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Thread: The John Boyd collection (merged thread)

  1. #201
    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cavguy View Post
    However, I haven't yet seen anything to justify that he is the "Greatest American Military Theorist" that Lind & Co. claim him to be, or why I need to adopt a "Boydian mindset" above all others.
    I would suggest that some of this comes from the impact Boyd's personality had on the individuals in question. My "drink the Kool-Aide" comment earlier was facetious in a way, but also intended to point out the impact that Boyd's personality had on people. From what I've read, he was one of those people that you either loved or hated. There was rarely any middle ground. This may in some small extent explain the appeal he had for the Marine Corps, which has a tradition of charismatic mavericks, and the violence with which many in the Air Force establishment rejected him (he wasn't a systems guy in their sense of the term).

    One of the more interesting parts of Coram's book is his examination of Boyd's main acolytes (and that's the word he uses for them...and also if memory serves one they used for themselves). If you read that, it might help explain why Boyd has the impact on some people that he does.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
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  2. #202
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    I have to say this has been one of the most stimulating threads I've followed in a while, and one of the reasons why I keep coming back here when I should be working. The references and explanatory notes have given me a better understanding of Boyd and his work - though I have to admit I have never been a fan.

    I also have to note that, through no fault of his own, Boyd's influence has had an insidious effect on the US military. Like apes with loaded sidearms, some Boyd adapters with an imperfect grasp of his principles did positive harm. The OODA loop, for instance: you can draw a fairly direct line between it and some of the nonsense concepts we've had to deal with over the last decade or so, like accelerated-decision-making, recon-pull, and perfect SA. It has infected planning, acquisition, doctrine, and organization.

    Not that that is a lick on Boyd, any more than I blame Clausewitz for trench warfare in WWI. It's just that some ideas can be dangerous in the hands of the dim.

  3. #203
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cavguy View Post
    However, I haven't yet seen anything to justify that he is the "Greatest American Military Theorist" that Lind & Co. claim him to be, or why I need to adopt a "Boydian mindset" above all others.
    Personally, I'm inherently skeptical of any an all claims that so-and-so are the "greatest" at anything, though maybe Michael Jordan and Pele' are exceptions . IOW, the level of influence a particular theorist has is pretty subjective. I don't know who the "greatest American military theorist" is and furthermore I don't really care - it doesn't really matter in the end.

  4. #204
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eden View Post
    ...Not that that is a lick on Boyd, any more than I blame Clausewitz for trench warfare in WWI. It's just that some ideas can be dangerous in the hands of the dim.
    were never spake...

  5. #205
    Council Member ericmwalters's Avatar
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    Default Who is the greatest?

    Entropy writes:

    IOW, the level of influence a particular theorist has is pretty subjective. I don't know who the "greatest American military theorist" is and furthermore I don't really care - it doesn't really matter in the end.
    Oh, so true...but this isn't any fun!

    Feel like going back the the beginning of this thread, trying to figure out where the appellation of Boyd being "the greatest American military theoretician/strategist" came from. It must matter to somebody. I don't count him as a strategist by any means, although he did talk about strategy a good bit. But talking about something doesn't make you that same thing. I can talk about pro football all day long, but that doesn't make me a footballer.

    The best than can be said about Boyd in this regard is--I'd argue--he counts as the greatest American military theoretician in the latter half of the 20th century. Wilf will argue that properly belongs to Bob Leonhard. So what is the criteria for "great?" He and I will probably disagree, and that's okay, because at least I could concede that Bob deserves to be a candidate/contender for that characterization. But who else would be in that field? Here's my list of contenders other than Leohard and Boyd...and none stack up given my personal criteria:

    Admiral William Owens ("Lifting the Fog of War," anyone?)
    Douglas Macgregor (Breaking the Phalanx)
    Trevor DuPuy (Quantified Judgment Model)

    If I included the early 21st century, I could toss in:

    Thomas Barnett (The Pentagon's New Map)
    TX Hammes (The Sling and the Stone)
    Steven Biddle (Military Power)
    Philip Bobbitt (The Shield of Achilles and Terror and Consent)

    And if I wasn't so U.S.-centric, I could include people such as:

    Colin Gray
    Martin van Creveld
    Sergei Gorshkov
    Nikolai Orgarkov

    and more....

    Now, if I had to characterize the "Greatest American Military Theoretician" of all time (at least at this writing), it would be dirt easy--Alfred Mahan. I'll just say right now--before the literary punches start flying--find or start another thread somewhere else on that!

    Seriously, it may be worthwhile--admittedly purely for fun since it truly does not matter--to determine your criteria for what "great" means. If it will help, consider the question of who is the greatest baseball player of the 20th Century? Have fun with that one!

  6. #206
    Council Member wm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cavguy View Post
    WM,

    I have very little vested in any of the methods talked about, except perhaps Slapout Based Warfare.
    I didn't mean to suggest that you were one of the guys with a vested interest. In fact, I suspect that when you were leading that Tank company team in Iraq, you seldom, if ever, asked yourself a question like :"What would CvC or John Boyd suggest I do know?"

    Quote Originally Posted by Cavguy View Post
    Seriously, what prompted this thread was my confusion over the near sainthood of John Boyd by certain organziations, and their strong claims that he was America's greatest military theorist.
    I tried to answer that. I suspect that a lot of us who did grow up in the metricized afterbirth that came from MacNamara-era MBO and zero-defects thinking were so traumatized that avoidance of critical, original thought became ingrained as a self-defense mechanism. Boyd became a hero/sacrifical lamb of sorts because he did buck the system. However, I have submitted previously that his take is really not new and is missing some critical pieces of the explanation. For one thing he doesn't explain how we get from Observe and Orient to Decide and Act in a timely and meaningful way. Second, he doesn't explain how we avoid the problem that was the motto of several of my frat brothers: "Let's do something, even if it is wrong." IOW, he does not show how we verify that our observations and orientations were properly focussed and conducted correctly. A Boydian explanation is IMHO embeds the "And then a miracle happens . . ." part of many explanations or the Deus ex machina found in too many movie plots.
    Vir prudens non contra ventum mingit
    The greatest educational dogma is also its greatest fallacy: the belief that what must be learned can necessarily be taught. — Sydney J. Harris

  7. #207
    Council Member Ron Humphrey's Avatar
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    Question Who's the best

    Are we differentiating between applied theory and theoretical constructionist here. Or does that really make a difference when trying to pin the tail on a tiger
    Any man can destroy that which is around him, The rare man is he who can find beauty even in the darkest hours

    Cogitationis poenam nemo patitur

  8. #208
    Council Member Umar Al-Mokhtār's Avatar
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    Default Boyd was a great...

    military iconoclast. As far as "greatest" military theoretician...eehhh maybe not so much IMHO.

    He did not really come up with anything new to add to the theory of warfare, what he did was pointed out the inter-relationships and added to the never ending debate.

    And the "so what" factor Wilf advanced shouldn't be taken as a smack down, he was expressing what many who are very well read in the military arts felt when looking into Boyd's briefing. Now certainly for many others it proved to be a sort of revelation; but to go back to the 6 year old analogy, if, for some reason, the kid is already fluent in calculus, when he takes the class his reaction will be 'so what I already know this stuff.' Not to smack anyone just to say 'check, got it, let's move on.'

    I respect Boyd because he took on the system from the inside, he certainly played well to the dumb, cigar chomping, fighter pilot stereotype, which caused many to underestimate him. His genius lay in his ability to be a governmental guerrilla, an insider insurrectionary, a bureaucratic insurgent…and more metaphorical descriptions I can't match up right now.
    "What is best in life?" "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the women."

  9. #209
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cavguy View Post
    I have very little vested in any of the methods talked about, except perhaps Slapout Based Warfare.
    All The Way, Sir

  10. #210
    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ericmwalters View Post
    The best than can be said about Boyd in this regard is--I'd argue--he counts as the greatest American military theoretician in the latter half of the 20th century. Wilf will argue that properly belongs to Bob Leonhard. So what is the criteria for "great?"
    I don't think Bob Leonhard is the greatest. If nothing else, most people have never heard of him, or even read him. I just think he is greatly more useful and insightful than Boyd, when it comes to Land Warfare.

    I think Doug MacGregor does good work - again he and I strongly disagree, on some issues, but sure makes me think. The same is true of TX Hammes. I can't get around TX's 4GW at all. I have real issues with his acceptance of the idea that the historical record does not need to support the concept of 4GW.

    Steve Biddle's book Military Power is good, though a bit one dimensional. I find it a very "comforting read" - but the equations and systems stuff at the end, just leaves me cold.

    I would also submit Archer Jones as one of the most insightful US writers on general military thought. His Art of War, is extremely good.

    I get a lot of inspiration from Colin Gray, and corresponding with him, moved me to write the "MW Fraud" article.

    As Umar Al-Mokhtār points out, SO WHAT? is the acid test of military thought. Is it true? Is it useful?

    From all I have read on Boyd, he seems a very honest and likeable guy. I have profound respect for his personal conduct, and his "Be someone or Do something useful - you can't do both," dicta, in that the important thing was to get the ideas out there, not take the credit for them.
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
    Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition

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    Quote Originally Posted by CR6 View Post
    breaks down for me is the point where Boyd fans present his concepts as if everything that came before is irrelevant. It reminds me a little of Vizzini inThe Princess Bride, "Have you ever heard of Thucydides? Mahan? CLAUSEWITZ?...Morons!"
    The problem with this characteraztion is that, while some boyd fans may seem to forget it, Boyd's work itself is FILLED with references to, quotes from, ideas taken from, examples used, of those listed above and hundreds more of past military strategists, tacticians, and historians. The essance of his work is not some brand new thinking, but rather a synthesis of a large portion of prior military thinking. If you can do that yourself, then Boyd is irrelvent.

    Back to the E-M work, remember he accomplished this as an engineer as it required a hell of a lot of math. Every fighter pilot today (at least in the west) lives and breathes the E-M theory; we have books filled with comparitive E-M diagrams of one's own aircraft vs. just about all threat aircraft in existance, comparing performance at various altidudes and combat loads, so that one can see a visible representation of his strenghts and weaknesses against that particular aircraft and develop a strategy to force a fight onto (metaphorically speaking) advantageous terrain. This type of analysis simply didn't exist before boyd.

  12. #212
    Council Member zenpundit's Avatar
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    Default Great Thread! Now Boyd in context.....

    This has been a marvelous discussion and I thank CavGuy for initiating it after reading Selil's review of the short book I edited. I've been following the thread carefully since Wilf gave me a head's up in an email and I wanted to put in a few words on some points of the debate on Boyd's relevance or importance to military thought.

    I've learned a fair amount about John Boyd's thinking in the last few years though I do not have near the same level of expertise as do Boyd's collaborators like Chet Richards, Chuck Spinney or William Lind. Or that of Frans Osinga, whose book Science, Strategy and War is a must read for anyone who really wants to know what Boyd actually argued. I think that last point is one on which Wilf would agree.

    There's been a discussion if Boyd merits being called "the greatest" or a "great" strategist or theorist. I think it's fair to say that Boyd himself would never have put forth such a claim of that kind or wasted time worrying about what people thought of him or whether he made a more significant contribution to the study of war than Colin Gray or Carl von Clausewitz. Boyd was more interested in learning, teaching and discussing conflict (moreso than just "war") and were he alive, I'm certain Boyd would be delighted with the Small Wars Council and the endless opportunities here for discussion and reflection.

    Was he "great", much less "greatest" ? In his briefs, Boyd was trying to shift the paradigm of American military culture away from linear, analytical-reductionist, mechanistic, deterministic, Newtonian-Taylorist, conceptions that resulted in rote application of attrition-based tactics toward more fluid, alinear, creative -synthesist thinking and holistic consideration of strategy. Give the man his due, in his time these were radical arguments for a Pentagon where the senior brass of the U.S. Army had reacted to the defeat in Vietnam by purging the lessons learned of COIN from the institutional memory of the Defense Department.

    To me at least, looking from a historical perspective, that's great. In a world with a population now close to seven billion, where the United States maintains a relatively small but expensively trained professional military, remaining wedded to attrition warfare would seem to be losing strategic bet. "Injun country" doesn't just have more Injuns than we have cowboys, they have more Injuns than we have bullets in the six-shooters our cowboys use. Moving the USMC away from an exclusive focus on attrition - and in the long run large portions of the Armed Services - by itself would lead me to use the word "great" in describing John Boyd's work.

    Is Boyd a "strategist" or a "theorist" ? Historically, the 20th century is an anomaly because the Cold War and the advent of nuclear weaponry caused the center of gravity of strategic thinking to shift away from generals and admirals and toward statesmen and social scientists - except for George C. Marshall, our great postwar strategic thinkers were entirely civilian: George Kennan, Dean Acheson, Paul Nitze, Albert Wohlstetter, Herman Kahn, Bernard Brodie, Thomas Schelling, Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon and so on. The U.S. military reacted to the overriding strategic impetus of potential thermonuclear warby retreating psychologically away from the messy complexity of the world into a surreally compartmentalized military professionalism allegedly devoid of politics, economics and other questions considered routine variables by generals in past ages of warfare.

    Boyd's briefs, however pedestrian this very self-selected group may find his military history, argued for that messy complexity properly being at the center of military thought. Moreover, and it's kind of amazing no one has mentioned it, Boyd hammered at how revolutions in science were changing society and were going to ultimately change warfare. I'll buy that there were a few other colonels or flag officers at the time Boyd was briefing who were deep reading military classics in an impressive way but I'm skeptical that the potential impact of complexity theory or Kurt Godel on operational art were frequent topics of discussion before Boyd wandered in with some briefing slides. He's a theorist. About what? Strategy.

    Much of Boyd's work is modeling a process of dynamic synthesis, of continual learning and adapting competitively and reaching to fields further and further away from "pure" military concerns in order to generate new insights. That's been criticized in this thread repeatedly as lacking in "originality" ( except at the time, no one else was doing it). That was a feature, not a bug, gentlemen. If the U.S. military then or now was overflowing with creativity, novel problem solvers and was a true "learning organization" - to borrow Dr. Nagl's phrase - then Boyd would fail the "So, what" test.

    In my humble opinion, the military, while a good sight better on the "learning" score in 2008 than in 2004, still has a ways to go.
    Last edited by zenpundit; 09-28-2008 at 06:53 AM. Reason: cut/paste dropped words

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    Boyd might be accurately described as both a great air power theorist, and a great military reformer of the late 20th century. The Aerial Attack Study and the E-M Theory are landmarks in military aviation, and his efforts in reintroducing the military to many of the military classics (partially or largely neglected or ignored during the 60's and into the 70's) have gone a long way to at least putting them back on a competitive footing with the systems analysis/managerial styles of thinking so dominant over a generation ago. If anything, Boyd might be described as the Great Tutor, at least to the USMC, if not quite the rest of the US Armed Forces, and as someone who tried to impress upon military minds that war was and is fundamentally an art. Science is there to support that Art, not to displace it. I expect that Boyd would be rather upset with some of what some people have tried to do with his observations. In any case, however, the institutional amnesia of the Armed Forces at the time predisposed open minds to receive Boyd as the font of verboten knowledge.

    Wilf wrote:

    As Umar Al-Mokhtār points out, SO WHAT? is the acid test of military thought. Is it true? Is it useful?
    Or put another way, can you make it, work? And if so, when, where, and how? At the risk of crossing over into the MW thread, some very promising theories or concepts may be difficult or impossible to put into practice, and for a variety of reasons: deficiencies in leadership, discipline, and training; lack of forces or resources; political constraints or considerations; the characteristics, conditions and circumstances of the AOR; the Enemy who gets a vote in this; and last, but certainly not least, CvC's friction. Guderian's ideal of defeating the enemy by destroying his "nerve centres" rather than outright physical destruction of his forces in the field is the classic example of a concept that was great, but impractical. In the event, the Germans had a difficult enough time trying to prevent the escape of Russian troops (who tended either to rejoin their own armies, or to become partisans harrying the German LOCs) from the great encirclements that Armoured Forces made so much easier to achieve than in the past. Similarly, von Manstein performed brilliantly at a number of places; the Crimean campaign was a marvel of manoeuvre - amongst other things - but Sevastopol itself had to be taken the hard way, by the methodical destruction of an enemy that could not be readily turned out of his positions or his defence critically incapacitated by the loss of certain "nerve centres". Months were spent just making the preparations, during which time manoeuvre was more or less out of the question anyway. Second Kharkhov lies somewhere in between the example of the Crimean Campaign as a whole, and the Siege of Sevastopol in particular.

    In any case, when some of the finest generals of the 20th century, commanding some of the finest troops of the time, found themselves with little or no choice but to engage in "attritionist"-type methods, then it is vital to accept that not only do concept have limitations - known or unknown - but that there will always be greater or lesser limitations on when, where, how, and by whom those concepts can be used, if at all. I doubt that Boyd himself was not acutely aware of this, but I fear that many of those who have drawn upon his work may not possess this same degree of awareness, let alone an acceptance, of, certain persistent and often irreducible limitations on how workable theories or concepts may be in frail human hands. Personally, I'm more or less fine with Boyd, and some of his work is must-know when dealing with air power matters. As to his role in promoting what came to be MW Theory, I'm still okay with that to the extent that he was trying to get people to think, and using military classics as well as his own unique contibutions to that end - though I strongly disagree with many aspects of MW Theory. I do see him restating many of the military classics from a unique perspective, which is good. I may or may not agree or disagree with his takes on these, but that the way thing's work.

    However, to go so far as to claim that Boyd is the "American Sun-Tzu" or at least the "Greatest" of his time or whatever is at least premature; some of his observations and propositions may require a good deal more time to become fully relevant (or at least clearly observable), and some of his (and especially some of his followers') observations and propositions are limited in their practicality or suffer from some critical flaws, just as virtually all theorists do. To echo Selil, Boyd is someone (amongst many others) whose observations and theories are something to be kept in the tool box for use when, where, how, and to whom, they may be useful and workable. Boyd himself took this same approach, and it's the right one

  14. #214
    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    I have located the suspect and he is doing a lot of talking but want answer any questions. The link below is to Boyd Himself giving his Conceptual Spiral presentation. They are numbered 1-8. The one below starts you off, from there just follow the numbers. The audio is not that great but nothing I can do about that. Later Slap..world greatest detective and stuff




    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_fjaqAiOmc

  15. #215
    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Default Glenn Beck And John Boyd

    Link to zenpundit blog about how Glenn Beck is using John Boyd's Strategy construct of 3 levels. The Moral...The Mental...The Physical. The Moral is the first and most important and if you get that right all else will follow?


    http://zenpundit.com/

  16. #216
    Council Member zenpundit's Avatar
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    Default Thanks Slap - permalinks

    Here's the permalink to the original post by Lexington Green:

    http://chicagoboyz.net/archives/15295.html

    FWIW: Lex's primary interest is politics and history but he is a serious aficianado of military history, especially 19th century British/Victorian period. His site, Chicago Boyz, a large conservative group blog, has occasionally been graced by familiar names like Wilf Owen, Chet Richards, Gian Gentile and Steve Metz. I post there too on occasion.


    Here's the permalink to my post which links to both Green and Beck:

    http://zenpundit.com/?p=3524

    Personally, I don't know much about Beck, never having watched him, beyond what is said about him in the media/online (I'm not all that interested in writing about domestic political foodfights). Lex may be on target in terms of identifying Beck's intention or Beck's actions might just fit into Lex's larger analysis of a potential political strategy. Either way, it was a thought-provoking, if partisan, analysis.

  17. #217
    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Zen, I don't know how much he knows about Boyd either, but he does use classic UW Propaganda techniques extremely well, Bob's World would recognize them instantly. He also boasts of having extensive ties to the Special Operations community how true that is I don't know. He uses my 3F technique(the relationship between family,friends and finances in criminal/political organizations) using a blackboard,chalk and pictures with absolute precision.....but often draws the wrong conclusions. But he definitely has struck a chord with the American public.

  18. #218
    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Default More Beck and Boyd

    From Zenpundit.

    http://zenpundit.com/?p=3526#comment-21169

    Link to GB's post from Friday....read the part about MLK pledge and how this goes with SWC own Robert C. Jones many post on MLK.
    http://www.glennbeck.com/content/art...cle/198/39452/

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    Default Announcement: Boyd & Beyond 2012 Conference

    Announcement: Boyd & Beyond 2012 Conference

    Entry Excerpt:



    --------
    Read the full post and make any comments at the SWJ Blog.
    This forum is a feed only and is closed to user comments.

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