• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

We are inching along, but not as quickly as we (or you) would like. If you have already donated, thank you so much. If you haven’t had a chance, consider skipping the coffee this week and drop CounterPunch $5 or more. We provide our content for free, but it costs us a lot to do so. Every dollar counts.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Book John Boyd Would Have Written

Colonel John Boyd, America’s greatest military theorist, never wrote a book. But as a Marine friend of mine said, Lt. Col. Frans Osinga’s new book, Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd, is the book Boyd would have written if he had written a book. (As someone who worked with Boyd for about 15 years, I think the reason he did not write a book is that he loved giving his briefings, and he feared that if people could find his work in a book they would not ask him to brief.)

The central point Osinga makes is that, contrary to what is widely believed, Boyd’s work cannot be summarized in the concept of the OODA Loop. The OODA Loop concept says that in any conflict, all parties go through repeated cycles of Observing, Orienting, Deciding and Acting, and whoever can go through the cycle consistently faster will win. At the tactical level, this is often true.

But as Osinga points out, as soon as one moves up into the operational, strategic and grand strategic levels, Boyd’s theory grows far more complex. There, accuracy of observation and especially of orientation become at least as important as tempo. Attaining accuracy requires far more than “information.” In Boyd’s own less-than-simple words,

Orientation is an interactive process of many-sided implicit cross-referencing projections, empathies, correlations, and rejections that is shaped by and shapes the interplay of genetic heritage, cultural tradition, previous experiences and unfolding circumstances.

Orientation is the Schwerpunkt. It shapes the way we interact with the environment — hence orientation shapes the way we observe, the way we decide, the way we act.

In this sense Orientation shapes the character of present observation-orientation-decision-action loops — while these present loops shape the character of future orientation.

To make sense of all this, and more, Osinga begins by studying what Boyd studied. He works his way through Boyd’s vast bibliography, which includes not only military history but also scientific thought and epistemology. Boyd immersed himself in multiple disciplines, applying his own prescription of analysis and synthesis, intellectual openness and constant cross-referencing to the creation of his military theories.

Osinga then proceeds to describe, discuss and analyze Boyd’s vast briefings in chronological order, that is to say in the order in which Boyd developed them. Boyd’s most famous briefing was Patterns of Conflict, with its contrast between attrition warfare and maneuver warfare. Again, Osinga notes that there is far more here than speed through the OODA Loop. Of key importance to Fourth Generation war, Boyd introduces his three levels of war: not the traditional tactical-operational-strategic but physical-mental-moral. As Osinga writes,

In Patterns of Conflict Boyd has thus offered his audience a new look at military history. With the conceptual lenses science offered him, with uncertainty as the key problem organisms and organizations have to surmount, he sheds new light on the dynamics of war …

Gradually he unfolds a novel conceptualization of tactics, grand tactics, strategy and grand strategy that revolves around the process of adaptation in which open, complex adaptive systems are constantly engaged.

Boyd’s next briefing, my personal favorite, was Organic Design for Command and Control. It offers a devastating implied critique of the way the U.S. military is using technology to “improve” command and control. Boyd argues that, from a maneuverist perspective, you don’t even want command and control, but rather appreciation and leadership.

From this point on to the conclusion of Boyd’s work, each briefing becomes more theoretical and abstract. He offers one of the few useful definitions of strategy: “The Strategic Game is one of Interaction and Isolation.” He describes a “conceptual spiral” that leads to a deeper understanding of how we can cope with uncertainty. Finally, he offers “the real OODA Loop,” which is far too complex to present here but supports Osinga’s assertion that there is more to it than speed, at least above the tactical level.

The John Boyd who emerges from this outstanding book is the John Boyd I knew. He was the opposite of the narrow technician, the type our armed services seem to prefer and promote. He ranged across a vast intellectual landscape, drawing from the most unlikely places ideas he could assemble in new ways to reveal more about the nature and conduct of war. (I must relate one anecdote, one of the few occasions where I saw Boyd get shot down. Over dinner with General Hermann Balck, Boyd thought to pay Balck a jocular compliment. He said to him, “General, with your extraordinarily quick reactions (still evident despite Balck’s 80+ years), you would have made a great fighter pilot.” Balck instantly replied, “Ich bin kein Techniker” — I am not a technician!)

I say unreservedly, “Buy this book!” Yes, it costs more than $100. But Lt. Col. Osinga (Royal Netherlands Air Force — truly, no prophet is honored in his own country) told me that if he can sell just a few more, his publisher will bring it out in paperback. So let the kids go hungry for a few nights and plunk down the cash. If you have any interest in war, this is a book your library cannot do without. Just as America cannot do without John Boyd’s ideas, although our military has not yet figured that out.

WILLIAM S. LIND, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.

 

More articles by:

WILLIAM S. LIND, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 21, 2019
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Wolf at the Door: Adventures in Fundraising With Cockburn
Rev. William Alberts
Myopic Morality: The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Sheldon Richman
Let’s Make Sure the Nazis Killed in Vain
Horace G. Campbell
Chinese Revolution at 70: Twists and Turns, to What?
Jim Kavanagh
The Empire Steps Back
Ralph Nader
Where are the Influentials Who Find Trump Despicable?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Poll Projection: Left-Leaning Jagmeet Singh to Share Power with Trudeau in Canada
Thomas Knapp
Excuses, Excuses: Now Hillary Clinton’s Attacking Her Own Party’s Candidates
Brian Terrell
The United States Air Force at Incirlik, Our National “Black Eye”
Paul Bentley
A Plea for More Cynicism, Not Less: Election Day in Canada
Walter Clemens
No Limits to Evil?
Robert Koehler
The Collusion of Church and State
Kathy Kelly
Taking Next Steps Toward Nuclear Abolition
Charlie Simmons
How the Tax System Rewards Polluters
Chuck Collins
Who is Buying Seattle? The Perils of the Luxury Real Estate Boom
Weekend Edition
October 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Trump as the “Anti-War” President: on Misinformation in American Political Discourse
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Where’s the Beef With Billionaires?
Rob Urie
Capitalism and the Violence of Environmental Decline
Paul Street
Bernie in the Deep Shit: Dismal Dem Debate Reflections
Andrew Levine
What’s So Awful About Foreign Interference?
T.J. Coles
Boris Johnson’s Brexit “Betrayal”: Elect a Clown, Expect a Pie in Your Face
Joseph Natoli
Trump on the March
Ashley Smith
Stop the Normalization of Concentration Camps
Pete Dolack
The Fight to Overturn the Latest Corporate Coup at Pacifica Has Only Begun
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Russophobia at Democratic Party Debate
Chris Gilbert
Forward! A Week of Protest in Catalonia
Daniel Beaumont
Pressing Done Here: Syria, Iraq and “Informed Discussion”
Daniel Warner
Greta the Disturber
John Kendall Hawkins
Journey to the Unknown Interior of (You)
M. G. Piety
“Grim Positivism” vs. Truthiness in Biography
Christopher Fons – Conor McMullen
The Centrism of Elizabeth Warren
Nino Pagliccia
Peace Restored in Ecuador, But is trust?
Rebecca Gordon
Extorting Ukraine is Bad Enough But Trump Has Done Much Worse
Kathleen Wallace
Trump Can’t Survive Where the Bats and Moonlight Laugh
Clark T. Scott
Cross-eyed, Fanged and Horned
Eileen Appelbaum
The PR Campaign to Hide the Real Cause of those Sky-High Surprise Medical Bills
Olivia Alperstein
Nuclear Weapons are an Existential Threat
Colin Todhunter
Asia-Pacific Trade Deal: Trading Away Indian Agriculture?
Sarah Anderson
Where is “Line Worker Barbie”?
Brian Cloughley
Yearning to Breathe Free
Jill Richardson
Why are LGBTQ Rights Even a Debate?
Jesse Jackson
What I Learn While Having Lunch at Cook County Jail
Kathy Kelly
Death, Misery and Bloodshed in Yemen
Maximilian Werner
Leadership Lacking for Wolf Protection
Arshad Khan
The Turkish Gambit
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail