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December 17, 2010


J. Scott Shipman


An excellent summation of this "controversy." At the Boyd Conf, Lt Gen van Riper said that to understand Clausewitz one needed a mentor---another said he needed to be read in the original language...The straw-man arguments of the back and forth, baseball card folks, seem pointless; more important, synthesize the most useful and meaning from both (and others) to create something new.

YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III

Dude, you need to expand this into an article. You're seriously on point with this.


Thanks guys! Maybe it would be a good article idea.

Ed Beakley

Adam,Great post and agree you should expand. Too long the dialogue has been approached as a winner-take-all competition with Boyd being "dismissed." Don't think I've ever seen anybody dismiss CVC, they question his relevance to modern times, while Boyd gets the "nobody thinks like "OODA."

I have initiated a discussion over on the Linked in Boyd Disciples group linking back to here.


I think this article by an LSE student does a good job of showing how resilient and relevant both Sun Tzu and Clausewitz are today:


Simialat to your argument on the misconception of Boyd and Clausewitz, many people compare Sun Tzu and Clausewitz without taking into account their drastically different levels of analysis. Clausewitz's framework dealt with the specific act of war - the extension of politics by violent means, while Sun Tzu's conception incorporated all aspects of social interaction in war to include political and economic.


Hi Adam-

Can't see much to disagree with since it mirrors much of what I've been saying for some time, especially as to Boyd fitting within a larger Clausewitzian General Theory of War. Still I think you've missed the main sticking point from the Clausewitzian perspective regarding Boyd. It has to do with the concept of strategy - and the assumptions respectively behind the two different concepts . . .


Seydlitz89, that is what I meant when I said that Boyd's discussions of strategy are more about strategic doctrine than strategic theory per se. Hence his usefulness is twofold--there is his ideas about the nature of competition (the OODA loop, destruction and creation, etc) and his ideas about strategic doctrine in Patterns of Conflict. They are difficult to disentangle in practice because of the form his writings took.

The ideas about competition fit within the General Theory, the strategic doctrine perhaps less so.


Let me rephrase my comment. On the Zenpundit post that you linked to above under "polarize" I had commented the following . . .

"Finally, a few words on the nature of strategic theory and "legacy". 4GW and Clausewitzians look at war/warfare in very different ways, essentially through "different lenses". From a Clausewitzian perspective, 4GW isn’t strategic theory, but doctrinal speculation or strategic doctrine. Frans Osinga’s attempt to prove otherwise is not very convincing, from this view. But I for one make a distinction between Boyd’s ideas - which imo can be part of a larger Clausewitzian framework - and 4GW which cannot. That John Boyd was a great pilot, a great instructor, a significant air warfare theorist and fighter aircraft designer are not in question, rather what is is the claim that he somehow "changed the art of war" as in his theories as "the national treasure" Robert Coram puts it. This view of the "greatest military thinker since Sun Tzu" invites a lot of critique, and I would think such input from people such as Storr (and myself at a different level) would be welcome since there seems to be so little of it."

Notice that we are making very similar arguments. My question is thus - can we separate Boyd from 4GW, or "strategic doctrine" from "doctrinal speculation"? If so then Boyd is compatible with Clausewitz, whereas if Boyd cannot be separated from 4GW - which is not compatible with Clausewitz - then he would be more the nature of doctrinal speculation . . . from a Clausewitzian perspective.

Following Wylie, the two cannot be incompatible and still fit within a larger theory of strategy . . .

I would just add that is seems that we are making some actual progress in at least terminology and important distinctions in strategic thought in our own limited way . . .


I don't think Boyd and 4GW are interchangeable, although 4GW's description of the "Fourth" era are drawn from Boydian theory. But Boyd himself was not a teleological thinker and from a Boydian perspective the supposedly novel elements of 4GW are present in all areas of conflict.

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