Earlier this week, many an eyebrow was raised when documents outlining a fictional US military plan to fend off a zombie apocalypse were released by Foreign Policy. Obviously, that contingency plan isn't real, but in the annals of military planning, there are a number of fully-real plans for scenarios none of us would expect to happen.
The zombie plan, otherwise known as CONPLAN 8888-11 or "Counter-Zombie Dominance," is actually just an in-house training tool to help teach students how to understand "basic concepts of military plans, and order development," a Navy spokeswoman told Foreign Policy. The reason the US military selected an outrageous scenario was that true-to-life plans—even for training purposes—can cause political fallout if the general public mistakes them for reality.
That's happened before. Take, for example, the now infamous plan to invade Canada, codenamed WAR PLAN RED, which was declassified in 1974. The plan for war against the UK, it aims to conquer Canada first, beginning with a gas attack on Halifax (sorry guys) which was a key resupply port for the British. Invading Britain was later on in the timetable.
The inevitably chilly invasion of Canada outlined in WAR PLAN RED was a part of a series of color coded war scenarios gamed out by the US military after World War I. All told, there are 150 known to exist, which include strategies for China, Iceland, and Mexico, among other places.
A 1904 US military chart outlining the symbols used if it happened to go to war with just about every big power at the time. Image: Strategy Theory
While potentially eyebrow raising, the colored war plans and their ilk deal with situations that are entirely plausible, and much more recent iterations of such plans have come to light. For example, China has a plan should the North Korean government implode.
In a particularly startling case of government alarm, British military intelligence once created a contingency plan to deal with rising anger over the economic crisis, which affected all but the very richest of Brits. Concerns about the so-called "summer of discontent" and attacks from "political extremists" prompted military leadership to draw up worst case scenario plans, although details of what exactly they would entail were sketchy.
But, leave it to the US government—developers of a non-lethal bomb that would chemically make enemy troops want to have sex with one another rather than fight—to develop contingency plans for space-alien invasion.
The Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) had a division known as the Post-Detection Task Group, which ended up making a series of recommendations on what to do if aliens are discovered. According to one plan, whoever finds alien signals would be required to tell the UN and International Astronomical Union, and share their data. Next, after an announcement, the various collaborating agencies and governments would collectively figure out if and how to respond, and what message to send. Essentially, the plan for meeting aliens is to figure it out as we go along.
Should the extraterrestrials try to communicate with or land on Earth, the protocol, adopted in 1989 by SETI, suggests that scientists and engineers take the lead on communications—not the military, as Hollywood might have you expect. But if you're interested in the latter scenario there's literature on planet defense available, though sadly, if official plans exist, they are classified.
Lastly, let's not forget everyone's favorite radio blowhard, Rush Limbaugh, who once asked a couple military officers on the air whether or not there was a plan to remove an American president who, well, was un-American. "Are there contingency plans to deal with a president who may not believe that the US is the solution to the world's problems?" he asked. Apparently there are not, according to his guests. I guess you can't have a plan for every unthinkable scenario out there.