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  • Archive for the 'Boyd/Osinga Roundtable' Category

    Reopening — II (Theory)

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 17th August 2020 (All posts by )

    That’s all very well in practice, but how does it work in theory?

    — old University of Chicago joke

    I expect this blog’s readership to demand the theoretical considerations, so here’s a (non-exhaustive) compilation, beginning with a setup anecdote:

    In December of 2007 I was briefly—very briefly, as the work was interrupted by a blizzard—involved in rebuilding in Greensburg, Kansas, which had been practically erased from the map seven months earlier by an immense tornado. I had driven through a couple of months after the event and stumbled into a photo-op for Sen. Pat Roberts, who was doing a ribbon-cutting of sorts in a brand new convenience store. The devastation was more impressive than his speech; indeed, people who worked both New Orleans after Katrina and Greensburg after the tornado typically remarked that, allowing for scale, Greensburg was worse.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Boyd/Osinga Roundtable, Civil Society, COVID-19, Human Behavior, Organizational Analysis, Personal Narrative, Systems Analysis, USA | 2 Comments »

    Faustian Ambition (rerun)

    Posted by David Foster on 21st August 2016 (All posts by )

    A post on ambition at another blog (in 2010) , which included a range of quotations on the subject, inspired me to think that I might be able to write an interesting essay on the topic of ambition in Goethe’s Faust. This post is a stab at such an essay.

    The word “Faustian” is frequently used in books, articles, blog posts, etc on all sorts of topics. I think the image that most people have of Faust is of a man who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for dangerous knowledge: sort of a mad-scientist type. This may be true of earlier versions of the Faust legend, but I think it’s a misreading (or more likely a non-reading) of Goethe’s definitive version.

    Faust, at the time when the devil first appears to him, has devoted his entire life to the pursuit of knowledge–in many different scholarly disciplines–and is totally frustrated and in despair about the whole thing. It is precisely the desire to do something other than to pursue abstract knowledge that leads him to engage in his fateful bargain with Mephistopheles.

    If it’s not the pursuit of abstract knowledge, then what ambition drives Faust to sell his soul? C S Lewis suggests that his motivations are entirely practical: he wants “gold and guns and girls.” This is partly true, but is by no means the whole story.

    Certainly, Faust does like girls. Very early in the play, he encounters a young woman who strikes his fancy:

    FAUST: My fair young lady, may I make free
    To offer you my arm and company?
    GRETCHEN: I’m neither fair nor lady, pray
    Can unescorted find my way
    FAUST: God, what a lovely child! I swear
    I’ve never seen the like of her
    She is so dutiful and pure
    Yet not without a pert allure
    Her rosy lip, her cheek aglow
    I never shall forget, I know
    Her glance’s timid downward dart
    Is graven deeply in my heart!
    But how she was so short with me–
    That was consummate ecstasy!

    Immediately following this meeting, Faust demands Mephisto’s magical assistance in the seduction of Gretchen. It’s noteworthy that he insists on this help despite the facts that (a)he brags to the devil that he is perfectly capable of seducing a girl like Gretchen on his own, without any diabolical assistance, and (b)a big part of Gretchen’s appeal is clearly that she seems so difficult to win–a difficulty that will be short-circuited by Mephisto’s help.

    Mephisto, of course, complies with Faust’s demand…this devil honors his contracts…and Faust’s seduction of Gretchen leads directly to the deaths of her mother, her child by Faust, her brother, and to Gretchen’s own execution.

    Diabolical magic also allows Faust to meet Helen of Troy (time and space are quite fluid in this play) whom he marries and impregnates, resulting in the birth of their child Euphorion.

    So, per Lewis, yes, Faust is definitely motivated by the pursuit of women. But this is only a small part of the complex structure of ambition that Goethe has given his protagonist.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Boyd/Osinga Roundtable, Deep Thoughts, Germany, Philosophy, Poetry, Political Philosophy | 6 Comments »

    The ghost at all our feasts: three lectures by Adam Tooze

    Posted by L. C. Rees on 11th September 2014 (All posts by )

    One of Zenpundit’s most influential book recommendations for me was The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy by Adam ToozeWages of Destruction made most other books on the Nazi complicated run German economy of 1920-1945 look infantile. I read Tooze’s newest book The Deluge: The Great War and the Remaking of Global Order 1916-1931 over July. A review is in the works. While you stay up nights waiting for that, Tooze gave three lectures at Stanford University’s Europe Center worth absorbing based on The Deluge:

    1. Making Peace in Europe 1917-1919: Brest-Litovsk and Versailles
    2. Hegemony: Europe, America and the problem of financial reconstruction, 1916-1933
    3. Unsettled Lands: the interwar crisis of agrarian Europe

    The rise of the American empire 1849-1922 is the great question of our time.

    [Cross-posted on Zenpundit]

    Posted in Boyd/Osinga Roundtable, History, Russia, Tradeoffs | 6 Comments »

    One for Boyd and the Boyz

    Posted by Charles Cameron on 1st February 2011 (All posts by )

    [ cross-posted from Zenpundit ]

    Posted in Boyd/Osinga Roundtable, Film, Humor | 2 Comments »

    John and Carl, Sittin’ Under a Tree…

    Posted by Joseph Fouche on 20th December 2010 (All posts by )

    Disembodied Floating Clausewitz Head

    Disembodied Floating Clausewitz Head

    Genghis John

    Genghis John

    Recent outbreaks in the ongoing Cold War between advocates of Maj.Gen. Carl von Clausewitz, KPB and advocates of Col. John Boyd, USAF (ret) coincided with other outbreaks between supporters of Sun Wu and Clausewitz. Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray that all such outbreaks would vanish into the maw of the Dread Zenpundit Comment Filter (DZCF), the same vortex that swallows <p>, <br / >, and other innocent HTML tags, never to be seen again. Yet, if these debates must rage until every tag destroyed by the DZCF is paid for by yet another tag marking up yet another piece of rhetorical excess, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

    I won’t attempt to reconcile Sun-tzu and Clausewitz. That calling was fulfilled by the late Michael Handel in his Masters of War: Classical Strategic Thought with an aplomb that is far beyond my poor power to add or detract. However, I will second Adam Elkus’ efforts in pointing out where the frameworks of Clausewitz and Boyd coincide.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Boyd/Osinga Roundtable, Diversions, War and Peace | 2 Comments »

    NEW BOOK: The John Boyd Roundtable: Debating Science, Strategy and War

    Posted by Zenpundit on 22nd September 2008 (All posts by )

    Re-posted from at the request of my co-author Lexington Green:


    The John Boyd Roundtable: Debating Science, Strategy, and War

    This post has been a long time coming.

    A while back, we had a a symposium at Chicago Boyz to discuss and debate the superb book Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd by Colonel Frans Osinga. It was a great discussion from which I learned far more about the ideas of the iconoclastic military theorist John Boyd than I had ever previously considered. Not everyone involved was an admirer of John Boyd, a few were initially skeptical and we had one certified critic ( though I had tried to recruit several more). Overall, it was the kind of exchange that makes the blogosphere special as a medium when it is at it’s intellectual best.

    Shortly thereafter, via Dan of tdaxp I was approached by the publisher of Nimble Books, W.F. Zimmerman, who happened to be a military history buff and who was interested in working our loose online discussion of Dr. Osinga’s prodigious tome into a book. Initially, I was somewhat dubious but I warmed to the project at the urging of tdaxp and Lexington Green, and agreed to serve as the Editor and “herder of cats” in a project that would involve a large number of contributors with very different backgrounds and some fairly dense and esoteric material on strategic theory to digest and make comprehensible to a general reader.

    A wonderful experience.

    We had an excellent roster of contributors for The John Boyd Roundtable: Debating Science, Strategy, and WarDr. Chet Richards, Daniel Abbott, Shane Deichman, Frank Hoffman, Adam Elkus, Lexington Green, Thomas Wade and Dr. Frans Osinga, who contributed several essays. Dr. Thomas Barnett sets the intellectual tone in the foreword after which the authors brought a wide range of professional perspectives to bear – cognitive psychology, military history, physics, strategy, journalism and, of course, blogging – in a series of articles that tried to explain the essence and dimensions of John Boyd’s contribution to strategic thought. Hopefully, we succeeded in creating an interesting and useful primer but the readers will be the ultimate judges, free to dispute our conclusions and offer contending arguments of their own.

    I’d like to think that Colonel Boyd would have wanted it that way.

    Posted in Academia, Announcements, Arts & Letters, Blogging, Book Notes, Boyd/Osinga Roundtable, History, Military Affairs | 3 Comments »

    Osinga Roundtable on Science, Strategy and War – Applying Boyd: Adam Elkus

    Posted by Zenpundit on 12th February 2008 (All posts by )

    This post by Adam Elkus represents the final, formal, contribution to this Roundtable and fittingly, after much discussion about grand strategy and John Boyd’s discourse, Elkus applies Boyd to our thorniest foreign policy problem – Iraq.

    Analysis: Boyd, Iraq and Strategy

    by Adam Elkus

    How do the theories of John Boyd speak to America’s most important international security issue, the war in Iraq? This is no idle question—if Boyd is as revolutionary a strategist as claimed, what do his ideas say about the war? Or rather, what does the war say about his ideas? I will examine Boyd’s influence on network-centric warfare and the strategy of “shock and awe,” as well as the Boydian subtext inherent in larger geostrategic issues.

    “Shock and Awe”

    The operational phase of the campaign was heavily inspired by Boydian theory. US forces isolated, paralyzed, and destroyed Saddam Hussein’s government in record-breaking speed. Many observers–especially retired military analysts on the major cable news networks–had predicted a quagmire. Despite my own (continuing) opposition to the war, it was surprising—and exhilarating—to see a murderous tyrant’s apparatus of oppression rapidly smashed to bits with a minimum of American casualties.

    The intellectual architect of the victory was Harlan Ullman, author of Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance. Ullman’s doctrine was heavily effects-based, using rapid and overwhelming force to attack the enemy’s cognition. Every bombing, tank thrust, or combined arms attack was designed to sever the psychological, organizational, and technological bond that maintained the power of the Hussein regime. Although “Shock and Awe” is seen in the public eye as emblematic of the Bush administration’s hubris, it was the perfect tool for destroying Baathist Iraq.

    Authoritarian regimes are not known for their adaptability, and Iraq was no exception. Hussein denied his subordinates the autonomy to act on their own or report accurate information, keeping them in constant fear of purge. Worse yet, any politician or soldier that had managed to rise to the top of the Baathist heap did so because of patronage, not ability. There was no way such a paranoid, authoritarian, and brittle system could survive the violent shock that “Shock and Awe” put it through. One can compare the effect to that of German blitzkrieg on Stalinist Russia in 1941.

    Although the greater strategic literature of effects-based operations (EBOs) makes little reference to Boyd, it is not hard to see where the ideas originated. Boyd’s Patterns of Conflict synthesized the airpower and maneuver warfare theorists and tied their strategies to ancient Eastern theorists such as Sun Tzu and Miyamoto Musashi. The end result was a strategy where force was designed to isolate, paralyze, and collapse the enemy instead of completely destroying his army. As Robert Corum and Grant Hammond recount in their biographies, Boyd’s tireless briefings created the intellectual environment for the military to create Boydian-derived (and frequently overlapping) strategic concepts such as EBO, “Shock and Awe,” and network-centric warfare (NCW).

    Destruction and Creation

    As Ralph Peters notes, the terrorists and guerrillas that oppose us in Iraq are even more “net-centric” than we are, with a fraction of our resources. Their networks have had tremendous success in targeting both Iraqi and American physical, mental, and moral centers of gravity with sophisticated military and psychological operations. Why is this?

    Noah Shachtman’s article in Wired recounts some of the more common failings of these theories in regards to counterinsurgency. They are exclusively state-centric, they apply little to fighting insurgents, criminals, and terrorists, and they provide excuses for the Pentagon to sate the gluttony of defense contractors. Yet the real problem is that strategies like NCW, EBO, and “Shock and Awe” fail the most crucial Boydian test–they are all about destruction. They do not provide a means for, as Boyd would say, “vitality and growth.”

    As Rupert Smith recounts in The Utility of Force, to win on today’s battlefield, the surest way to lose is to focus solely on destroying the enemy. Many (chief among them the tireless public diplomacy advocate Matt Armstrong) argue that the use of all segments of national power, military, economic, and political—is necessary for success. America has traditionally excelled at efficient, machine-tooled destruction, and failed at conducting the kind of holistic political-military struggle necessary for counterinsurgency.

    Although the Bush’s administration’s epic failure in post-conflict planning has justly been savaged, there are many aspects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that would be familiar to a Kennedy/Eisenhower-era Cold War hand like Edward Lansdale. We blunder about with little knowledge of the long-term consequences of our actions, or even how those actions fit into vaguely-defined grand strategy. We back lawless “open-source militias” in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia, but to what end? What purpose?

    Defense thought is also increasingly compartmentalized. Peruse any of the major military journals and you’ll see a blizzard of differing strategies, strategic concepts, and position papers, all which seem to exist in isolation to each other. Perhaps Boyd’s greatest strength was not the originality of his ideas, but his skill as a synthesizer, weaving the disparate strands of defense knowledge into a coherent worldview consistent from the tactical to grand strategic levels. Anyone familiar with American strategic history knows just how rare such synthesizers are.

    The leading task for future generations of American strategists is to produce another grand vision for continued success and survival. Many have attempted this great challenge. Only time will tell which dreamer proves to be Boyd’s intellectual heir.

    Originally posted at Rethinking Security.

    Download Dr. Osinga’s Dissertation on Colonel John Boyd here (1.7 MB pdf).

    Buy Science Strategy and War from Routledge.

    From Amazon.

    Previous Roundtable Posts


    Wilf Owen

    Dan tdaxp

    Dr. Chet Richards

    Shane Deichman



    Lexington Green

    Author’s reply by Colonel Frans Osinga.

    Click here to view all posts in the discussion.


    I’d like to take a moment and thank Dr. Osinga and our reviewers – Wilf Owen, Dan of tdaxp, Dr. Chet Richards, Shane Deichman, Historyguy99, Lexington Green and Adam Elkus along with Jonathan, the site administrator of Chicago Boyz who was always at the ready with technical assistance. The roundtable was a great success because of your efforts and participation and I’ll count the experience as one of the high points of my time blogging. I would like to close this with words of wisdom from Colonel John Boyd, as recounted by Martin Edwin Anderson:

    “One day you will come to a fork in the road. And you’re going to have to make a decision about what direction you want to go.” [Boyd] raised his hand and pointed. “If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments.” Then Boyd raised the other hand and pointed another direction. “Or you can go that way and you can do something – something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference.” He paused and stared. “To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do? Which way will you go?”

    Posted in Book Notes, Boyd/Osinga Roundtable, Military Affairs | 1 Comment »

    Osinga Roundtable on Science, Strategy and War: Author’s Reply by Frans Osinga

    Posted by Zenpundit on 11th February 2008 (All posts by )

    My struggle with Boyd

    by Colonel Frans Osinga, PhD

    Boyd’s work is titled A Discourse on Winning and Losing and the series of reviews and comments form exactly the sort of intellectual interaction Boyd sought to inspire. Judging by the quality of the reviews and comments it’s been a very fruitful week that has propelled the Boyd debate into a wider arena and has, I hope, given it a renewed impetus. It has highlighted how we should approach Boyd’s work as well as areas for further research.

    Somewhat to my surprise there was only one seriously critical review that questioned Boyd’s work, which was immediately hit upon in about 10 comments. I hope, and I believe Boyd actually would enjoy and encourage, that at some point we’ll see a substantial effort which in Popperian fashion aims to critique either Boyd’s work or my explanation/interpretation of his ideas, all in the spirit of the ‘dialectic engine’, the term Boyd often used for describing his comprehensive OODA loop. The debate can use someone who can be to Boyd what Mearsheimer has been to Liddell Hart.

    In fact, my own research on Boyd started out in that vein, but never got there. In stead of penning a ‘rebuttal’ to specific roundtable posts, perhaps I may absolve my obligation to conclude the roundtable discussion by adding some words concerning my own struggle with Boyd.

    I first came across Boyd’s name during the 1980s when, as a young cadet at the military academy, I (had to) read about this ‘new’ maneuver warfare school of thought. In the post Desert Storm doctrinal debates in NATO working groups I met Buster McCrabb, then at the faculty of the USAF School of Advanced Airpower Studies, who handed me a set of Boyd’s slides (Patterns of Conflict). It did not make much sense to me and I could not quite see what the fuss was about. In 1998-1999 I was fortunate to study at the SAAS and attend an elective on Boyd by Grant Hammond who was then working on his Boyd biography. Armed with these lectures Boyd’s slides began to gain meaning and depth, resulting in a chapter on Boyd as part of a larger paper in which I lined up a variety of strategists in the context of complexity theory.

    Back in the Netherlands, as the Director of Strategy and Air Power Studies of the Netherlands Defence College, I started to expand this chapter with the aim to develop a critique, as I had the impression that the ‘rapid OODA loop’ idea was somewhat limited and that Grant’s book was somewhat devoid of critical notes (which he admits by the way). It had already struck me that Boyd’s personal papers hardly contained political science literature, nor did I see much in terms of air power and nuclear strategy. Moreover, I did not see all that much on decision making theory which I considered odd in light of my understanding of the OODA loop as a model of the decision making process. I therefore drafted a 60 pp. paper in which I lined up most major concepts concerning decision making such as Allison’s models I-II-III, group think, Klein’s RPD model, etc., and examined what others had to say concerning the influence of stress, experience and culture on decision making. In addition I looked for other cybernetic models en vogue in the past 3 decades in decision making theory, all this in order to assess the validity of the OODA loop model. Meanwhile, Grant Hammond came over to deliver several lectures on Boyd to my students. My research (and Grant commented gracefully on a whole series of immature drafts) and Hammond’s lectures brought home to me three issues. First, after 150 pp of writing, I could not find that much fault with the comprehensive OODA loop and saw many similarities with other cybernetic models. Second, there was much more in Boyd’s work than ‘only’ the rapid OODA loop idea. Thirdly, if I still intended to develop a well-founded critique, I first needed to explain Boyd because at that point there was no solid accepted academic interpretation of his work. This was during the summer of 2001.

    By that time I was seconded to the Clingendael Institute of International Relations as the MoD Research Fellow. 9/11, OEF and OIF for some reason required my attention and only during the summer of 2003 could I seriously pick up the Boyd research (which had been accepted as subject of my dissertation). By then I had discovered that any proper attempt to explain his work would require explaining his ‘formative factors’. As any dissertation has distinct limits as far as length is concerned, it quickly transpired that explanation and not critique would be the main aim of my research (and the first 150 pp were therefore binned).

    That brings me to the book. My discussion of his formative factors is somewhat imbalanced in the sense that it does perhaps not convey the depth of this study of military history, in comparison to his study of various scientific literatures (the Routledge edition is shorter on the science bit than the thesis by the way). I chose to highlight the latter because military history is actually the most common – and more straightforward – source that strategic theorists derive their arguments from. Moreover, the discussion of Patterns of Conflict would reveal Boyd’s deep study of history and strategy anyway. Finally, I had the impression that Boyd gleaned quite a bit of original insights from in particular the scientific zeitgeist, but also that those insights came from studies not all that familiar to most people, and therefore in need of some elaborate explanation.

    Initially I limited myself to those studies that were explicitly annotated and those that Boyd explicitly referred to (buying most of the books second hand at Powell’s). It struck me how significant and deep the scientific developments have been during the years that Boyd developed his ideas and how many cross references one can find among the books Boyd read. I had problems with understanding information theory but secondary sources helped out with that. A fruitful visit to the archives at the USMC University at Quantico underpinned my suspicion that Boyd was ‘deep’ into science from the first moment on, and that in his subsequent explorations he continuously found confirmation of his initial impressions that he laid out in the essay Destruction and Creation and A New Conception of Air to Air Combat. It also highlighted that the influence of science grew over the years in comparison to military history.

    In the end I had to hurry finalizing the thesis as I learned in September 2004 I was to be posted to HQ SACT, the NATO HQ in Norfolk Virginia in January 2005. The thesis is therefore marred by a variety of editorial glitches. The subsequent Routledge edition has benefited from a major editorial (and painfully frustrating) process lasting about a year. It is shorter, more concise and it allowed me to add some relevant comments concerning Boyd’s scientific sources. For both the thesis and the shorter book I want to acknowledge my considerable debts to Grant Hammond, Chet Richards, Barry Watts, Dick Safranski and Bill Lind.

    My own view of Boyd – briefly – is that (albeit biased) he developed a very impressive, rich and coherent set of ideas, often with elements of profound novelty, with a wide range of applicability (see for instance the presentation of Chet Richard’s et al on Boyd/4GW and the Iraqi insurgency, but also the various presentations/papers on the DNI site where Boyd’s ideas are applied in an increasing number of environments). It is many things and refuses to be captured by one-liners or simple icons. In my presentation at the Boyd Conference last July I tried to convey a sense of ‘what’ Boyd’s work is in the following slide.

    A Discourse is:

    An epistemological investigation
    A military history & search for patterns of winning and losing
    An argument against:
    – Attritionist mindset
    – Deterministic thinking & predictability
    – Techno-fetishism
    A rediscovery of the mental/moral dimensions of war
    A philosophy for command and control
    A redefinition of strategy
    A search for the essence of strategic interaction
    A plea for organizational learning and adaptability
    An argument on strategic thinking

    It must rank among the few general theories of war. He is certainly one of the prime contemporary strategists. Sure, his is not the final word on strategy. Indeed, he left an unfinished legacy, in line with his view that understanding war – a social behaviour with evolving features – requires a constant multidisciplinary search for improved and updated insights. Moreover, one will struggle if one wants to distil from Boyd’s work distinct ‘how-to’ guidelines for campaign planning. As with all major theorists and intellectual innovators there are also distinct ‘hooks’ in his work for developing critique. But as a guide on what sort of intellectual attitude and activity is required for understanding war and strategy I’ve found him invaluable. Trying to understand him was (and remains) a challenging but equally rewarding education. It has significantly broadened my intellectual horizon. Boyd made me think. And that was his whole point because A Discourse on Winning and Losing at heart is about ‘intellectual evolution and growth’, as he wrote in the margins of a number of books.

    As with Liddell Hart or Clausewitz, a period will come when his ideas will be dismissed, completed or improved upon. Areas for further research might be gleaned from my various shortfalls. I did not explore to the full the literature on business and management, as I could not find that many direct references to that literature in Boyd’s work, nor have I properly assessed whether Boyd interpreted the various scientific literatures correctly. Although I believe Boyd was certainly not alone in applying concepts gleaned from the sciences to human behaviour, perhaps he sometimes overstepped the bounds, but I have not explored that either. Neither have I examined fully to what extend Boyd was unduly selective or biased in his study of military history (although at times I’ve hinted at it).

    Last week’s roundtable itself however is indicative of the rising stature of Boyd, a decade after his death. This roundtable also confirms once more my view that, among the Western nations, the US harbours the liveliest intellectual environment for debating security and strategy related issues. From my perspective it was very gratifying – indeed flattering – to read all the positive comments. But I am also sincerely modest. The roundtable was first and foremost about Boyd’s intellectual legacy, and I consider my book akin to the Sawyer or Cleary introductions to Sun Tzu; they serve as texts to tease out meaning of sometimes rather cryptic sentences and paragraphs handed to us by greater minds. As I’ve told Chet Richards, Dick Safranski, Grant Hammond, Bill Lind and Frank Hoffman, what pleased me most about their positive reviews of my book in the past two of years were their remarks that I’ve done justice to Boyd’s intellectual efforts. That was my main aim but also my prime concern throughout the process.

    Boyd generously shared his ideas, liberally handing out his presentations, all with the intent to educate. He would probably have loved the blogs. Hence, although I am probably shooting myself in the foot with this, but in the spirit of Boyd, I have attached a pdf copy of my dissertation from which the book has been derived. Let’s spread the meme of Boyd’s ideas.

    Any questions/comments? You can contact me at:

    Download Dr. Osinga’s Dissertation on Colonel John Boyd here (1.7 MB pdf).

    Buy Science Strategy and War from Routledge.

    From Amazon.

    Previous Roundtable Posts


    Wilf Owen

    Dan tdaxp

    Dr. Chet Richards

    Shane Deichman



    Lexington Green

    Click here to view all posts in the discussion.

    Posted in Book Notes, Boyd/Osinga Roundtable, Military Affairs | Comments Off on Osinga Roundtable on Science, Strategy and War: Author’s Reply by Frans Osinga

    Osinga Roundtable on Science, Strategy and War: Zenpundit

    Posted by Zenpundit on 10th February 2008 (All posts by )

    Much of this roundtable discussion and the the larger conversation on other sites, has centered on the merit of John Boyd’s ideas and how well-deserved is his rising reputation as a strategic thinker. This is understandable, given the focus of Science, Strategy and War, it is natural to hone in on the subject of Dr. Osinga’s study, the colorful and enigmatic Colonel John Boyd. I would like to take a moment and first consider the nature of Science, Strategy and War itself because this book represents a remarkably well-crafted example of scholarly writing.

    With Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd, which began as a doctoral dissertation, Colonel Frans Osinga engaged less in typical research and analysis than an expedition into intellectual archaeology. Boyd left a legacy that was at once impressive in terms of its depth and cognitive range, yet frustratingly elusive in the paucity and obscurity of the primary sources and the complexity and difficulty of the secondary ones. As many commentators have pointed out, John Boyd left behind no magnum opus; just a few formal papers, aging briefing slides, notes and copious marginalia furiously scrawled in books in fields as diverse as higher mathematics, classics, military history, theoretical physics, psychology, economics, philosophy, evolutionary biology and cybernetics.

    The great historian Leopold von Ranke told his students that it was a historian’s job to “…show how it really was”. For Dr. Osinga, that meant getting into the head of John Boyd as his thinking evolved over several decades. For example, reading what Boyd read in order to ascertain how well Boyd understood, say, Complexity theory or Clausewitz, Postmodernism or Polanyi, Godel or Guderian. Most scholars would find that kind of secondary reading, absolutely required before subjecting Boyd’s briefs to a rigorous critical analysis, daunting. Thumb through the notes and bibliography of Science, Strategy and War and read the periodic commentary by Osinga on Boyd’s use or exclusion of particular sources – for example, Schumpeter, Douhet, Liddell Hart and van Creveld. This is not an analysis that could have be done with drive-by citations and Osinga’s effort shows in the resultant quality of Science, Strategy and War. Dr. Osinga, in my view, has “shown how it really was”.

    Osinga’s John Boyd is a master synthesizer, itself a relatively rare intellectual quality, but also the author of highly original insights regarding the principles of moral conflict who wanted to teach his audience to be creative, adaptive, strategic thinkers who were hungry to survive and thrive in the competitive environment of life. Boyd was among the first to grasp that human organizations were really complex, adaptive, systems (what complexity theorist Yaneer Bar-Yam would call “superorganisms”) that thrived or declined in accordance with Darwinian conceptions. Boyd was, as I infer from Science, Strategy and War, an apostle of dynamism and the ecology paradigm just now coming into vogue. It was a pity that Boyd died when he did as the subsequent advent of network theory and research into scale-free networks and modularity have done much to lend validity to his strategic speculations and reinforce his rejection of static, mechanistic, linear thinking in military affairs.

    What remains to be done with Boyd or exists outside the scope of Science, Strategy and War ? There is the matter of Boyd’s influence on the 1991 Gulf War, acknowledged by senior officials but unknown in specific detail. Boyd’s contribution to Marine Corps doctrine and other schools of thought ( NCW, 4GW, EBO) have been dealt with piecemeal by other authors, notably Robert Coram, and Boyd’s principal collaborators but not in a systematic fashion. Boyd’s efforts in the military reform movement also cry out for closer examination as well the continuation of the Boydian debate by Boyd’s disciples and critics. These matters have yet to be brought under one roof in the manner that Frans Osinga has done with Boyd’s strategic theory and remain as projects for investigation by future scholars.

    Colonel Osinga has written a pivotal book in Science, Strategy and War that will be the touchstone text on John Boyd, an emergent classic at the intersection between 20th century intellectual history and strategic theory.

    Buy Science Strategy and War from Routledge.

    From Amazon.

    Previous Roundtable Posts


    Wilf Owen

    Dan tdaxp

    Dr. Chet Richards

    Shane Deichman


    Click here to view all posts in the discussion.

    Posted in Book Notes, Boyd/Osinga Roundtable, Military Affairs | 2 Comments »

    SWJ Blog: Hoffman on Osinga and Boyd

    Posted by Zenpundit on 7th February 2008 (All posts by )

    I’d like to highlight a post that, while not part of the roundtable unfolding here, certainly represents an informed and welcome addition to the discussion of John Boyd’s strategic vision as analyzed by Dr. Frans Osinga:

    Frank Hoffman, the respected military theorist and contributor to the excellent SWJ Blog has weighed in with a timely review:

    Unlocking the Keys to Victory

    The intellectual contributions of the late Colonel John Boyd, USAF, have already been the subject of two fine biographies. Robert Coram’s Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War provided a window into Boyd’s life as a fighter pilot, technical innovator and maverick defense reformer. Grant Hammond’s Mind at War John Boyd and American Security summarized Boyd’s main arguments. Both of these efforts are well regarded and helped rectify the limited record Boyd left behind. Regrettably, Boyd’s career is too often truncated into well known “OODA Loop.”

    But Boyd had a lot more to offer. His contributions to flying tactics, fighter development, and operational theory are profound. The historical analyses and scientific theories he employed are not well documented nor well understood. This is principally due to Boyd’s reliance on briefing slides. Colonel Frans Osinga fills out our collective understanding with The Science, Strategy and War. In this very deliberate review, the author works his way through the arguments and source material of Boyd’s famous briefs including “Patterns of Conflict” and “A Discourse on Winning and Losing.” He highlights the diverse sources that shaped Boyd’s thinking and offers a comprehensive overview and remarkable synthesis of his work, and demonstrates that Boyd’s is much more comprehensive, strategically richer and deeper than is generally thought.

    Read the rest here.

    Posted in Book Notes, Boyd/Osinga Roundtable, Military Affairs | Comments Off on SWJ Blog: Hoffman on Osinga and Boyd

    Osinga Roundtable on Science, Strategy and War: Historyguy99

    Posted by Zenpundit on 6th February 2008 (All posts by )

    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

    Posted in Book Notes, Boyd/Osinga Roundtable, Military Affairs | Comments Off on Osinga Roundtable on Science, Strategy and War: Historyguy99

    Osinga Roundtable on Science, Strategy and War: Shane Deichman

    Posted by Zenpundit on 6th February 2008 (All posts by )

    By Shane Deichman

    In an October 1939 radio broadcast, Winston Churchill described the Soviet Union as “… a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” The same can be said of the late Colonel John Boyd, whose prowess as a fighter pilot and whose lectures on the relationship between energy and maneuverability revolutionized the U.S. Air Force – but who published no books. Rather, his legacy was left in a stack of acetate vu-graphs (thankfully digitized by Chet Richards) and reams of personal papers. For his studious review of the latter, distilling the mind of Boyd into book form, Col/Dr Frans P.B. Osinga deserves our gratitude. He has played Clausewitz to Boyd’s Napoleon.

    In Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd, Osinga presents us with a fascinating “deep dive” into the evolution of a brilliant thinker – a thinker who devoted his life to applied learning and teaching. Though it is unfortunate that Boyd did not see fit to publish his theories in book form (unsurprising given his professional environment far from the Ivory Towers of academe), it is evident from his 1,500+ presentations that he rigorously developed and willingly shared his ideas. Boyd’s stamina (both mental and physical) to lecture for more than a dozen hours at a time is testament to his devotion and his determination to succeed.

    Osinga nicely complements the work of Boyd biographers (most notably Coram, Hammond and Richards) by dedicating the preponderance of his 300+ pages to how Boyd’s thinking evolved – describing his intellectual influences from the expected (Sun Tzu, Clausewitz) to the unexpected (Popper, Kuhn, Polanyi). Particular attention is given to the influence of classical physicists (Newton) as well as quantum theorists and mathematicians (Heisenberg, Gödel).

    Boyd embodied the now-popular notion of the “Medici Effect”, a horizontal thinker who integrated perspectives across multiple, seemingly-divergent disciplines into a cohesive whole. His insights have proven applicable to a wide array of topics, and foretold of the emerging science of complexity theory (though I dislike Osinga’s use of the composite term “chaoplexity”, which undermines the distinction between “chaotic” – i.e., non-linear and seemingly random – and “complex” – i.e., a large number of interrelated properties or parameters). Given the swagger of the fighter pilot who bested the “best” in air-to-air combat in forty seconds or less, there is no doubt that Boyd – were he alive today – would be a prolific ‘blogger, and a Chicago Boyz contributor whose inputs would outweigh all of our Roundtable writings combined.

    While many associate Boyd solely with the “OODA Loop”, he has given us far more than just a lexicon – just as Tom Barnett’s work is far more than simply “Core – Gap” and “Leviathan – SysAdmin”. Regardless of one’s willingness to accept his ideas, the sheer effort Boyd invested in his research – and Osinga’s effort in compiling the salient points for us – is an invaluable tool in anyone’s intellectual toolbox.

    The motto of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration is Litera Scripta Manet: “The written word endures.” It is ironic that intellectuals tend to revere the commentator more so than the subject on whom they write: Herodotus over Leonidas, Thucydides over Pericles, Clausewitz over Napoleon. If history is consistent, then in a hundred years the name Osinga may be equally associated with the name of Boyd.

    Cross-posted at Wizards of Oz

    Previous Roundtable Posts


    Wilf Owen

    Dan tdaxp

    Dr. Chet Richards

    Click here to view all posts in the discussion

    Posted in Book Notes, Boyd/Osinga Roundtable, Military Affairs | Comments Off on Osinga Roundtable on Science, Strategy and War: Shane Deichman

    Osinga Roundtable on Science, Strategy and War: Chet Richards

    Posted by Zenpundit on 5th February 2008 (All posts by )

    Where Boyd Got the Discourse

    By Chet Richards

    attached chartThe attached chart is my contribution to the Big Boyd Blog-a-thon starting Monday, February 4, 2008, over at the Chicago Boyz blog.

    Boyd, like Clausewitz and Musashi, drew on the totality of knowledge in his day for ideas. As Osinga and Coram documented (and I know from personal experience), Boyd devoured his sources. We used to joke that if Boyd didn’t write more in a book than the author did, it must not have been a very good book. As a result, he developed not just a knowledge of but a fluency in most of these subjects.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Boyd/Osinga Roundtable, Military Affairs | 2 Comments »

    Osinga Roundtable on Science, Strategy and War: Dan tdaxp

    Posted by Zenpundit on 5th February 2008 (All posts by )

    A History of the OODA Loop

    By Dan tdaxp

    This post was written as part of the roundtable on Frans Osinga’s Science, Strategy, and War. Contributions have already been made by Chet Richards and Wilf Owen.

    “To a certain extent the argument is valid that Boyd offered merely a synthesis of existing theories, a contemporary one, important and timely regarding the context of the 1970s and 1980s, but only a synthesis.”
    Osinga, 2007, pg 29

    John Boyd’s OODA Loop divides cognition into four processes, perception (called Observation), unconscious or implicit thought (called Orientation), conscious of explicit though (called Decision), and behavior (called Action). Frans Osinga’s “Science, Strategy, and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd” does an excellent job describing the origins of Boyd’s learning theory in the writings of Skinner, Piaget, and the cognitivists. However, Osinga’s text excludes ongoing research into theories of learning related to OODA, as his text is focused on the development of the OODA model in particular rather than contemporary adaption. Fortunately, a recent review article by Jonathan St. B.T. Evans serves helps complete the picture, though the OODA loop is not mentioned there by name. Osinga’s book is well worth purchasing, and can be thought of as as prolegomena to all future OODA work.

    The OODA Loop


    The “OODA loop,” or “Boyd Cycle” (Osinga, page 2) is a dual-processing model of thought. That is, it supposes the existence of two seperate central executives inside each human mind. The first of these, “Orientation,” is activated immediately by perception (called Observation by Boyd) and is capable of directly controlling behavior (likewise, called Action). Orientation is closely associated with long term memory. As Osinga writes on pages 236 to 237:

    In order to avoid predictability and ensuring adaptability to a variety of challenges, it is essential to have a repertoire of orientation patterns and the ability to select the correct one according to the situation at hand while denying the opponent the latter capability. Moreover, Boyd emphasizes the capability to validate the schemata before and during operations and the capability to devise and incorporate new ones, if one is to survive in a rapidly changing environment…. verifying existing beliefs and expectations, and if necessary modifying these in a timely matter, is crucial. The way to play the game of interaction and isolation is to spontaneously generate new mental images that match up with an unfolding work of uncertainty and change, Boyd asserted…”

    The second central executive, Decision, analogous to conscious thought, or what attention is spent on. As Osinga writes, “Decision is the component in which actors decide among actions alternatives that are generated in the orientation phase.” Unlike orientation, decision faces limits in how much it can handle, and therefore relies on orientation to present it which simplified and categorized chunks in which to work.

    John Boyd’s model was purposefully designed as an cognitive and learning theory based on mainstream work within psychology. As Osinga writes on page 53:

    On 15 October 1972 he wrote from his base in Thailand to his wife that ‘I may be on the trail of a theory of learning quite different and – it appears now more powerful than methods or theories currently in use’. Learning for him was synonymous for the process of creativity

    In particular, Boyd’s theory was based on the work of Jean Piaget, B.F. Skinner, and the earlier cognitivists. Boyd combined each of these traditions, though revised some elements. From Piaget he both took the concept of mental structures, as well as suspicion of the power of logical analysis alone as a proper epistemological tool. To again quote Osinga (page 68)

    Boyd also came across another source of uncertainty. As Jean Piaget asserted in the book Boyd read for his essay, ‘In 1931 Kurt Gödel made a discovery which created a tremendous stir, because it undermined the then prevailing formalism, according to which mathematics was reducible to logic and logic could be exhaustively formalized. Gödel established definitely that the formalist program cannot be executed’.

    As Osinga describes in Chapter 3, “Science,” Boyd drew from both Skinner and the cognitivists the power of environmental feedback. Consider the relatively trivial cognitive or cybernetic proposition on page 72 that:

    “A feedback loop is a circular arrangement of casually connected elements, in which an initial cause propagates around the links of the loop, so that each element has an effect on the next, until the last ‘feeds back’ into the first element of the cycle. The consequence is that the first link (‘input’) is affected by the last (‘output’), which results in self-regulation fo the entire system.

    Osinga then proceeds to discuss the OODA loop as Boyd applied it, touching only briefly on Chapter 7 of some applications of Boydian thought to areas of military operations. However, Osinga does not emphasize the areas in which the OODA loop itself is still unique, but only compares it to either incorrect renditions of the OODA model (such as the “simplified” rendition Osinga shows on page 2) or to theories that preceded OODA (such as a cybernetic model without feedback and “(Reflex)” instead of orientation or System 2, on page 75).

    Consider, for instance, two other models, one by Jon St. Evans published in 2006 and the other by Richard Moreno, published in 1990. Using different terms, the Evans model describes the role of Orientation (called by him System 1) and Decision (called by him System 2). Orientation or System 1 initially activates, and it may either lead to conceptual change or else inform further System 2 deliberation. However, Evans’ model lacks the cybernetic or cognitive function of feedback, and does not describe how the last function would inform the first. Boyd’s OODA loop, by attaching both Action and Observation to the environment, therefore may be described as a completed Evans model.

    Information Processing


    Likewise, the OODA loop completes the Moreno model. Moreno’s description of learning focuses on the transformation of information in the external world to long term memory. In particular, Moreno’s ongoing research focuses on the limited ability of explicit though to handle all information that should be learned. However, Moreno does not view long term memory as much other than an end-state for information (rather than the abode of Boyd’s Orientation or Evans’ System 1). Additionally, like Evans, Moreno does not connect the last stage of his model with his first.

    Dual Processing


    Just as Osinga does not compare the OODA loop with other contemporary models, he does not describe contemporary research that further describes the difference between Orientation and Decision. The research on the subject is now well established, and Table 2 in Evans’ 2008 paper “Dual-Processing Accounts of Reasoning, Judgment, and Social Cognition,” in the 2008 edition fo the Annual Review of Psychology, provides a synopsis of the distinction between Orientation (System 1) and Decision (System 2)

    System 1 System 2
    Cluster 1 (Consciousness)
    Unconscious (preconscious) Conscious
    Implicit Explicit
    Automatic Controlled
    Low effort High effort
    Rapid Slow
    High capacity Low capacity
    Default process Inhibitory
    Holistic, perceptual Analytic, reflective
    Cluster 2 (Evolution)
    Evolutionarily old Evolutionarily recent
    Evolutionary rationality Individual rationality
    Shared with animals Uniquely human
    Non-verbal Linked to language
    Modular cognition Fluid intelligence
    Cluster 3 (Functional characteristics)
    Associative Rule-based
    Domain-specific Domain-general
    Contextualised Abstract
    Pragmatic Logical
    Parallel Sequential
    Stereotypical Egalitarian
    Cluster 4 (Individual differences)
    Universal Heritable
    Independent of general intelligence Linked to general intelligence
    Independent of working memory Limited by working memory capacity


    Frans Osinga’s Science, Strategy, and War is a groundbreaking book on the OODA loop, describing in excellent detail how it originated. Buy it. What is needed now is an comparison of the OODA loop to contemporary theories of learning and an application of OODA in light of the newest research.

    Evans, J. St. B. (2006). The heuristic-analytic theory of reasoning: Extension and evaluation. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 13(3), 378-395.
    Evans, J. St. B. (2008). Dual-processing accounts of reasoning, judgment and social cognition. Annual Review of Psychology, 59, doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.59.103006.093629.
    Mayer, R.E. (1996). Learners as information processors: Legacies and limitations of Educational Psychology’s second metaphor. Educational Psychologist, 31(3/4), 151-161.
    Osinga, F.P.B. (2007). Science, strategy, and war: The strategic theory of John Boyd. New York: Routledge.

    This entry is cross-posted at

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    Wilf Owen


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    Posted in Book Notes, Boyd/Osinga Roundtable, Military Affairs | 1 Comment »

    Osinga Roundtable on Science, Strategy and War: Wilf Owen

    Posted by Zenpundit on 4th February 2008 (All posts by )

    By Wilf Owen

    The central premise of this book is to explain the military thought of the late Colonel John Boyd. The intention is honest enough, and indeed it is somewhat extraordinary that ten years after the death of a man that so many have lauded as being a giant of late 20th century military thought, no one has previously attempted to do what this book succeeds in doing.

    The fact that no one previously attempted such a task is to my mind indicative of John Boyd’s actual contribution to military thought. I admit to being a Boyd sceptic and this book merely confirmed all my doubts about his work, which I had harboured since reading the Coram and Hammond biographies. This book, like the biographies, is based on the premise that Boyd was an important and profound thinker on War. This is not a view I would share, but I concede he was vastly influential. Influential does not mean good. Was Boyd any good is the question the book should answer.

    The book itself is a work of real scholarship. It is well written and well laid out, and Osinga does the best he can to make some of the more tedious aspects of Boyd’s work appear interesting. This is a not inconsiderable task given the nature of the material. It should be remembered that Boyd left no definitive published work. He did leave behind a vast pile of slides, papers and considerable personal library, and this is what forms his legacy. So unlike Sun-Tzu, Clausewitz, or even Machiavelli, there is no body of work to disseminate, critique and discuss. Despite this, he is constantly cited as being as the best brain behind the so-called transformation of the US military. The main problem I have with Osinga’s work is that this is just accepted, with no examination of the evidence that Boyd is worthy of all the accolades that are heaped upon him. While the work does illustrate the detail of Boyd’s military thought, I found myself writing “so what” in the margins far too many times. Those who are convinced of the efficacy of the OODA loop, will find much to aid in the defence of their position, while those of us who see no merit in the idea, are left un-swayed. Such is the nature is of military thought with all it’s human and intellectual impedimenta.

    At the end of the day, you are still left with highly complex, arcane and somewhat pointless body of work, which is of dubious merit to either a student or practitioner of the military profession. Boyd undoubtedly knew and understood more about fighter air to air combat than almost anyone else in the USAF, but this insight did not translate to an understanding of land warfare and strategy in general.

    The most intriguing part of the work is the revelation that Boyd was strongly influence by Basil Liddell-Hart and his work on the “Strategy of the Indirect Approach.” What Boyd, seemed to be unaware of, what that Liddell-Hart is a figure of some considerable controversy, as the works by Brian Bond, J.P. Harris and John Mearsheimer have clearly shown. Liddell-Hart probably did more harm than good, and might even provide a case study in the dangers or tampering with national defense policy, while unhindered by data or deep understanding. Add to this any informed analysis of the “Strategy of the Indirect Approach,” and it would seem that Boyd was greatly influenced by at least one thinker of dubious merit. I had always believed that Boyd started with a clean sheet of paper and studied military history with a view to identifying common patterns of success. Osigna’s research seems to indicate this is not so. Boyd seems to have embraced the inter-war polemicists, such as Liddell-Hart, Fuller and even T.E. Lawrence, certain that their insights may hold some kind of truth. To accept Lawrence, as having some kind of insight is particularly odd, unless one is prepared to give General Allenby more, if not at least equal, merit. Indeed Osinga’s work mentions Lawrence some 37 times while never once mentioning Allenby. Critically this might indicate that Boyd swallowed whole, Liddell-Harts self-serving criticism of Allenby.

    However, my scepticism of Boyd’s contribution and the value of his work will be entirely irrelevant to an audience largely convinced of his sagacity. At the end of the day, those who believe John Boyd to be a great military thinker will merely cite this work as demonstrating it. Indeed I would suggest the Boyd’s reputation was built largely on the reaction of the audiences, and thus fan base, to his many lengthy presentations. That reaction was that an elderly and clearly well read Air Force Colonel an combat veteran had to be saying something profound and his citing of works that, at the time, almost certainly none of his audience had read (in the pre-internet book finding and .pdf age) merely contributed to image that they were standing at the feet of an intellectual giant. Everybody wants to love an outlaw, critique and radical thinker. “In the kingdom of the blind the one-eyed man is king”. This is in no way to suggest that Boyd was a fraud or that all of his audiences were stupid. They merely formed opinions that existed in isolation from ideas and information that would have challenged Boyd’s insights. The British military thinker, Brigadier Richard Simpkin pre-deceased Boyd by eleven years and one year after the publication of his magnum opus Race to the Swift. The size of the work, combined with the rank and the death of its author seemed to convince a whole generation of British and US Army officers that the work had un-questioned merit. Thus, it is of note, that Simpkin, an extremely well-known and widely published student of Deep Operations Theory, and thus it’s illegitimate step child, manoeuvre warfare, is not mentioned in Osinga’s work once. Indeed Simpkins views on Maneuver warfare are some of the most useful there are, yet it seems to have made no impact on Boyd’s work, or none that seems worthy of mention. This, in itself, is incredible. Even more so, in that Simpkin mirrored Boyd’s use of the language of science, and specifically physics, to create analogies he deemed useful to military theory (as did Clausewitz!).

    The merit of this book is that it contributes to a necessary debate on the perceived relevance of John Boyd to useful modern military thought. To my mind, this debate is long overdue, as Boyd’s ideas are often cited as being the foundation of a whole raft of vastly dubious concepts such as Maneuver Warfare, Effects Based Operations, Fourth generation warfare and even Distributed Operations. Military thought should be the product of logic, and empirical evidence. Indeed the faults in Boyd’s work, like many other military thinkers, lies in its selective use of evidence to support pre-existing conceptions of how something might be done better, and then branding this as insight, instead of confirmation of what we already knew. Ultimately, the thought itself becomes irrelevant to the human need to have a hero to follow or a bright new idea to cling to. Boyd contribution is to provide that in abundance, and this work succeeds in providing what should be judged a generally accurate analysis of the material that supports those beliefs.

    Mr. Owen is the Editor of Asian Military Review.

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    Posted in Book Notes, Boyd/Osinga Roundtable, Military Affairs | 11 Comments »

    Osinga Roundtable on Science, Strategy and War: Introduction

    Posted by Zenpundit on 4th February 2008 (All posts by )

    Despite having been an influential and controversial figure inside the Pentagon, the late Colonel John Boyd has only recently come to wider public attention due to the excellent biography written by Robert Coram. Even so, much of what the public knows about Boyd relates to popular anecdotes of his connection to the F-15 and F-16 fighters and Boyd’s consultancy to then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney on the eve of the First Gulf War. Of Boyd’s ideas, the best known would be the OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide Act) which has become a fairly widespread diagram in military literature and also in business management courses where competitive decision making is emphasized. Other than that, the corpus of Boyd’s work is well known only to a relatively small number of collaborators, reformers, theorists and military professionals who had been personally influenced by Colonel Boyd.

    This was partly Boyd’s own fault. A tireless briefer and formidable mentor, Boyd wrote only a few papers and never attempted a magnum opus, preferring to evolve his thinking through the intellectual give-and-take of briefing sessions, deep reading, discussion and reflection. While Boyd’s slides remain readily available online at DNI and, the context that Colonel Boyd created when he gave his talks is not always obvious to the viewer. As a result, a summative statement and analysis of Boyd’s strategic theory had been lacking until now.

    Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd by Colonel Frans P. Osinga has filled that breach. A meticulous study of the origins and meaning of the ideas of John Boyd, Science Strategy and War has been endorsed as “The book John Boyd would have written” by no less than William Lind, a Boyd collaborator and the “Father of Fourth Generation Warfare”. As such, Science, Strategy and War is the most complete exposition of Boyd’s ideas that we are likely to see for some time to come.

    But what are those ideas? Are they as valid and important a contribution to the art of war as Boyd’s defenders and biographers claim? Do they have relevance in today’s wars or offer wider application beyond military strategy? Has Dr. Osinga gotten to the heart of the matter in his book, Science, Strategy and War ?

    These are the questions, among others, that this roundtable will attempt to answer. Our reviewers are an impressive group who will tackle John Boyd and Frans Osinga’s treatment of him from a variety of perspectives. To introduce them (some prefer to blog with varying degrees of anonymity and I am respecting that):

    William F. “Wilf” Owen – A military writer and Editor of The Asian Military Review. A military theorist with a special interest in tactical doctrine. Wilf Owen served for twelve years in the British Army and is a member of the Small Wars Council.

    Shane Deichman – Former Science Adviser to JFCOM. Particle physicist. Managing Director of Operations for IATGR. Managing Director of EnterraSolutions, LLC. ORCAS (Oak Ridge). Blogger, Wizards of Oz, Dreaming 5GW.

    Adam Elkus – free-lance writer for Defense & The National Interest, The Huffington Post, Athena Intelligence, Foreign Policy in Focus. Blogger, Rethinking Security, Dreaming 5GW.

    Lexington Green of Chicago Boyz

    “Dan of tdaxp” – Dan of tdaxp is currently working on his third advanced degree, a doctorate in psychology. Computer programmer/web designer. Lecturer. Blogger at tdaxp, Dreaming 5GW.

    “Historyguy99” – Historian. Veteran of the Vietnam War. Blogger, HG’s World.

    Mark Safranski – Teacher, Educational consultant. Adviser, Conversationbase, LLC. Contributor, HNN. Member, Small Wars Council. Blogger, Zenpundit, Chicago Boyz.

    We are also very pleased to have an author’s rebuttal/response at the conclusion of the reviews, from:

    Dr. Frans Osinga – Colonel, Royal Netherlands Air Force. Fighter Pilot. Associate Professor of War Studies at the Netherlands Defense Academy. Formerly, of Nato’s Supreme Allied Command Transformation. Research Fellow, Clingendael Institute of International Relations. Author of Science, Strategy and War:The Strategic Theory of John Boyd.

    Please feel free to join in on the discussion in the comments section whether you are a reviewer or not, a military buff, skeptic or are simply curious about John Boyd and Science, Strategy and War.

    Next up, our first review.

    ADDENDUM – Other Links of Interest:

    John Boyd’s Book” by William S. Lind

    Science, Strategy and War The Strategic Theory of John Boyd – DNI Review by Chet Richards, DNI Editor

    Where Boyd Got the Discourse” by Dr. Chet Richards

    Boyd and Lind RebuttalThe Small Wars Council

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    Posted in Book Notes, Boyd/Osinga Roundtable, Military Affairs | 2 Comments »

    Announcement: Roundtable on Osinga’s Science, Strategy and War

    Posted by Zenpundit on 1st February 2008 (All posts by )


    On Monday, February 4th, Chicago Boyz will be hosting a blogging roundtable on Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd by Colonel Frans P. Osinga. Slightly over ten years since his death, the influential strategist and iconoclastic USAF Colonel John Boyd remains a subject of controversy despite the fact that (or more likely, because) many of his ideas impacted and informed military “transformation”, Network-centric Operations and the theory of 4th Generation Warfare.

    The full introductory post will be made on Monday but I am pleased to say that we have a very strong stable of reviewers and that the author, Dr. Osinga, has agreed to participate in the discussion.
    Click here to view all posts in this discussion.

    Posted in Announcements, Boyd/Osinga Roundtable, History, Military Affairs, War and Peace | 5 Comments »