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Thread: The John Boyd collection (merged thread)

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    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sargent View Post
    . However, I do think they did an invaluable service in taking on the conventional wisdom regarding the future of warfare, primarily the dead hand of recent operational and strategic history, where past success and dominance were used to define the future, even if that future seemed headed elsewhere.

    l
    I agree the intention was honest enough, but look where we are today. Boyd is applauded in ways that just make no sense given the evidence, and the facts. Lind came up with 4GW, which actually harmed understanding, and I won't even start on the OODA loopy garbage.

    The intervening years have given us Maneuver Warfare, which once you actually break it down is an arbitrary collection of the obvious with a few attractive myths thrown in.

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    Default What is the argument all about?

    I hear the traditionalists, "if Clausewitz, Mao or Sun Tzu didn't say it, then it isn't worth saying". Perfect position for an arm chair warrior, but not for someone who is leading our Soldiers in battle. What is important to the leader is successfully accomplishing the mission, and if traditional theory doesn't contribute to this, then its value is questionable.

    We bring preconceived solutions and theories to the table before we even study the problem. This mindset is a perfect example of why we fail more than we should in irregular warfare.

    Those who fault 4GW for its short comings have a lot of ammunition to support their arguments, but one could argue that the whole generational method to describe warfare is what is at faulty. It assumes that one generation replaces another, but the reality is that 1GW through 5GW are additive, they add to the repatoire of options available. The first step to clarifying the debate is doing away with the generations of warfare, then we won't have to waste time defending them, and instead can focus on the real issues at hand.

    The nature of warfare and conflict can change as technology and political systems evolve. 5GW is supposed to describe the empowered individual, which is a possibility that can't be denied unless you live under a rock. An intelligent deviant can to some extent now, and to a much greater extent later, will be able to wreck various degrees of havoc with information technology, bio-engineering, etc., but then we argue can one man declare war? or is it just a crime? One man spreading bio-engineered small pox is a national security threat whether it is a war or a crime, and key take away isn't whether this is 1GW, 2GW, or 5GW, but that we have a security problem to solve.

    I having seen where serious futurists have criticized Clausewitz, they simply added ideas to be discussed. Clausewitz, Mao, and maybe even Sun Tzu, were extremely intelligent and effectively captured the truth as it existed in their day for the situations they observed, and much of it remains relevant today, but evolution of war didn't stop with the death of Clausewitz (unless you're an U.S. Army CGSC product).

    Everyone wants to throw stones at everyone else's ideas and endlessly debate: principles of war, centers of gravity, etc., which unfortunately rarely translates into effective strategy that wins wars. Did we get the center of gravity correct in Vietnam? Iraq? Afghanistan? And as Steve Metz pointed out in another post we're still fighting the insurgencies in the Philippines and Columbia, where victory always seems to be just beyond reach after tens of years of various efforts, so again did we correctly identify the center of gravity, apply the logical lines of operation correctly? Did we incorrectly apply the principles of war?

    Instead of criticizing those who at least attempt to develop new ideas at least listen to them, then if need me attack the idea, not the person. So far all I have seen is attacks on the person (in this post Boyd and Lind), but not one valid counter argument to refute their positions.

    If the traditionalists are intellectually correct, then prove it. To make it clear I'm not defending the new or the old, but simply want to see the argument evolve into something more productive than saying Boyd (for example) didn't add anything to the body of knowledge, but fail to explain why not.

    Boyd added considerably to the body of knowledge of how to engage in aerial combat, and his OODA loop is applicable there. That doesn't mean it applies at the operational and strategic level. However, Boyd brought more to the table than the OODA loop over the years. He also supposedly was involved in crafting the Desert Storm offensive, after then SECDEF Chenny rejected Swarcofts (sp?) initial proposals. I suspect he added a little something to the body of knowledge, as I suspect Lind did also. The question is the same as it is for the traditionalists, does it translate into effective strategy that accomplishes our missions?

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    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Global Scout View Post
    Instead of criticizing those who at least attempt to develop new ideas at least listen to them, then if need me attack the idea, not the person. So far all I have seen is attacks on the person (in this post Boyd and Lind), but not one valid counter argument to refute their positions.
    As the thread starter, let me respond to this point.

    I am not attacking either man personally. I am holding their ideas and writing up for examination and I, and many more, find them lacking. In contrast I find others, less well know, less vocal, whose ideas are generally sound, are ignored as a result of ideas that are marketed rather than being presented for peer review.

    Boyd and Lind are the two most well known originators of recent military theory. There ideas and writing are pervasive.

    Ideas like "Recon Pull" are patently faulty, yet have received wide spread acceptance because no one had studied and understood exploitation.

    I say again, I am not attacking the men personally. Only what they have written and what they have said.

    ...so what have Lind and Boyd contributed to Military Theory that is so useful? - or that others had not done before?
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    A few points, then I have to run to the airport. I love 6AM flights.

    Context is important when discussing maneuver warfare. The concept was never new - and it was a reaction to the American involvement in Vietnam. Lind challenged the old ways of thinking and the old Guard in the 70's when he wrote a public rebuttal to the FM 100-5 which in its initial draft was more of the same old #### that helped get 58,000 Americans dead in Vietnam. I've often felt that he was a useful whipping boy for many American officers = never served in uniform, so how could he know about warfare? The Manuever Warfare handbook was the culmination of 15 years of trying to reintroduce some concepts into the American way of war that seemed to have perished after Korea. Nature abhors a vacuum.

    Boyd is far, far more complex than the OODA Loop. Unfortunately, it seems that this is destined to be his fate - another victim of a military culture that has become the ultimate in reductionist thinking. Hey, we have to get this concept down to the 9th Grade level of thinking and writing. I suggest you read Frans Osinga's book on Boyd's theories to see how complex his writings actually are, and more important, to see how the military has simplified his theories. Boyd talked about friction quite a bit, and questioned Clausewitz and Jomini at length, and finally said that dealing with friction was not necessarily bad, as long as you could reduce it as much as possible on your side and increase it as much as possible on your advisaries side. I would go as far as saying that Boyd is the most misunderstood theorist of the modern era because of the inherent complexities of his work - a lot of the scientific background baffles me to a great extent.

    At least the FMFM1-A was something to read about the nature of 21st Century war. The US Army took 6 years to produce a new counterinsurgency manual after the invasion of Afghanistan, and it is still using an operations manual from before the war.

    I try and read as much as possible from a variety of sources and theories in order to shape my mental impressions about war and the conduct of war. Lind and Boyd may not be perfect (no theory ever is), but they have introduced concepts that were either ignored, forgotten or in the case of Boyd, never codified in the first place.

    I do not hold any one theorist in greater regard than another. Like Boyd said about doctrine in general "The day after it's written, it becomes dogma. Don't talk to me about German, Russian, British doctrine - learn them all and use them as necessary."
    "Speak English! said the Eaglet. "I don't know the meaning of half those long words, and what's more, I don't believe you do either!"

    The Eaglet from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland

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    I've critiqued their positions on many occasions on these boards, GS. To cut it short, we're not seeing the titanic shift that 4GW advocates claim. What we are seeing is older methods being adapted to suit new technology combined with a bleed-over of methods that have been used by terrorist groups since the 1970s. Boyd was certainly more revolutionary than Lind, but that does not change the basic proposition that "4GW" is really nothing new...just older ideas that have been accelerated through technology. Just because most advocates stop at Mao does not mean that it all started with the ol' Chairman.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Blair View Post
    I've critiqued their positions on many occasions on these boards, GS. To cut it short, we're not seeing the titanic shift that 4GW advocates claim. What we are seeing is older methods being adapted to suit new technology combined with a bleed-over of methods that have been used by terrorist groups since the 1970s. Boyd was certainly more revolutionary than Lind, but that does not change the basic proposition that "4GW" is really nothing new...just older ideas that have been accelerated through technology. Just because most advocates stop at Mao does not mean that it all started with the ol' Chairman.

    Am I missing something here? How did Boyd get wrapped up into the 4GW theorists? To my knowledge he never uttered those words, and a careful reading of him shows that he divides warfare into very different categories (mental, moral, physical). Say what you want about his theories, but he really didn't have anything to do with 4GW.

    He did have a lot to say about guerilla warfare, however, but only viewed it as another potential form of warfare.
    Last edited by stanleywinthrop; 12-18-2007 at 04:16 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by stanleywinthrop View Post
    Am I missing something here? How did Boyd get wrapped up into the 4GW theorists? To my knowledge he never uttered those words, and a careful reading of him shows that he divides warfare into very different categories (mental, moral, physical). Say what you want about his theories, but he really didn't have anything to do with 4GW.

    He did have a lot to say about guerilla warfare, however, but only viewed it as another potential form of warfare.
    Boyd is often brought in by the 4GW folks themselves with the whole OODA loop and other aspects of asymmetric warfare. He didn't have anything to do with it initially, but many of the 4GW folks have hitched him to their wagon.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Blair View Post
    Boyd is often brought in by the 4GW folks themselves with the whole OODA loop and other aspects of asymmetric warfare. He didn't have anything to do with it initially, but many of the 4GW folks have hitched him to their wagon.
    I'll admit that I haven't read much of Lind, and so you may be correct about him, but in Hammes book, Boyd recieves no attention (indeed Boyd is not cited at all in the bibliography)and Hammes even rejects Boyd's OODA loop application theories in 4GW. (p. 222)
    Last edited by stanleywinthrop; 12-18-2007 at 04:41 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Blair View Post
    I've critiqued their positions on many occasions on these boards, GS. To cut it short, we're not seeing the titanic shift that 4GW advocates claim. What we are seeing is older methods being adapted to suit new technology combined with a bleed-over of methods that have been used by terrorist groups since the 1970s. Boyd was certainly more revolutionary than Lind, but that does not change the basic proposition that "4GW" is really nothing new...just older ideas that have been accelerated through technology. Just because most advocates stop at Mao does not mean that it all started with the ol' Chairman.
    I'm a regular reader of Lind, don't always agree with him, but I think he's entertaining and raises interesting issues on a regular basis. This forum has been great at pointing out areas where he's off base (the distributed ops thread for one).

    I think most of the 4GW folks wouldn't necessarily say it was new though. A point a lot of people forget is that it's "Four Generations of Modern War." They start with Westphalia, and the hanging of mercenaries after the Thirty Years War, as the point when the state tried to take a monopoly on the use of violence. I remember Lind recommending reading about the Thirty Years War, Italian condottiere, and the Warring States period in China as a means to understand the way we're headed.

    I agree the generations are simplistic, and that 4GW is (in some ways) as old as warfare itself.

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    What about Martin Van Creveld? He never seems to come in for the same kind of criticism as Lind and Boyd, but the decline of the state is his central idea.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Granite_State View Post
    What about Martin Van Creveld? He never seems to come in for the same kind of criticism as Lind and Boyd, but the decline of the state is his central idea.
    Well said. Lemme see if I can think of a couple of others...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Granite_State View Post
    What about Martin Van Creveld? He never seems to come in for the same kind of criticism as Lind and Boyd, but the decline of the state is his central idea.
    MvC is an excellent military historian, who does not go around publishing concepts which are straight re-brandings of things armies have always known and often even done.

    If enough USMC officers had read Du-Picq, Foch, Clausewitz, and even the awful Liddell-Hart, I don't think they'd even picked up the Manoeuvre Warfare handbook.
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    Quote Originally Posted by William F. Owen View Post

    If enough USMC officers had read Du-Picq, Foch, Clausewitz, and even the awful Liddell-Hart, I don't think they'd even picked up the Manoeuvre Warfare handbook.
    Apparently USMC officers are a bit too clever for your comfort.

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    Quote Originally Posted by stanleywinthrop View Post
    Apparently USMC officers are a bit too clever for your comfort.
    Not sure of your point. I hold the Corps in great esteem, have good friends in it and even wear USMC cuff-links presented to me by a USMC Colonel, so I am not disparaging USMC officers.

    The UK adopted the Manoeuvrist Approach to Operations, as did the Australians and the Canadians. My example was referring to the USMC, but the point goes for almost all ABCAN armies, that had more military theory formed more of a part of professional training, then MW would have been treated more cautiously and in a more measured fashion.

    ...and for what it's worth, I thought MW was better than sex until I started reading and researching its origins in order to understand it better.
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    Quote Originally Posted by William F. Owen View Post
    Not sure of your point. I hold the Corps in great esteem, have good friends in it and even wear USMC cuff-links presented to me by a USMC Colonel, so I am not disparaging USMC officers.

    Well, you may not have wished to give offense, sir, but you did so by suggesting the USMC adopted maneuver warfare out of ignorance. I suggest you study the topic and learn how it actually happened.

    I'll actually agree that the USMC's version of Maneuver warfare has limited applicability in Iraq or Afghanistan these days, but it's adoption in the 1980s represented one of the biggest shifts in doctrine the U.S. military has ever willingly undergone.
    Last edited by stanleywinthrop; 12-19-2007 at 01:31 PM.

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    One thing I did like to see out of the USMC along with the maneuver warfare doctrine was a renewed interest in studying war in all its aspects in general. You started seeing the Commandant's reading list about that time, if memory serves, and the MCDP 1 series, which was more how to think about war than actual prescriptive doctrine.
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    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stanleywinthrop View Post
    Well, you may not have wished to give offense, sir, but you did so by suggesting the USMC adopted maneuver warfare out of ignorance. I suggest you study the topic and learn how it actually happened.
    Well sorry if I caused offence, and my intention was not to imply ignorance, in the way you seem to have understood it.

    As concerns how the USMC came to adopt MW, I would love to know. Any sources of information you could suggest (other than the Boyd Biographies) would be gratefully accepted.

    I contrast to the acceptance of MW it is interesting to see how the current fascination with COIN manifests itself by referencing vintage published work, and not seeking to manufacture innovative concepts.
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    - 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.
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    Quote Originally Posted by William F. Owen View Post
    Well sorry if I caused offence, and my intention was not to imply ignorance, in the way you seem to have understood it.

    As concerns how the USMC came to adopt MW, I would love to know. Any sources of information you could suggest (other than the Boyd Biographies) would be gratefully accepted.

    I contrast to the acceptance of MW it is interesting to see how the current fascination with COIN manifests itself by referencing vintage published work, and not seeking to manufacture innovative concepts.
    That's all right usually it is the Marines! who are offensive and generally distasteful. They don't call em' devil dogs because they are prim proper and refined. Marines! are heart breakers and life takers and Semper Fi.

    “The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen. Thank God for the United States Marine Corps!” - Eleanor Roosevelt,
    If I remember right the maneuver warfare doctrine for the Marine Corps! was changing as the MEU concept was unfolding. It was pointed out to me recently that the Marines! though more than willing to move fast and light have taken armor to tiny Pacific islands, Vietnam, and in general like high speed maneuver warfare as much as any cavalry/armor army guy. I just think that they like big guns that go BOOM. Well to be more succinct I always appreciated big guns that made "other things" go BOOM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by William F. Owen View Post
    I contrast to the acceptance of MW it is interesting to see how the current fascination with COIN manifests itself by referencing vintage published work, and not seeking to manufacture innovative concepts.
    I honestly don't know if I'd go that far. What they (and I reference the Marines) are doing now is pulling stuff that has worked off the shelf and using it as a touch-point and reference. I've seen some newer stuff come out and concepts develop that range away from some of the ideas expressed in the old Small Wars Manual.
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    Default In defence of 4GW - sort of

    An interesting discussion.

    As I know many here are very critical of some or all aspects of 4GW, let me say up front that I agree that there are problems with the 4GW concept (but more on that at the end). But let me also put up a bit of a defence for the 4GW advocates, for I also believe that they deserve some credit.

    Part of the problem with the concept is that there that there are differences amongst those making the argument about what is 4GW, with perhaps one of the most significant differences being between Hammes’ conceptualization based on the evolution of revolutionary/insurgent/irregular warfare (ie 4GW as evolved insurgency) and many others who see insurgency/irregular warfare as only one aspect of 4GW (though to be fair to TX, he did note in The Sling and the Stone that he ultimately choose 4GW as the term he would use for lack of a better alternative - sorry, can’t remember the page number). But they hold some characteristics of 4GW in common These characteristics are:

    1. Back in 1989, at the very heart of the 4GW concept what their argument that the state would face a growing crisis of legitimacy, which would increasingly weaken its authority over social organization and its monopoly on the use of force. This weakening of the authority and legitimacy of the state would in turn lead to the rise of a wide range of non-state actors, many who would challenge, or fight, the state and other entities for goals different from those of the state. Thus, proponents argue(d) that what is ‘new’ in 4GW is ‘who fights’ and ‘what they fight for’. Hence, as Granite State noted above, what they were suggesting (and Lind certainly still does) is that warfare increasingly would resemble in many ways warfare as it was before the Treaty of Westphalia and the subsequent growing control by states over the legitimate use of force. Worth noting here is that few advocates claimed that ‘4GW’ entities would use new tactics, rather their point has always been that they would use conventional and unconventional means (ie, not new ones) to achieve their ‘new’ aims and because of this and because of cultural differences that they might use old approaches in potentially new ways.

    2. Proponents of this theory identified (with hindsight, reasonably accurately) the blurring nature of future conflict, especially the blurring of war and peace, the blurring between combatants and non-combatants, and the blurring of what constitutes the battlefield (the collapse, or compaction, of the strategic/operational/tactical levels of war), with conflict being non-linear and unbounded (by this I mean that such entities will use techniques and approaches – such as terrorism – not used by formal military organizations and that there are no front and rear – our societies and our beliefs are immediately pertinent targets). These emerging, non-state entities or actors, are weak in comparison to the militarily more powerful states, and so will use a wide range means other than military means in taking on the state.

    3. The main effort of these non-state actors thus will be to use a variety of conventional and unconventional methods and approaches which are designed primarily to undermine the will of their adversaries and to morally undo them in an effort to foster the breakdown or social and political unity. These methods and approaches will encompass political, social, economic and culture means, aimed to affect the political, social, economic and culture of the state. That is, the aim of these nonstate actors is to influence – to disrupt, damage or change - our perceptions of ourselves, of our behaviour both on and off the battlefield. Thus the main thrust of such entities will be the strategic level of ‘war’, with their main aim of their actions being to affect us morally and mentally, and not just of state decision makers but of society as a whole.

    These characteristics that they defined are pretty general, but then they were ‘fortunetelling’. These days most of them are fitting what we see happening into the concept (an exercise which can suffer from the facts being shoehorned to fit the concepts).

    Finally, a couple of passing observations.

    stanleywinthrop said:
    How did Boyd get wrapped up into the 4GW theorists? To my knowledge he never uttered those words, and a careful reading of him shows that he divides warfare into very different categories (mental, moral, physical). Say what you want about his theories, but he really didn't have anything to do with 4GW.
    As far as I know, Boyd did not, as Steve Blair rightly noted, have anything directly to do with the development of 4GW. The connection stems from 1) the original authors of the 1989 article were all followers of Boyd and his way of thinking (and still are); b) the first 3 generations of war were modeled, more or less in simplified form, from Boyd’s talks; and c) as their methodology, such as they can be said to have one, to limn out 4GW, was to apply Boyd’s general theory of change, ‘The Conceptual Spiral’ - which underpins Boyd's Patterns of Conflict and Discourse on Winning and Losing - as the means to delineate possible (potential?) future changes.

    Steve Blair said: ...does not change the basic proposition that "4GW" is really nothing new...just older ideas that have been accelerated through technology
    Worth mentioning, again, is that while some 4GW proponents seemed to suggest that these emerging non-state actors would use new tactics, many if most were largely silent on this issue (ie tactics), at least until recently when they started to point to current tactics being used as being consistent with their broader conceptualization of 4GW. Indeed, it was only with 9/11 that some advocates of 4GW (and not the originators or long time advocates) claimed that 4GW ‘has arrived’. But many others continued to refer to it as 'evolving'. In other words, they recognize that warfare constantly and continuously evolves, and that what we see today that is sometimes referred to as being 4GW is simply an early stage, or form, of 4GW.

    So, yes, I agree that there certainly are problems with the 4GW concept. Not least is their use of history, but then historians have long complained loudly that political scientists misuse history – ie are selective in their use and interpretation – when these reprobates [errr, ummm, that includes me ] develop and/or defend a particular theory of international relations. Furthermore, the state, while in many instances is weaker in the way they suggested, is still here and does not appear about to go the way of the dodo anytime soon. So we do not see, to quote Steve Blair, ‘the titanic shift that 4GW advocates claim’ (yet, at any rate ). These, and other, critiques can be found elsewhere here on SWB, or in the August 2005 issue of Contemporary Security Policy (if you want ‘academics’ take on the concept). And one can (and maybe in some cases, should) question and even take umbrage at some of the specific analysis being generated these days.

    Nonetheless, reflecting back to the original 1989 article, and even the 1994 follow-on, they got more right than wrong, in general terms, and decidedly got it more right than anyone else did ‘back in the day’ (think ‘RMA’! ). Except, of course, for van Creveld, who is often lumped in with the 4GW school due to Transformation of War [1991] but was not a member of it; rather he came to some similar conclusions as he had some of the same assumptions – ie, weakening of the state – but also derived more specific conclusions stemming from his analysis of historical and current (1991) trends (ie, war as crime, crime as war). In the end, I have to agree with Lawrie Freedman, who noted that the problems with the 4GW concept ‘is not in itself reason for neglecting its prescriptive aspects.’ (The Transformation of Strategic Affairs, Adelphi Paper 379, Oxford University Press, 2006 p. 21).

    So while I think that the concept has its problems, I also think that the people who argued the concept (and still are) deserve more than a few kudos. I am with Ski that reading their current analyses is worthwhile even if you do not agree with it, for it often does make one think. Which is the reason why I enjoy reading these boards – you all make me think, and therefore learn (and yes, each and every one are unquestionably guilty of this 'crime' ).

    Cheers

    TT

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