mr. Gladstone, the new Premier, who had shaken off all relics of his original Toryism, was convinced of the wisdom of yielding to the claims of the United States as soon as it could be safely done.

Even on the subject of Canadian annexation responsible British lenders were still holding Cobden's doctrine. The London Times, discussing in 1869 the inchoate Canadian Confederation, declared that England would not withstand the colonies if they preferred to slip into the Union rather than the Dominion, and added : "Instead of the Colonies being the dependencies of the Mother Country, the Mother Country has become the dependency of the Colonies. We are tied while they are loose. We are subject to danger, while they are free." Lord Clarendon in 1870 wrote to Lord Lyons: " I wish that the Canadians would propose to be independent and to annex themselves. We can't throw them off and it is very desirable that we part as friends." Sir Edward Thornton, the British Minister at Washington, remarked to our Secretary, Hamilton Fish, in 1869, " England does not wish to keep Canada, but cannot part with it without the consent of the population."

With the beginning of a new administration at Washington in 1869, the ground was soon cleared for a complete reconstruction of Anglo-American relations. Sumner led in the Senatorial rejection of the first attempt to agree upon the questions in dispute- the Johnson-Clarendon Convention of 1868-9, but his influence was soon after shattered by his quarrel with Grant who could be led but not driven. Motley was forced to resign. Sumner was driven from his chairmanship, and Secretary Fish abandoned Simmer's grandiose plan of annexing British America. Sumner thereupon inscribed Fish also upon his list of lost souls.

England meanwhile had discovered during the Franco-Prussian battle summer of 1870 new and cogent reasons for amity with the United States on the basis of strict definitions of neutrality. It is perhaps not too much to say that England was hampered in its dealings with that European conflict by its relations with the United States. Sir Edward Thornton admitted that he could see how the ocean might swarm with Alabamas, preying this time on British instead of American commerce.

Both sides were now ready for the final definitive treaty of peace of the Civil War, which was finished at Washington, May 8, 1871, the Canadian Macdonald sitting at the table as one of the English Commission. Each nation yielded somewhat. The United States received fifteen and a half millions of dollars because England had allowed the Confederate cruisers to slip out of its harbors, and the United States paid to England two millions of dollars for damage that we inflicted upon British subjects during the war, and paid five and a half millions for ten years' use of the Canadian inshore fisheries. England agreed to submit her administration of her own statutes to an alien tribunal, and to accept the American definition of neutrality as better than her own. The United States dropped the question of annexation, indirect claims for damages and the alleged premature recognition of the Confederacy as a belligerent. Each nation gained both materially and spiritually. Two great principles of concord were comprehensively applied, reciprocity in commercial relations so far as the American tariff system would permit, and arbitration in all pending controversies.

By the later years of the 19th Century, the Democratic party, obsessed by Bryan's quixotic vagaries, was imbued with the idea that imperialist England and capitalist Wall Street had combined to crucify the laboring world upon "a cross of gold." Cleveland's administration had become a political anomaly. The few friends it had were chiefly in the camp of the opposing political party. The wreck of the Democratic party in the Presidential election of 1896 resulted in the unbroken ascendency of the Republican party for sixteen years, 1897 to 1913. One fortunate result of such a long tenure of power was an unusual continuity in foreign policies.

John Hay, in the autumn of 1898, came from the ambassadorship at London to be Secretary of State for President McKinley. He was almost the only American who understood the aim of the Imperial German clique. During the Boxer trouble, he wrote of " the infamy of an alliance with Germany," and declared that he would rather be the dupe of China than the chum of the Kaiser. The first aim of Hay's diplomacy was to secure close and friendly co-operation between England and the United States in international affairs, and to remove all possible causes of friction between them. All such causes were reduced to two groups: one, disputes between the United States and British North America, some of long duration, but relating chiefly to fisheries, boundaries and trade; the other, difficulties hindering our construction of a transoceanic canal. In the latter problem England and Canada had, each, a primary interest.

English statesmen, especially those of the Liberal party, were eager to meet Secretary Hay half way. Fearful of Germany's vaulting ambition, they turned hopefully, as Canning had done a hundred years earlier, to the New World to redress the balance of the Old. Within their own borders, the obstacles to their success lay not so much in Great Britain as in Canada.

Hay's chief obstacles to success lay in the convolutions of party politics. There were, first the extreme Protectionists of his own party, watchful lest the oft-recurring pressure from Canadian Liberals should bring about a breach in our tariff walls; and, second, the lion's tail-twisters, both sincere and sham, whose uproar had been increased somewhat since the events of 1895-6. Hay's frame of mind is sharply expressed in a letter written in 1900 to John W. Foster, thus: "Every Senator I see says, 'For God's sake, don't let it appear we have any understanding with England.' How can I make bricks without straw ? That we should be compelled to refuse the assistance of the greatest power in the world, in carrying out our own policy, because all Irishmen are Democrats and some Germans are fools - is enough to drive a man mad."

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:36:33 Zulu