John Boyd and Patterns of Conflict: Post-Modern Strategy Deficit Disorder in the Green-on-Blue Violence in Afghanistan by Bill Buppert
“One day you will take a fork in the road, and you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go. If you go one way, you can be somebody. You will have to make your compromises and … turn your back on your friends, but you will be a member of the club, and you will get promoted and get good assignments. Or you can go the other way, and you can do something, something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. … You may not get promoted, and you may not get good assignments, and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors, but you won’t have to compromise yourself. … In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you have to make a decision: to be or to do.” -COL John BoydJohn Boyd did the intellectual heavy lifting after WWII to offer a new strategic paradigm to orchestrate warfare and deeply analyze why the larger nation-states would have increasing challenges that neither technologies nor big budgets would solve. This essay will configure a Boydian lens over the current American conflict in Afghanistan in general and examine the green-on-blue violence phenomenon in detail to illustrate how the insurgent forces have commandeered the operational level. Green-on-blue violence is the instantiation of hostile action against allied forces by indigenous coalition forces. John Boyd was a visionary and much maligned defense intellectual who pioneered a number of theories and grand strategic suggestions which were almost counterintuitive to the accepted precepts and nostrums of the classical and neo-classical military philosophers and thinkers who had influenced the post-WWII Western vision of how military organizations train and fight. He was the polar opposite of celebrated but fatally flawed modern strategic thinkers like Herman Kahn and John Von Neumann. He realized that the future fight and the evolution of warfare would still be ultimately reliant on people and not technology. Boyd discovered and pioneered the modern Air Force combat fighter pilot methodology and contributed in deeper philosophical waters with an examination of how to build cost effective fighting organizations, prescient predictions of new (due to historical amnesia by the West) modes of conflict such as Fourth Generation Warfare and was one of the key innovators in designing the F-15 and F-16 fighter aircraft. One of the peculiarities of Boyd the man was that he did not write books and most of his intellectual legacy has been written by others. What makes Boyd even more interesting, if not enigmatic, is he is rather hard to pin down for a legacy in the pantheon of modern strategic thought except through his followers and acolytes. Boyd always emphasized dynamism in thinking and the willingness of large and small organizations to adapt to emerging changes and threats. Purpose and not merely process were driving attitudes that imbued his work and thinking; a purpose to react in conflict in a fashion that would gain advantage by striking weakness or leveraging surprise. Nothing Sun Tzu would find scintillating or irregular.