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A War of Words About 4GW

Going on the past few weeks at The Small Wars Council, starting with a harsh attack by William F. Owen on the validity of the ideas of John Boyd and William Lind. Lively discussion, erudite comments and rebuttal by Ski and TT – unfortunately, the thread seems to have gone quiet.

19 Responses to “A War of Words About 4GW”

  1. Contra-Owen Says:

    Wow. A forum post started by a guy – William F. Owen – who doesn’t like something, but doesn’t give any reasoning or evidence behind why he doesn’t like it. Then, a whole heap of jockriders who say they like him. Then when some of the forum posters add some reasoning and evidence against Owen he responds again with empty words about their theory being faulty, again with no evidence or reasoning. He sounds like your typical military archetype mentioned in the psychology of military incompetence by norman dixon.

    It looks like the SWC is a bastion of intellectual juggernauts.

    On an added note, another poster on the forum stated Owen has a new bit of doctrine coming out, perhaps a bit of self promotion and trashing of other doctrine within his realm?

  2. A.E. Says:

    It seems that the same battles over 4GW are being fought over and over again.

  3. Dan tdaxp Says:

    Agreed with Contra-Owen and A.E.  With the addition that there also seems to be cheap, inexplicable, unsubstantive, and irrelevant criticisms of Boyd thrown in.

  4. Jim Keenan Says:

    Perhaps  Mr Owen should be invited to participate in the forthcoming symposium on Osinga’s Science, Strategy & War in February; an informed contrary opinion is a useful resource, but I have to admit that whilst I found plenty of evidence of contrariness I saw little evidence on knowledge of Boyd’s principles. In particular the assertion that 4GW, and by implicit extension Boyd (whom he ropes in with Lind, et al), has little to say on COIN. In fact slides 90-109 of Boyd’s Discourse on Winning & Losing (available from the DNI website as both a pdf and ppt) give a very detailed perspective of what Boyd terms "Modern Guerilla Warfare," with slide 108 in particular setting out very clearly the basic operational principles of a COIN strategy, and does so within the context of a counter-manoeuvre warfare Operational context, (Boyd uses the term counter-blitz).

  5. zen Says:

    Hi Contra-Owen,

    I think you summed up the weaknesses there quite well. Ouch.  LOL! 

    Hi Jim,

    A good suggestion. I have not been very active at the SWC that past few months and I’m not familiar with Owen or his professional background; if he has, as he claims, sat down with General Van Riper ( whom I consider to be a very formidible thinker) on several occasions, then Owen must have something substantive to bring to the table beyond what was demonstrated in the thread.

    I will send Mr. Owen a message through the SWC and see if he cares to participate. The notice for him is a little short though (Feb. 1), unless he has already digested Osinga’s book.

    Hi Dan and AE,

    There were some cheap attacks there on Boyd ( notably the crack about his combat experience – gee,  what’s the magic number of combat missions that you need exactly? And how does that validate the merit of Boyd’s argument?)   A forum or Listserv thread is not the equivalent of giving a formal paper, some informality is expected but the argument still needs to be cogently constructed.

  6. Lexington Green Says:

    A thorough, thoughtful critique of the whole 4GW model would be very valuable.

    I have many quibbles, primarily based on factual deficiencies in the historical components, e.g. the appearance of nuclear weapons is not focused on where I think it was decisive for later developments.   But I lack the time and energy to craft something coherent. 

    Nonetheless, the basic model seems to be sufficiently valid that it helps us to understand what is going on in the world. 

    If this Owen fellow has substantive criticism, he did not articulate them in his comments on SWJ. 

    When my current big trial is over — at the office on Sunday — I am going to tackle Osinga.

  7. Jim Keenan Says:

    Looking forward to the symposium.

    "false views, if supported by some evidence, do little harm, for everyone takes a salutary pleasure in proving their falseness: and when this is done, one path towards error is closed and the road to truth is often at the same time opened." Charles Darwin, 1898

  8. Jim Keenan Says:

    This William Owen?

    Owen (William F.)
    Editor – Asian Military Review
    Media Transasia Thailand Ltd., 14th Floor, Ocean Tower 2, Soi Sukhumvit 19, Sukhumvit 21 Rd, Khlongtoey Nue, Wattana, Bangkok 10110, Thailand
    BKK Mobile: +66 771 500 80
    Tel: +66 2 204 2370 (Extn: 313) Fax: +66 2 204 2391
    Email: william@mediatransasia.com
    Website: http://www.mediatransasia.com
    Special Interests/Publications: Air Power issues and history. Light Forces (Marine and Para) and Infantry structures, doctrine and employment. Military employment of Helicopters and Light Aircraft. US Army Special Forces. Promotion of Military Science. When in UK, Broadcaster on Sky News, APTN and BBC. Articles published in Defence and Diplomacy, Intersec, and Jane’s publications. Contributor to Defence Analysis.

  9. zen Says:

    Might be.  Be nice if it was the same guy –  that sort of expertise would be a good complement for Shane’s ( who was the Science Adviser to JFCOM) given the depth of Osinga’s book. 

    Regardless, I have invited Mr. Owen to participate. We’ll see what he says.

  10. A.E. Says:


    I wasn’t attacking Mr. Owen or offering a position on his views–just observing a common pattern in the way that the debate was structured compared to other blowups on the issue. The problem to me seems to be that the two sides are talking past each other, and that the terms of the debate are zero-sum.

  11. Jim Keenan Says:

    I’ve posted a couple of times on the thread to try and get the debate started again; hopefully along a more constructive line. Still no concrete issues for consideration yet from the – what would you call them? Attritionists seems perjorative, Clausewitzians seems conceited, and Trinitarians just takes too long to explain. Hard to know without their having stated their position; Conservatives? Any suggestions gratefully received.

  12. zen Says:

    Hi Jim,

    Your efforts have borne fruit. Mr. Owen has agreed to participate, so mark your calendar!

    I do not know enough about Owen yet to categorize his views. It might also be hard to be to the political right of William Lind :o)

    Someone like Ralph Peters, for example, to select a well-known critic, might be a “Jacksonian” in the Meade taxonomy

  13. Shlok Says:

    Wonder if Owen thinks the F-16 is "vastly overrated". Funny how no one mentioned E-M.

  14. Shlok Vaidya’s Thinking › Flaming Lind and Boyd Says:

    […] to Zen for the heads up on this thread titled “Boyd and Lind Rebuttal” over at […]

  15. J. Says:

    Have to agree with Contra-Owen also. I don’t understand why people can’t acknowledge that 4GW does not supplant Clausewitz/Sun Tzu but complements them in a sense. I think Van Creeveld failed in trying to shoot down Clausewitz for instance. The basic principles of strategic warfare still apply, all 4GW does is say that the style of warfare – how it is executed, with what weapons, against what target – changes over time, and that’s reliant on culture, technology, and acceptance of integrating these ideas into doctrine (which is why you can have different GW in different countries).

  16. Jay@Soob Says:

    "all 4GW does is say that the style of warfare – how it is executed, with what weapons, against what target – changes over time, and that’s reliant on culture, technology, and acceptance of integrating these ideas into doctrine (which is why you can have different GW in different countries)."

    I’ve criticized the chronology of "classic" xGW before but this comment seems to miss the purpose of the theory (as I see it) altogether. Why is "time" a critical indicator of any GW? Was Mao really the harbinger of 4GW?

    Further, why should the framework be seen as one that supplants previous theory? I’ve taken van Creveld’s work, for example, as one that utilizes and builds upon the works of Clausewitz and Machiavelli, etc. Have I read him wrong?

  17. Larry Dunbar » Blog Archive » zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » A War of Words About 4GW Says:

    […] zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » A War of Words About 4GW […]

  18. The Uth Says:

    Well, while I’m not well read on Lind’s warfare theories, the following video made by Lind is on-point regarding the origins of political correctness.  If you want to know the origins of political correctness, you should really consider watching this video.  It does relate somewhat, as some would say that political correctness IS a form of 4GW warfare.  You decide…..


  19. Jim Keenan Says:

    Zen – FWIW I fully agree with your thoughts on Boyd as posted on SMC. The fact that Boyd drew that line from Orientation to Action was an act of genius, which, as far as I am aware, was entirely unsupported by the then-current paradigm. That the experimentation that the invention of MRI has permitted has subsequently vindicated Boyd is staggering. "… even Boyd’s most detailed OODA does not describe a decision making process that user awareness would enhance." I’ve found it of great utility in both practical application and as a teaching and learning tool. I know that you’ve recently ordered Taleb’s Black Swan and I think that his Popperian falsification theories fit very well into Boyds teaching on Observation.

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