The War Plan Orange

“Plans may be irrelevant, but planning is essential,” Dwight Eisenhower once remarked. He should have known, and if he was right, it follows that the planning process is vital and deserves close examination, best by the actual case study of a plan refined over a long period of time. That is the sort of book that could benefit business, industry, government, and the individual. Edward S. Miller has written exactly that in WAR PLAN ORANGE.

WAR PLAN ORANGE is aptly described in its subtitle as “The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897-1945.” It traces the development of scenarios for defeating Japan, code-named Orange, in a hypothetical conflict with the United States. The acquisition of the Philippines by the United States after the Spanish-American War made the war hypothetical, but it became increasingly probable during the 1920’s and 1930’s, emerging as a grim reality on December 7, At that point, planning had indeed become essential.

Miller’s book will interest two sets of readers. The first are those concerned with history, especially military history. He has crisply and confidently outlined the variant Orange plans which were produced, revised, discarded, and revisited for almost half a century. The changing attitudes and personalities which affected those plans are clearly presented, making this book an engaging intellectual history. These readers will be particularly impressed with Miller’s thesis that the essence of War Plan Orange, as finally drawn, was indeed the blueprint for the campaigns which eventually defeated the Japanese Empire in 1945.

Others who will profit from reading Miller’s book are those concerned with plans and planning, from the individual level to the multinational. While plans are supposed to be rational and logical creations, they are produced by often irrational and illogical human beings, ready to ignore unpleasant reality. Miller offers several cautionary examples where military planners so erred; astute readers will recognize it is also the civilians who are ensnared, as examples from the Edsel to New Coke prove.

A study of war plans from a conflict now fifty years past may seem a limited book, of restricted interest, but the opposite is true. Miller’s piercing analysis and detailed, but not burdensome documentation, together with his shrewd thumbnail sketches, produce a work that is both insightful and instructive.