Groundbreaking Book on Pre-WW II Army Planning

By Falk, Stanley L. | Army, March 2003 | Go to article overview

Groundbreaking Book on Pre-WW II Army Planning


Falk, Stanley L., Army


The Road to Rainbow: Army Planning for Global War, 1934-1940. Henry G. Gole. Naval Institute Press. An AUSA Book. 224 pages; photographs; notes; bibliography; index; $34.95; AUSA members, $27.96.

Once a while a new book comes along that drastically revises our previous understanding of historical events or developments. Sometimes it includes new facts, sometimes new interpretations, sometimes both, but whatever the combination, it makes us stop and reconsider conclusions we had previously held without question.

The Road to Rainbow is one of those groundbreaking books. Based on previously untapped sources, it carefully spells out and documents a new and convincing version of the story of pre-World War II Army planning and its impact on the development of strategy for the great conflict that was soon to come.

The standard interpretation of American military planning in the years leading up to World War II has focused on a series of so-called "color plans," designating potential enemies by color: Orange for Japan, Black for Germany, Red for Great Britain and so forth around the world. These color plans, it was believed, considered only individual enemies, rather than a coalition of hostile foes, paid insufficient heed to the actual state of international affairs and overlooked the possibility that the United States might itself wage war as part of a group of allied nations. Only plan Orange, it was thought, was fully developed before the late 1930s, and Naval planners were given most of the credit for this. Army planning before the last years of that decade was generally dismissed-even by official Army historians-as limited, simplistic and barely more than a series of abstract exercises. It was presumed to have been of little use in developing the so-called Rainbow plans for coalition warfare against a combination of enemies, the plans that became the basis of Allied strategy in World War II.

In reaching these conclusions, however, historians had overlooked a significant body of evidence inconspicuously tucked away in the basement and attic of the Army War College (AWC) in Carlisle Barracks, Pa. Stored in some two dozen footlockers, it consisted of War College course materials for the period 1919-1940 that conclusively demonstrated the important role of AWC students and faculty in paving the way for the Rainbow plans.

In a readable and well-documented presentation, the author concludes that as early as 1934, War College classes were developing plans for coalition warfare against Japan; from 1935 to 1937, for war against both Germany and Japan; and from 1938 to 1940, for defense of the Western Hemisphere with Latin American allies. …

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