Colonel Boyd was virtually unknown to the general public until the publication of Robert Coram’s recent biography, which I read initially because the claims for Boyd’s importance seemed to border on the fantastic. Boyd, however, walked that talk. Formally a fighter pilot and an engineer, Boyd was a brilliant and abrasively eccentric autodidact. Known variously as “40 second Boyd”, ” the Mad Major” and ” Ghengis John” to his contemporaries, Colonel Boyd racked up a staggering list of professional accomplishments:
122 Combat sorties in the Korean War
Command of USAF base in Thailand during the Vietnam War
Original USAF “Top Gun”
Author of the official USAF Aerial Attack Study
Creator of the E-M Theory (which led to the design of the F-16 and F-18)
Creator of the OODA Loop
Cognitive theorist for a ” dialectical engine” of learning in his paper, Destruction and Creation
Inspiration for the development of USMC ” Maneuver Warfare” doctrine
A foremost authority on the lessons learned from 2400 years of military history, distilled in two mega-briefs entitled Patterns of Conflict and A Discourse on Winning and Losing
A major inspiration for the later development of Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW) theory and to a lesser extent, influenced concepts such as Network-centric Warfare (NCW) among others.
A leader of the "military reform movement" that challenged Pentagon spending priorities, excessive budget size, seedy relationships with defense contractors, dysfunctional weapons systems and rigged testing systems.
A key influence on the war plan of the first Gulf War in 1991. In the aftermath of the Gulf War, USMC General Charles C. Krulak wrote: "The Iraqi Army collapsed morally and intellectually under the onslaught of American and Coalition forces. John Boyd was an architect of that victory as surely as if he’d commanded a fighter wing or a manuever division in the desert”.
Ironically, Boyd died in 1997 not only in relative obscurity but as a virtual pariah to the U.S. Air Force he served for decades, where he remains persona non grata to the senior brass to this day. Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently invoked Boyd's memory in a high profile speech, in part, to drive home his deep dissatisfaction with the leadership of the Air Force ( juxtaposed with his firing of the Secretary of the Air Force and the Chief of Staff). A second irony, Boyd, at least judging by the public stance taken by all of his closest collaborators, would have been aghast at the second Iraq War - though he probably would have also admired how Petraeus managed to arrest the downward strategic spiral.
Colonel Boyd's reputation and ideas were introduced to the general public by Robert Coram and Grant Hammond but it fell to Frans Osinga to undertake a meticulous reconstruction of Boyd's evolution as a strategic thinker by systematically digesting Boyd's personal papers, copious briefing slides and voluminous collection of books, all of which were heavily marked up with furiously scrawled marginalia and dealt as with physics, mathematics, cybernetics and philosophy as much as they did military history. Dr. Osinga's prodigious tome, Science Strategy and War is a tour de force of 20th century intellectual history as well as an exposition of Boyd's strategic thought.
The online symposium on Science, Strategy and War included Colonel Osinga and attracted the attention of the publisher of Nimble Books, W.F. Zimmerman, who wanted to re-cast the discussion as a collection of essays. The authors included Dr. Chet Richards ( an associate and collaborator on the mathematical aspects of Boyd's theories), Daniel Abbott, Shane Deichman, Frank Hoffman, Adam Elkus, "Lexington Green", Thomas Wade and Dr. Frans Osinga, who contributed several essays. Dr. Thomas Barnett sets the intellectual tone in the foreword after which the authors brought a wide range of professional perspectives to bear - cognitive psychology, military history, physics, strategy, journalism and, of course, blogging - in a series of articles that tried to explain the essence and dimensions of John Boyd’s contribution to strategic thought. Hopefully, we made things clearer or easier to a reader approaching the subject for the first time.
A brief comment regarding Nimble Books: Progressive Historians has many academic and "popular" historians and writers in their readership and on the roster - I'd like to point out that Nimble is a wonderful publisher for first-time or experienced niche authors. The level of personal attention is high and the working relationship is very collegial, which might be the right venue for those with eminently publishable monographs banging their heads against the wall of the slower moving academic press. I give them my highest recommendation.