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Boyd and Beyond 2014 Agenda

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

[by J. Scott Shipman]

This is the agenda for Boyd and Beyond 2014:



In case you’ve not seen on Facebook or LinkedIn:

Attached is the agenda for Boyd and Beyond 2014. Dave Lyle, a first time speaker, will be our lead-off for Friday morning with War and Metaphor—-unless Robert Coram or Tom Christie show up–Robert is 50/50 and Tom has been invited.
Dave Diehl may have to miss this year and he’s scheduled for 30 minutes on Saturday afternoon. I’d like to fill that 30 minutes—if we can’t, I’ll moveTerry to that slot and we’ll wrap up a bit earlier.

If you have not RSVP’d, please do.

Many will notice Dean Lenane was given 90 minutes–he spoke at the West Coast event earlier this year, and plans to deliver a variation on the theme. The request made sense—and we’ve not seen Dean a few years.

New speakers include: Joseph M Bradley (with OODA and Systems Theory), J.C. Herz (with Boyd and Crossfit), Daniel Grazier (Manoeuvre Warfare–yeah, I spelled that right), Robert Thomas (with a little Boyd-FA Hayek magic), Bill Bon (Boyd and the Bargaining Table), Robert L. Cantrell(Boyd’s Philosophy in the Natural World), and our Stan Coerr (with the enigmatic title: Hell In a Very Large Place).

Terry Barnhart, Michael Moore, Gahlord Dewald, Chip Pearson (welcome back!), and Mark Hart always reliable are returning.

On time: speakers, last year we wandered a bit more than normal. We’ve never been “clock watchers” at these events, but unless the audience is driving you over your limit (which we encourage and enjoy), please try to keep on schedule.

We’re fortunate to have a robust schedule, and Stan and I look forward to seeing everyone. If you’ve not already RSVP’d, please do—I’m keeping a pretty good count.


The Cockroaches of War. And of Jihad

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a "zen"]

John Robb had a cool post on the ultra-radical takfiri insurgency ISIS/ISIL and their self-proclaimed SunniCaliphate“, the Islamic Statewhom he gave as an example of “the cockroaches of war”:

ISIS Opens The World’s Biggest Bazaar of Violence

ISIS is a marketplace — a freewheeling bazaar of violence – and it is rapidly expanding.   

So far, it’s been very successful:

  • it operates freely in an area bigger than most countries (and it has lots of oil),
  • it has been attracting the participation of a growing number of organizations and individuals, and
  • it’s financially successful and self-funding (it’s already made billions of $$ from oil, crime, bank robberies, and more).

This success is due to the fact that ISIS isn’t trying to build a “state.”  It’s not a government. 

….This bazaar was built for one purpose:  perpetual expansion and continuous warfare.

To keep things running, ISIS offers a minimalist, decentralized governance.  Day-to-day life is governed by a simple, decentralized rule set: Sharia Law.

Participation is open to everyone willing to live under Sharia and able to expand the bazaar to new areas.

The strategies and tactics ISIS uses are open sourced.  Any group or individual can advance them, as long as they can demonstrate they work.  

Weapons and other technologies needed for war are developed, shared and sold between participants and the pace of development based on previous examples is very quick.

Making money through criminal activity is highly encouraged.  Mercenary work is encouraged.  

Read the whole post here.

ISIS recently captured a town in Lebanon and Iraq’s largest dam, adding to the dams they already control in Syria. More importantly, ISIS fighters outsmarted a Kurdish Peshmerga equivalent of a battalion, using artillery and snipers, to force the Kurds to withdraw from the town of Sinjar where they have begun persecuting the Yezidi minority. This is significant as the fearsome Peshmerga are no pushovers. To put this in perspective, this was a military feat by ISIS that Saddam’s vaunted Republican Guard had great difficulty accomplishing without air support. It also reveals the Kurds may have some deficiencies with their logistics and operational level leadership (allegedly, the Peshmerga ran out of ammunition).

Absurd mummery about “Caliph Ibrahim” aside, as a fighting force and religious-political movement, ISIS has momentum and possesses the initiative. Despite their flamboyant cruelty, ISIS is attracting jihadis to a broken Iraq the way disaffected and radicalized German ex-soldiers swarmed into Freikorps units after the Great War. Reportedly, more British citizens have signed up with ISIS this year than have joined Britain’s territorial Army. Part of the reason is that ISIS, despite its obvious extremism and malevolence, is fighting successfully at the moral and mental levels of war and not merely the physical.

The strategist Colonel John Boyd described the purpose of fighting at the moral level of war as follows:

Essence of moral conflict

Create, exploit, and magnify
• Menace:
Impressions of danger to one’s well
being and survival.

• Uncertainty:
Impressions, or atmosphere,
generated by events that appear
ambiguous, erratic, contradictory,
unfamiliar, chaotic, etc.

• Mistrust:
Atmosphere of doubt and suspicion
that loosens human bonds among
members of an organic whole or
between organic wholes.


Surface, fear, anxiety, and

alienation in order to generate

many non-cooperative centers of
gravity, as well as subvert those
that adversary depends upon,
thereby magnify internal friction.


Destroy moral bonds
that permit an organic
whole to exist

To be a politically attractive force at the grand strategic level while doing morally reprehensible  things at the tactical level on a regular basis is no small strategic feat. Not a unique or impossible one though; both the Nazis and especially the Communists were able to continue to attract credulous Western supporters despite voluminous evidence of crimes against humanity and genocide (Communism still has western apologists in the media and academia). ISIS uses extreme violence but does so strategically with a vision of Caliphate to – 1)  to split Iraqi society into Sunnis vs. everyone else and split Sunnis into those who support ISIS and those who are “apostates” like the Shia, and are deserving of death; and 2) to destroy the Western concept of nation-states, replacing Iraq, Syria, Lebanon with a borderless Caliphate to rule over the Ummah.

The ISIS message is simultaneously highly exclusive (extreme Salafi version of Sharia) as well as wholly universal. This – along with identifying the Shia as the enemy force -allows ISIS to fold in a large array of disaffected, angry, rival Iraqi Sunni factions under the aegis of their movement while still attracting a global swarm of jihadi volunteers.  Compare this with the self-isolating messaging and behavior of HAMAS who, despite fighting the “Zionist enemy” Israel, are thoroughly despised in the region by most of their natural Arab state allies, the Palestinian Authority and even the radical jihadi groups. Nor is HAMAS able to escape moral damage from committing war crimes in the eyes of the international community the way ISIS escapes harm from committing worse ones ( Not only do they escape moral costs, ISIS flips their atrocities into a net positive by terrorizing the potential opposition and looking self-confidently defiant of world opinion in Islamist eyes).

In ISIS, Global Guerrilla strategy is fusing with the penultimate radical jihadi ideology.


Chet’s Boydian Post-Script to American Spartan

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

Dr. Chet Richards had some kind words to say about my review of American Spartan the other day and added some Boydian strategic analysis to the saga of Major Jim Gant to boot:

Zen Pundit on American Spartan 

….As Mark notes, the strategy of supporting local insurgents goes way back, and it can be highly successful — the United States wouldn’t be here if the French hadn’t taken this approach. But it’s also true, as he notes, that if you create a monster to fight a monster, you have, in fact, created a monster. You’d think we might have learned this from our first Afghan adventure. So I certainly agree with Mark when he says that “It should only be done with eyes wide open as to the potential drawbacks (numerous) and it won’t always work but the militia option works often enough historically that it should be carefully considered,” but “eyes wide open” is easier after the fact. Even a mechanical system of three or more parts can become complex and therefore unpredictable. So we have, at the very least, the US forces, the various tribes and militias, and the government. You see where I’m going with this, and that’s before we consider that the players are hardly mechanical parts whose behavior can be predicted over any length of time.

Still, Mark’s point is spot on — why do we always have to be the redcoats and let the other guys hide behind rocks and trees? Why do we keep doing dumb things? We don’t always, and we haven’t always, but somehow, we’ve developed a knack for discarding winning tactics.

…..One cause of this might be the mentality, attributed to Lord Palmerston several years back, that states have no permanent friends, only permanent interests. Glib statements like this are dangerous because they substitute for understanding and help lock orientation. Furthermore, they lead to the sorts of moral failings that Mark has identified. If you stop and think about it, the exact opposite would be a better way to run a foreign policy.

No organism, including a state, has long-term interests outside of survival on its own terms and increasing its capacity for independent action. As Boyd pointed out, these are easier to achieve if you have others who are sympathetic to your aims. In particular we should conduct our grand strategy (for that’s what Mark is talking about) so that we:

  • Support national goal;
  • Pump up our resolve, drain away adversary resolve, and attract the uncommitted;
  • End conflict on favorable terms;
  • Ensure that conflict and peace terms do not provide seeds for (unfavorable) future conflict. Patterns139

Or, put another way:

Morally we interact with others by avoiding mismatches between what we say we are, what we are, and the world we have to deal with, as well as by abiding by those other cultural codes or standards that we are expected to uphold.  Strategic Game 49

It’s not that hard. Our long-term friends are those who, like us, support our ideals, which we have made explicit….

Read the rest here.

I have to agree with Dr. Chet that we, or rather the USG, continues to do dumb things. It is virtually our default position now. The era of President Abraham Lincoln sending a case of whatever Ulysses S. Grant was drinking to his other generals is long over. Why?

I suspect by needlessly ramping up our organizational complexity we generate endless amounts of unnecessary friction against our ostensible purpose without adding any value. Aside from automatically increasing the number of folks involved who are neither motivated nor competent, making orgs more complex means too many voices and too many lawyers on every decision, of whom too few have a vested interest in the overall success of the policy to keep our strategic ( or at times, tactical) Ends uppermost in mind.

Policy, hell – maybe the first order of business should be to start using more bluntly honest terms like “victory” and “defeat” again in assessing results of military campaigns. They clarify the mind.

Maybe this is why the OSS, enterprising CIA officers like Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. , Edward Lansdale , Duane Clarridge or counterinsurgents like David Hackworth and Jim Gant could accrue large results while operating on a relative shoestring while enormous, powerful, quasi-institutional bureaucratic commands that spanned many years like MACV and ISAF have failed. The former led small teams that were simple, highly motivated and focused on adapting to win.

I fear things will have to get worse – much worse – before they get better.



The Wire, with a hat-tip to John Boyd

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- with thanks to Netflix and David Simon, and the same with Don Vandergriff, Secretary Gates and Boyd himself ]

In the second season of The Wire aka “the Great American Novel for Television“, first episode, Ebb Tide, Detective Roland Pryzbylewski talks about his future in a discussion with his father-in-law, Major Valchek. The conversation goes (emphatically, on the Major’s side) like this:

Valchek: What do I think? I think you’re gonna take the Sergeant’s Exam next month. And because I have Andy Krawczyk’s ear and because he has City Hall’s ear you’re gonna make Sergeant. Then you’re gonna come out here to the Southeast where, because I’m your father-in-law you’re gonna be assigned a daytime shift in a quiet sector. Then you’re gonna take the Lieutenant’s Exam where you’ll also score high.

Pryzbylewski: I don’t want to make rank. I want to work cases. Good cases.

Valchek: Roland. Listen to me. You did good with the drug thing. You buckled down, you did the work. And except for that thing with the Grand Jury you helped take some of the stink off yourself. Now if you’ll just shut up and listen to me you might actually have a career in this department.


That’s pure Boyd, dramatized, if I’m not mistaken. I’d just reread Boyd’s speech in an older post from Don Vandergriff, SecDef talks about Boyd’s “To Be or To Do” speech, and of course I know that speech is a favorite of Scott‘s, so the impact of Det. Pryzbylewski’s predicament was pretty strong.

John Boyd:

Tiger, one day you will come to a fork in the road and you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go. He 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 his other hand and pointed in 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 you want 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. 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?

There’s a choice, sure. But on another level, is there really any choice?


Chet on Entanglement, Boyd and Strategy

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a "zen"]

Chet Richards had an intriguing post at Slightly East of New on the implications of developments in quantum mechanics for Colonel John Boyd’s OODA Loop which was itself rooted in Boyd’s explorations of physics:

Quantum entanglement, the arrow of time and John Boyd?

Time, as every reader of this blog knows, plays a fundamental role in Boyd’s philosophy of conflict. The whole idea of fast transients, for example, which morphed into “operating inside the OODA loop,” depends on one side’s ability to change the environment more rapidly than the other side can comprehend, that is, within the time it takes them to reorient.

Does time exist? Not a question I’m going to go into here because even if it didn’t exist, what difference would it make to, say, operating inside the OODA loop? In either case, we can still imagine, and work with, an arrow of time: Just as you can tell whether Kill Bill (either part) is playing forward or backwards (hint — blood); in a business competition, you can generally tell who is operating inside whose OODA loop.

New research now ties the phenomenon we call the “arrow of time” to quantum entanglement. As the researchers note:

Energy disperses and objects equilibrate, they say, because of the way elementary particles become intertwined when they interact — a strange effect called “quantum entanglement.”

“Finally, we can understand why a cup of coffee equilibrates in a room,” said Tony Short, a quantum physicist at Bristol. “Entanglement builds up between the state of the coffee cup and the state of the room.”

….Well, I hear you ask, isn’t that what Boyd did in “Destruction and Creation” when he invoked Gödel, Heisenberg, and the 2nd Law? The short answer is “Absolutely not!” There are a couple of ways that you can convince yourself he wasn’t reasoning by analogy. First, you could look at the explanations of Boyd’s method that I do in “John Boyd, Conceptual Spiral, and the Meaning of Life” and that Chuck Spinney put into Evolutionary Epistemology, Chart 32, both available on our Articles page. The other possibility is to actually read “Destruction and Creation.”

I’ll save you a little time. All three of these laws and theorems address systems, and Boyd was applying them to a particular system, which he defines in the opening paragraphs of the paper. You can argue whether his application is valid, but it is intellectually dishonest, or at least lazy, to claim he was relying on analogies.

But perhaps you don’t need to employ analogies in the case of quantum mechanics and the arrow of time. The researchers are proposing that entanglement affects what we do every day out in the real, observable world:

According to the scientists, our ability to remember the past but not the future, another historically confounding manifestation of time’s arrow, can also be understood as a buildup of correlations between interacting particles. When you read a message on a piece of paper, your brain becomes correlated with it through the photons that reach your eyes. Only from that moment on will you be capable of remembering what the message says. As Lloyd put it: “The present can be defined by the process of becoming correlated with our surroundings.”

I am going to speculate here and employ analogies out of intellectual laziness and a lack of formal education in quantum mechanics :) I welcome corrections or comments from the more scientifically literate.

The science article used the example of heat energy diffusing from a hot cup of coffee as a simple example of correlation with the environment in entanglement. The heat did not merely disperse but the hot cup of coffee itself (cup, coffee, heat energy) became entangled with the range of potential states of the environment (if I have understood the physicists correctly). We perceive it on the human scale as a cooled cup of coffee but in quantum terms the cup and the environment have moved toward a merged averageness and away from the initial state when the hot coffee was introduced.

What does this mean for conflict within a complex social system?

Following Boyd, our goal is to successfully adapt, more effectively than our adversary, but also shape events and their consequent outcomes to our advantage. These scientific findings point to how difficult our task is; not only do we contend with the actions of an enemy or competitor but the environment alone, over time, should be sufficient to bring all of our efforts to naught.

“When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men’s weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength.

Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.”

- Sun Tzu

Master Sun may have known what he was talking about.

What to do?

One answer might be found in avoiding gratuitous conflict. This might mean avoiding engagement what William Lind calls “centers of disorder”. I don’t believe non-intervention or isolationism is always practical, but frivolous, impulsive, ill-considered and astrategic “do something” intervention rarely is cost-free.

Another possibility is only engaging at times, places and manner where maximum leverage can be exerted with your power, ju-jitsu style, for the highest ROI and the least possibility of blowback. An excellent real-world example of this would be Vladimir Putin’s salami-sliced annexation of Crimea which left Kiev frustrated and Western leaders at a loss of where or how to “hit back ” at Moscow effectively. The truth was that there was no place. Crimea was extremely vulnerable to Russian designs and conversely very difficult for the West to get Russia to disgorge quickly at any kind of reasonable cost. Sanctions have been more of an empty gesture/tantrum than a serious attempt at counterpressure.

A third option is to move and to move with decisive speed,  inside your opponents’ OODA Loop, reduce them to a shambles, collect your modest winnings/get the new status quo ratified, keep moving and get out. Hanging around in theater for a decade only increases your entanglement and you find that much like Hotel California, you can check out any time you like but you can never leave. Sometimes this is necessary (NATO, Japan), usually it is not.

Finally, advancing harmony is underrated and should be a core component of grand strategy and communicated in both word and deed. This unifies, reduces internal contradictions that generate friction and creates opportunities for synergy, leveraging the strengths of others and “flipping” potential adversaries into allies, or at least benign neutrals (this is near impossible a task with a self-aggrandizing, corrupt and hypocritical leadership – they ARE the internal contradiction and the magnet for friction and opposition)



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