Osinga Roundtable on Science, Strategy and War: Historyguy99

By Historyguy99

Col/Dr Frans P.B. Osinga of the Neatherlands Air Force wrote this work as his doctoral thesis. It is a superb, clearly written journey into the mind of a great thinker. For myself, someone who is seeped in the essence of history that for the most part took place before John Boyd’s time, I found the book a stimulating read.

John Boyd, known as 40-second Boyd, for always being able to defeat an opponent in air combat within that time constraint, was a maverick, who left no great written treatise to explain his theories. What was left behind after his death were lecture notes and vu-graphs. Dr. Osinga carefully ginned those notes into a readable text and gave even the most un-military minded, a window on how not only John Boyd thought, but how humans and on a broader scale, all organisms adapt and survive.

John Boyd’s legacy has been his OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Action), some would conclude that his contribution is revolutionary, or that it was based on selective cherry picking to support his thesis. The contributions of John Boyd are important because they draw from a vast store house of specialties, such as history, science, and behavior for support. He mulled these concepts over in his great mind and shared them in marathon lectures lasting up to 18 hrs.

The benefit of this work is to draw attention to Boyd’s theory and stimulate thinking, something that in a modern technology centered universe, is often left to pre-conceived notions.

Boyd defined the Art of Success as:

Appear to be an unsolvable cryptogram while operating in a directed way to penetrate adversary vulnerabilities and weaknesses in order to isolate him from his allies, pull him apart, and collapse his will to resist;
Shape or influence events so that we not only magnify our spirit and strength but also influence potential adversaries as well as the uncommitted so that they are drawn toward our philosophy and are empathetic toward our success.

Boyd concludes with:

The first sentence is an advice to remain, in the words of Sun Tzu, unfathomable to the enemy, yet operate coherently in several levels of war and across different dimensions.

Multi-syllable words for a simple concept, survival.

Today, strategist debate what generation warfare we have now evolved too. I am no expert in those fields and would be treading on frozen cellophane to try and cross that river. This book helps us understand the changing environment of both war and peace. In a historical prospective, we can reach back into earliest time or to the remote jungles of New Guinea fifty years ago, when two men would meet in the forest, they would first, observe, then, orient to get best posture for survival, make a decision, kin or enemy, take action, fight or break bread. In the simplest terms, these decisions have played out in ever complicated scenarios ever since.

Dr. Osinga’s book may turn out to be more read than any biography on John Boyd because he addresses the meat of what Boyd was trying to say in hundreds of lectures. He does this by providing the reader with Boyd’s ideas to ponder:

Categories of conflict:

Three kinds of conflict

Based on his ‘panorama’ of military history, Boyd argues that one can imaginethree kinds of human conflict:98
Attrition Warfare – as practiced by the Emperor Napoleon, by all sides during the 19th Century and during World War I, by the Allies during World War II, and by present-day nuclear planners.
Maneuver Conflict – as practiced by the Mongols, General Bonaparte, Confederate General Stonewall Jackson, Union General Ulysses S. Grant,Hitler’s Generals (in particular Manstein, Guderian, Balck, Rommel) and the Americans under Generals Patton and MacArthur.
Moral Conflict – as practiced by the Mongols, most Guerrilla Leaders, avery few Counter-Guerrillas (such as Magsaysay) and certain others from Sun Tzu to the present.

In a historical sense looking back to draw from the examples of strategies that worked or failed are most helpful when one realizes that an old saying frequently used by an old soldier I once knew, that the Army suffers from CRS, IE, can’t remember scat, (my word to keep it cleaner) is still the norm.

Using the above examples of Attrition Warfare and compare it with Maneuver Warfare.

Spartans vs Thebans led by Epaminondas,who adopted the strategy at Leuctra. The strong left wing advanced while the weak right wing retreated.
Or: Patton’s end run around the Germans accross France vs Hodge’s attrition warfare in the Battle of Hurtgen Forest.

And Moral Conflict vs Attrition and Maneuver Warfare

Going to Vietnam ready to fight WW III, and finding ourselves fighting a stealthy foe, reminiscent of our own colonial Indian wars.

Dr. Osinga concludes that John Boyd’s work serves a greater purpose that his OODA loop idea.

Boyd’s ideas involve much more than exclusively the idea of ‘rapid OODA looping’ or a theory for maneuver warfare. Contradicting those who categorically dismiss the validity of the OODA concept, the idea was found to be deep and rich in ideas,explanations, hypotheses, propositions, concepts and suggestions concerning conflict in general. These concepts are firmly based on a thorough study of military history and informed by insights on learning and the behavior of social systems derived from various disciplines.

What this book serves to tell us is that in order to survive, one has to be ready to adapt. This is illustrated in our current strategy in the so called long war. The understanding of Boyd’s strategy also relate in every aspect of life from the mundane to profound.

I would highly recommend this book to everyone. “Science, Strategy, and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd

Cross-posted at HG’s World

Previous Roundtable Posts


Wilf Owen

Dan tdaxp

Dr. Chet Richards

Shane Deichman

Click here to view all posts in the discussion