August 19, 2013
An Essay on John Boyd and the State of Affairs in America's Defense Establishment with an Introduction by Chuck Spinney
Most readers should be familiar with the name, if not the ideas, of the late American strategist Col John R. Boyd (USAF ret). Boyd was my mentor and closest friend, and I am deeply indebted to him for the knowledge he so generously bestowed on me. While no short essay can capture the entirety of Boyd's thinking, attached below is an excellent introduction to what some might call John Boyd's art of war. It is written by my friend and colleague Bill Lind, a leading contributor to the Military Reform Movement in the 1980s. Of particular importance is Bill's concluding point about 'open systems.' But you need to understand Boyd's work to understand the centrality of this point in strategy and grand strategy.
Lind's essay is very timely, given that Republicans and Democrats alike have driven America into a grand-strategic cul de sac that is weakening our position abroad, while wrecking our democracy at home. IMO, this grand-strategic trap is a self-inflicted wound and is well summarized by Lind. (Boyd's criteria for a sensible grand strategy can be found here.) Hopefully, Lind's essay will tweak your interest in Boyd's important work.
Exiting America's grand strategic mess will not be easy because the Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex and its wholly owned subsidiaries in academia, the thinktanks, the pol-mil apparat, and the mass media have a vested interest in continuing down what has become a clearly a self-destructive evolutionary pathway. A parasitical "faction" is now exploiting the interplay of chance and necessity to benefit itself at the expense of the "whole." Boyd's ideas -- particularly those relating to his moral design for grand strategy -- offer a way to begin thinking about how to get off this pathway and return to one where the interplay of chance of necessity leads more naturally to salutary growth at home and abroad.
If you are not familiar with Boyd and his ideas, my advice is to start with Robert Coram's superb biography, (about 100,000 sold and still in print). It is by far the best general introduction to the man and his work. Those interested in heavier lifting can dive into James Fallows', Chet Richards,' and Franz Ozinga's analyses of Boyd's strategic thought. For the truly masochistic, a complete compendium of Boyd's briefings slides can be downloaded from this link. But beware, these briefings are long, albeit highly condensed, idiosyncratic, and a bit didactical. Nevertheless, determined readers will find their study to be infinitely rewarding, because like the writing of Sun Tzu, their essence is one of ever expanding timelessness.
William S. Lind is author of the Maneuver Warfare Handbook and director of the American Conservative Center for Public Transportation, where he also writes from time to time on national security issues. Many of his earlier articles (before December 2009) are archived at DNIPOGO.org The views expressed here are his own.
The goal of the Straus Military Reform Project is to secure far more effective military forces and much more ethical and professional military and civilian leadership at significantly lower budget levels.
We would like to thank Philip A. Straus Jr. and family for their generous support.