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Fouche on “Libeling Boyd”

Joseph Fouche blasts eminent scholar Dr. Colin S. Gray for doing to strategic theorist John Boyd what Gray’s fellow Clausewitzians complain that Martin van Creveld does to Carl von Clausewitz:

Libeling Boyd

Contrast this passage with two passages from Gray’s Another Bloody Century, published seven years later:

Air Force Colonel John Boyd touted a tactical insight derived from personal experience from aerial combat as a general theory  of conflict. His OODA loop, standing for Observation, Orientation, Decision, and Action, is revered by many as summarizing the wisdom of the ages on how to win. The core notion is that success rewards the warrior who can operate within the decision cycle of the enemy. It is a sound idea, but as the philosopher’s stone for victory for victory at all levels of warfare it is distinctly sub-Clausewitzian. A major problem with the OODA loop is that its devotees assume that a tactical insight, even principle, will be no less valid at the operational and strategic levels of warfare. It is fairly clear this is not the case.


As we noted earlier, Colonel John Boyd, USAF fighter pilot turned guru, applied his tactical knowledge of air combat to warfare at all levels  by means of his simple formula of the ‘OODA loop’. Unmatched speed in the sequence of observation, orientation, decision, and action is held to be the key to victory. This insight, banal statement of the obvious, or panacea-take your choice-is probably the most important concept undergirding the current US programme of long-term military transformation. The OODA loop is a formula for decisive success in a manoeuvering style of warfare. American technology, particularly in the realm of the real-time gathering, processing, and diffusion of information, enables US forces to act effectively with a speed that leaves their enemies gasping in their wake. At least, that is the theory.

This is like reading from Baby’s First Boyd Briefing and reflects a child’s understanding of Boyd’s theory. Dr. Gray, a distinguished strategist of the ultra-Clausewitzian school, often complains about the van Creveld School’s shallow (or, in my opinion, actively duplicitious) reading of Clausewitz. Keegan and van Crevald get taken out back for a well deserved whipping for their mis-characterization of Clausewitz and somehow John Boyd gets taken along in the same sordid ranks. Gray sees this:

Faster! FASTER!

Faster! FASTER!

and reduces Boyd to a child who runs along side a children’s carousel shouting “Faster! FASTER!”. If the carousel spins fast enough, victory is at hand. If it slows down, defeat is inevitable. This is the vulgar version of Boyd’s theory, the one that the marketing directors of defense contractors can understand and spout. If Dr. Gray is, as he frequently claims to be, a professional strategist, he should be able to see that Boyd’s OODA loop, inasmuch as it really is….

Much more here.

Outstanding post.

“Libeling Boyd” seems to me to be an accurate call by Joseph Fouche. I find it difficult to believe that a defense intellectual of Dr. Gray’s caliber does not know the difference between the ideas of John Boyd and Art Cebrowski. Or that there are Soviet antecedents of the Pentagon’s RMA. Or that Boyd’s history as an anti-defense contractor Pentagon gadfly is unknown to him. Or that Gray was too lazy to look up easily available material on the OODA Loop. If it would help, I’d be happy to send Gray a copy of Col. Frans Osinga’s Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd .

Whether it would help though, is debatable.

4 Responses to “Fouche on “Libeling Boyd””

  1. Joseph Fouche Says:

    Thanks for the link.

    I think Gray is consciously and deliberately building up Boyd as a strawman here, much as van Crevald does with his "Westphalian" Clausewitz. It may be surprising that Gray picks Boyd out of the many figures who have contributed to the transformation fiasco. However, Gray may need to avoid offending living Pentagon connections and Boyd is conveniently 1) dead and 2) a known outsider. It’s a shame because the old Gray was good at giving proper recognition to generally neglected strategic thinkers like Boyd and RADM J.C. Wylie.

  2. zen Says:

    " However, Gray may need to avoid offending living Pentagon connections…."
    Astute call, JF. 😉

  3. Lexington Green Says:

    Since Boyd did not himself <a href="http://chicagoboyz.net/archives/5553.html"> write a book</a>, then he may be more open to this kind of abuse.   Still, it does stink of Gray ingratiating himself with someone or some community that wants to belittle Boyd, by misrepresenting him.  Shame on Gray.

  4. Dan Ford Says:

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