Monday, July 16, 2007

The ideas and arguments presented at Boyd 2007 were stimulating and, at times, controversial. I'm still pondering the implications of many of them and regret that I could not attend the next day's follow-up discussion organized by Don Vandergriff (reportedly, AE of Simulated Laughter was present. Hopefully, he will review it). I took many notes and here are my impressions of the sessions:

Colonel Frans Osinga and Dr. Chet Richards:

These back to back presentations were the ones that dealt in depth with the strategic theories of John Boyd, particularly the meaning and use of the famous OODA Loop. Osinga's major point was that the OODA Loop really reflected the deeper epistemological themes in Boyd's research of military history, theoretical science and strategy; that Boyd's strategic worldview was "neo-Darwinian" and geared to the adaptive competitive fitness of systems in conflict.

Richards focused on the overriding importance of the implicit in the OODA Loop, serving as guidance and control for Orientation and empowering the ability of individuals and harmoniously aligned groups (" novelty-generating systems" ) to sieze and retain the initiative over their opponents. The purpose of the OODA Loop is to " reduce your opponents to a quivering mass of jelly" ( and here Richards means the complex version of OODA, not the simple circular version) by creating disharmony in the other side even as you improve your own.

William Lind, Colonel TX Hammes, Frank Hoffman, Bruce Gudmundsson on 4GW:

I am conflating several sessions here and probably will not or cannot to justice to the views of all of the participants. Anyone who was also there, please feel free to offer corrections or extensions in the comment section.

William Lind was the most colorful and entertaining speaker at Boyd 2007 and, unsurprisingly if you have followed Lind's writings at all, the most radical in his arguments for 4GW. To an extent, many of the participants were responding to Lind's thesis as much as they were putting forth their own arguments. Frank Hoffman is somewhat excepted, as his role was a designated devil's advocate critiquing the weaknesses of the 4GW theory from the viewpoint of mainstream military historians and defense policy academics.

Lind opened by postulating "Three great Civil Wars" - namely WWI, WWII and the Cold War - that irreparably weakened Western civilization physically and, most importantly, morally and led to the rise of 4GW. This view is akin to Philip Bobbitt's concept of the 20th century " Long War" and Niall Ferguson's gloomy interpretaion of the First World War. In Lind's view, this civilizational loss of confidence set in motion by the horrors of the Western Front has led to the nation-state undergoing a " crisis of legitimacy" and the universal decline of the state argued by Martin van Creveld.

As the conflicts today are, in Lind's view, organic cultural conflicts of clashing ( and fractionating) primary loyalties, a new grand strategy must be offered; a defensive posture that seeks to conserve " centers of order" ( like China, America, Europe) and isolate ourselves from those centers of " disorder", including immigration by culturally indigestible groups like " Islamics". Lind also pointed to the need for an intellectual and moral regeneration at home and replacement of a self-serving, corrupt and politically inept bipartisan elite influenced by the tenets of cultural Marxism and political correctness ( interestingly, no one cared to argue the point about the incompetence of the elite though the cultural aspect was disputed).

Lind further dismissed any idea of the emergence of a 5th generation of war from consideration and, in response to a question, offered a ferociously bitter, ad hominem, attack on the ideas of Thomas P.M. Barnett as "a fairy tale", fit for publication in " a comic book". Lind offered no specifics and my impression was that Lind has a visceral dislike of Dr. Barnett's theories because their optimism and economic determinism sharply contradicts Lind's deeply pessimistic, culturally-based, analysis.

TX Hammes, while admiring of Lind's work, did not accept Lind's "kultur uber alles" premise and pointed to traditional political-economic-military indicators as being sufficient analytical categories for 4GW and emerging 5GW. Frank Hoffman hammered hard at the theoretical weaknesses in 4GW theory, accusing the school of making use of " selective history" and being elusive in its definitions - though Hoffman too blasted the ineptitude and blindness of the political and military establishment with much the same vehemence of Lind. In the seniors session, General Anthony Zinni, flatly repudiated Lind's characterization of Muslim societies as myopic, being based upon the mythic rantings of Islamist radicals who were wholly unrepresentative of Muslims or mainstream Islam.

The Generals And the Major:

The senior session with General Paul Van Riper, the aforementioned General Zinni and General Alfred Gray are worth noting as was the seminar conducted by Major Don Vandergriff.

Van Riper called for a return to a "wide open intellectual climate" in the Marines and the military as a whole that ignored rank and focused upon the quality of ideas. An education of "how the world works" in terms of complex adaptive systems and the differences between those that were structurally complex and rigid and those that were interactively complex and fluid must be given and understood in order to confront " wicked problems" effectively. The "Reductionist-Analytical" intellectual model can no longer be relied upon to provide answers, in Van Riper's view.

Much of the rest of the time was taken by the generals answering Shane Deichman's question of operational jointness and Goldwater-Nichols. Shane's question was so good it basically hijacked the rest of the session as the generals offered their experiences and criticism of how "jointness" came to evolve in the 1980's and 1990's. Attaboy, Shane! ;o)

Vandergriff offered an outline in implementing the intellectual change Van Riper hopes to see come about with a forced practice method starting with " Three Levels Above" that requires students to adapt and think in "free play" scenarios. Vandergriff boiled his educational theory down to the principles of:

1. Evolve the Course

2. Every moment offers an opportunity to develop adaptability

3. Student Ownership

4.Develop at three levels.

5. Outstanding teachers

Vandergriff's ideas are centered in military education but their applicability is entirely societal and systemic.

Comments are welcomed, especially if you can fill in anything that I have missed or gotten wrong.

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I've added a very long comment as I have no blog. You may do with it as you like. Excellent run-down in part II!

Additional notes and such by presenter:

I found it surprising that, according to Ossinga, Boyd hadn’t used a slide of the OODA loop until 1995. He may have wanted to avoid over-simplification via encapsulation. Perhaps he didn’t feel comfortable until then that his students would realize that he was talking about much more than ‘the decision cycle’, as you well point out.

Ossinga also discussed the shift from the technical to the doctrinal in the 70’s and 80’s as a reaction to our defeat in Vietnam. Boyd’s quote at the DNI site saying that, “Machines don’t fight wars. People do, and they use their minds”, flows right with this and all sound hesitance at becoming technology fetishists. Technological advances in warfare are more easily countered than the intangible advances made in our minds as the former represent closed systems, regardless of their other attributes, while the latter represent enhanced, open adaptability. If we’re able to generate rapidly changing environments for our opponents, we inhibit their adaptability while showcasing/utilizing/increasing ours. This mismatch is part of the ‘certain to win’ principle. The more uncertainty experienced by our adversaries, the more we’re able to survive on our terms.

The epistemological character of Ossinga’s discussion of the expanded, full OODA loop, to me, admitted of shades of phenomenology in its stress of the individual’s experiences as central to feedback. After all, warfighters use their minds, right?

I found his discussion of the ‘Orientation’ element the most salient. Our orientation is at its best when it is ‘closest to chaos’, that is, when we experience the widest range of possibilities with as much ‘flow’ (feedback and other stimuli) as possible. It is this broad range which provides for a unifying theme in groups as the sheer amount of broadly informing stimuli and feedback creates a more open system. The more/better our information/knowledge the better, and the more intuitively/implicitly we are then able to act/react with less/out thinking, the more we, well, win.

This has implications regarding ‘Command Intent’, of course, in that the better the unifying theme, the better individuals are able to act independently. You noted this as well. In a perfect version of this world, by extension, a totally dispersed force with a strong enough unifying theme and excellent orientation would be capable of truly ‘organic’ swarm activity.

I’ll not attempt to delve into Lind here. Dan’s done some good work on that and your post covers much of what I’d have to say perfectly. He was as much King and Jester to his court assembled. I enjoyed both his acumen and antics immensely.

As for the generals, I’ve little to add.

Van Riper stated that he’d stop all training immediately and get back to Mission-Type orders across the board. This jibes well with both Ossinga and Richards. I also enjoyed his example of the game of chess to show the nature of interactively complex systems as opposed to structurally complex ones. You’re spot-on in your comments. Reductionism works with the latter as their elements are ‘near-static’, linearly-related and have little ‘action’, as he put it. One can easily lose control/understanding, however, of interactively complex systems like chess. He said that after very few moves in a game of chess, the players have surpassed a million possible moves and that there are 10128 possible moves in a full game. That’s a larger number than there are atoms in the universe, he said. Reductionism won’t help you understand chess, or warfare.

This was echoed by Zinni saying that ‘process warfare’ isn’t the answer. Mastering multiple processes is still step-by-step, sometimes on a such a scale that you can drown in it. Besides, if you’re consumed by process, you can’t adapt – not very Boydian, that.

Speaking of reductionism, Zinni also said something very refreshing in the face of those that would reduce all/most/many Muslims to terrorists, ‘Islamists’, or some such epithet. He’s lived in Muslim countries for 17 years and has yet to meet a Muslim who’s even spoken of every alarmist’s favorite – the ‘Caliphate’. He continued to say that institutions in society have to be culturally acceptable as/and ‘order’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘stability’.

Gray said that we need to get back to who we, as Americans, are as a people. I took this to mean (based on his tangential stories and other things) good, just, open, smart and free – imbued with a truly pioneering spirit and a joy of discovery. He said we must educate society as a whole and that, actually, we know nothing of the world compared to what we could in truth. He also said that Foreign Policy and Domestic Policy should work to balance the equation of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. I must admit, I wasn’t prepared for such comments from a former Commandant of the USMC – and one of his magnitude at that. We were sitting in a building complex named for him. I’ll chalk that up to my own joy of discovery and hope for an anthropologist and/or philosopher in each future platoon.
wrt Lind on Barnett - you gotta love military people who think it all begins and ends with military tactics. It sure seems to me that economics is a major factor with the vast majority of humanity these days, and you can disagree with Barnett's conclusions, but at least his work accounts for the influence of economics, globalization, and technology. I fail to see these factors accounted for in the analysis of would be critics like Lind.

In technology terms, taking a security model designed for the Internet and saying "that will never work on a mainframe!" is not particularly helpful.
Hi Gunnar,

If your schedule permits, perhaps you might attend next year? You'd have a lot to contribute to this discussions!


Fantastic comments - I'm going to highlight some of them later today in a new post along with what Shloky put up last night/today. Right now though, I have to get my ass out the door! ;o)
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