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  An American Manifesto
Monday November 24, 2014 
by Christopher Chantrill Follow chrischantrill on Twitter

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How Much Ruthlessness is Enough? Euro-Paradise Lost

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A Very American Hero

by Christopher Chantrill
May 30, 2005 at 9:45 am

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EIGHT YEARS ago, on March 20,1997, American hero John R. Boyd was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. He was 70.

John Boyd was an Air Force fighter jock who learned physics and thermodynamics so he could translate his hunch about fighter combat into a theory. Then he fought the Pentagon to translate his theory into reality. Reality was called F-15 and also F-16.

Boyd was a foul-mouthed man who argued in the face of generals and who called people up in the middle of the night to talk for hours about his latest idea. He neglected his wife and his children, but accumulated a devoted group of loyal Acolytes.

After retiring from the U.S. Air Force as a full colonel Boyd took up the field of military strategy from where the Germans had left it in 1945. The U.S. Marines were really impressed. That is why they came to his funeral and honored the grave of an Air Force officer by placing the Marine Corps insignia on it.

You can hear Boyd talking whenever you listen to an officer in Iraq or read a mil-blog.

John R. Boyd was born in 1927 in Erie, Pennsylvania. His father died just before his third birthday and he was raised by his mother, Elsie, in fierce genteel poverty. He saw the end of World War II as an enlisted man and the end of the Korean War as an F-86 pilot. Then he went to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada and became the ace dog-fighter “Forty Second” Boyd flying the F-100. Here’s what Forty Second meant. Boyd would place his adversary in an F-100 on his tail, his “Six,” and guarantee to get his own ship maneuvered onto the adversary’s “Six” within 40 seconds. He wrote down his ideas on aerial combat in a paper, “Aerial Attack Study,” that became the Air Force’s fighter tactics manual.

To find out how to design a good jet fighter Boyd went to Georgia Tech and got an engineering degree. It was while studying thermodynamics there that he realized that the key to fighter operations was energy, trading off potential and kinetic energy. Assisted by Tom Christie and $1 million of purloined computer time, he developed Energy-Maneuverability (E-M) Theory. It allowed him to draw performance curves for every airplane that flew and predict which fighter plane would win in a matchup. In the late 1960s he headed up an ad hoc guerrilla group in the Pentagon, the “Fighter Mafia,” that designed the best fighter aircraft in the world, the F-16.

Just as the F-16 entered service in 1975, Boyd retired from the Air Force and his real life’s work began. John Boyd, the cocky fighter jock, began reading.

Boyd mastered the German canon from Kant to Heisenberg and produced a paper in 1976 entitled “Destruction and Creation,” available here, that reformulated Hegel’s dialectics in terms of Gödel and Heisenberg. The way of evolution was through successive cycles of destruction and creation, in “a changing and expanding universe of mental concepts matched to a changing and expanding universe of observed reality.” Then Boyd started on his monumental “Patterns of Conflict.” It was not a book. It was a presentation, a stack of slides, available here in pdf.

Knowledge starts with a problem, and Boyd’s problem was the Vietnam War, the humiliation of the United States by a third-world adversary, North Vietnam. Boyd went back to the beginning, tracing the evolution of military strategy from Sun Tzu, who wrote The Art of War in 400 BC. He studied all the great generals in history. He studied the Germans from Clausewitz’s On War to Guderian’s Achtung-Panzer!

In his “Patterns of Conflict” Boyd symbolized his findings in the OODA Loop. The core of the loop is the formula: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (see here). But the secret to success in conflict is not a formula. It is to get within the mind and the decision cycle of the adversary and drive him to moral collapse in a whirl of confusion and uncertainty.

John Boyd was everything that our sensitive postmodernists abhor, an ugly American warrior who adored conflict and competition. Yet he was a better postmodernist than any of them. Just like them, he used the German tradition to tear down the status quo in a spiraling dialectic of deconstruction. But Boyd was a man of action. He wanted to restructure the world after tearing it apart; he wanted to rebuild the armed forces of the United States of America. That is why his remains lie in Arlington National Cemetery and his spirit inspires the young men and women who defend our nation in Iraq and around the world.

You can read about John Boyd’s life and ideas in two biographies: Robert Coram’s Boyd and Grant T. Hammond’s The Mind of War.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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 TAGS


Action

The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


Chappies

“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison


China and Christianity

At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.
David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing


Churches

[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm


Civil Society

“Civil Society”—a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches—builds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust


Class War

In England there were always two sharply opposed middle classes, the academic middle class and the commercial middle class. In the nineteenth century, the academic middle class won the battle for power and status... Then came the triumph of Margaret Thatcher... The academics lost their power and prestige and... have been gloomy ever since.
Freeman Dyson, “The Scientist as Rebel”


Conservatism

Conservatism is the philosophy of society. Its ethic is fraternity and its characteristic is authority — the non-coercive social persuasion which operates in a family or a community. It says ‘we should...’.
Danny Kruger, On Fraternity


Conservatism's Holy Grail

What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph


Conversion

“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh


Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


Drang nach Osten

There was nothing new about the Frankish drive to the east... [let] us recall that the continuance of their rule depended upon regular, successful, predatory warfare.
Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion


Education

“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State


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©2012 Christopher Chantrill