23 August 2015


by Andy Weddington
Sunday, 23 August 2015

"The history of science shows that theories are perishable. With every new truth that is revealed we get a better understanding of Nature and our conceptions and views are modified." Nikola Tesla

John Boyd was barely a month past his 23rd birthday when Alfred Korzybski died.

Nothing written suggests that Boyd, living 47 years longer than Korzybski, ever met the elder or was aware of his work. And that is tragic. 

So who is John Boyd? And who is Alfred Korzybski?

John Richard Boyd (1927-1997) was a U. S. Air Force fighter pilot. Combat fighter pilot. His Energy-Maneuverability (E-M) Theory, of aircraft performance, the core of his genius. And that breakthrough led to all sorts of ideas including how to better wage war. The OODA Loop is his invention, too. In some circles Boyd is considered the greatest military strategist of the 20th Century - revolutionizing aerial and ground combat and with his name mentioned in conversation along with Sun Tzu and von Clausewitz. 

Alfred Habdank Skarbek Korzybski (1879-1950) was an engineer, mathematician, and philosopher. He was an intelligence officer in the Russian Army during World War I and was wounded in battle. Polish, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States ten years before death. Korzybski's lasting fame is he fathered the field of study called General Semantics (GS) - a discipline that argues humans, because of nervous system and language limitations, are incapable of having direct access to reality because what humans know is what's filtered by the brain's processing of reality. In Korzybski's world, 'The map is not the territory' - metaphorically (and literally). And the word is not the thing. Korzybski's work also includes how (any) language influences human behavior. 

Six years after Boyd's birth Korzybski published 'Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-aristotelian Systems and General Semantics.' And fifteen years later he published the condensed 'Selections from Science and Sanity.' Both intellectually challenging tomes that require deliberate reading in small bites and disproportionately greater thought to digest. 

In 1975 John C. Condon, Jr., too a scholar, published 'Semantics and Communication' - a concise and understandable, though no less challenging, translation (of sort) of Korzybski's groundbreaking work. Condon's is for all intents and purposes a practical application handbook and compared to Korzybski's text a super-sized user-friendly pamphlet. 

In 1977 enter Dr. Thomas Tedford (1930-2009), professor of communications, University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Dr. Tedford taught an advanced communications course titled 'General Semantics.' A student was I, and acolyte since. At the time, John Boyd nor Alfred Korzybski were familiar. Dr. Tedford did not change my way of seeing the world. What he did do was codify how I had always looked at things without understanding why and gave me means for seeing and challenging - everything. His teachings, more appropriate life lessons, for seeing our visual world with sanity stemmed from Korzybski but relied primarily on Condon's work and less so on the writings of S. I. Hayakawa (a Korzybski pupil) found in his book 'Language in Thought and Action.'

An aside, time-binding - man's ability to record information - is an important GS principle.

In 2002 Robert Coram published 'BOYD: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed The Art of War.'

Recently Coram's book was suggested to me. And that was more than fortuitous. It is among the most important books I've read since first reading Condon 43 years ago. 

Why? Because Boyd's work (the scope of which I was not aware), and relevant still, fits perfectly with GS principles (seemingly not in Boyd's work) and other fields of study and ideas on my mind. Alas, the missing piece of a big jigsaw puzzle found. 

Ongoing matters of national security and defense - a military being degraded in size, composition, and capability; social experimentation based on agenda not data and reality thereby weakening combat forces; enemies bringing terrorism to our land; high-level elected officials maliciously and recklessly handling classified material compromising national security; the highest levels of our government coddling and enabling enemies; etc. - are worrisome and beg a question: Is our government and the Department of Defense bureaucracy spearheading us into vulnerability and inevitable disaster? 

Boyd was a reformer - big brained with matching ego complemented with barely tamed passion driven by principle - who detested and challenged bureaucracy. At the Pentagon he was, necessarily and rightfully, out of step. That is, he boldly took on yes men and generals exposing failed integrity, honesty, and truth rooted in careerism and money. A steep price Boyd paid - professionally and personally - though a proudly worn badge of courage he sported for life. And so went the paths and experiences of his Acolytes. 

To cover the scope of Boyd's work not the purpose here. Suffice to say he changed how combat aviators fly; how combat aircraft are designed; and how ground combat forces fight (maneuver warfare). And more still. The Marine Corps is a reverent fan of and practitioner of Boyd ideas (though the Corps transition to maneuver warfare was ugly). 

Boyd believed - people first then actions and equipment last. 

Time and again that philosophy tested and validated. 

Boyd's reading spanned multiple disciplines - e.g., psychology; philosophy; mathematics; military history; warfare; and more. He integrated what he read and ever searched for more, adding to, and refining his ideas. 

But Boyd's work didn't include Korzybski's. And though it's more than just complementary, why didn't Boyd find it? Puzzling. 

For example, ideas such as we see only a tiny fraction of what is perceptible; that mostly what we see is what we have been taught to see and expect to see; that it is impossible to see all and name all we do see; and that we unwittingly see things that are not there and fail to see things that are are all GS ideas of inestimable value to Boyd's work.  

Like Boyd, Korzybski wrote much about pattern. 

And with that I've barely scratched the surface. 

Where is this going?

During the past few days, melding the ideas of these cerebral giants, it occurred to me - as if Korzybski, Boyd, and Tedford teamed to hurl a lightning bolt at me - our government, our Department of Defense is making a blunder. A great big blunder. And it's a blunder with grave national security consequences. 

Simply, the Pentagon, amidst great pressure and friction, is deliberately on the march to building an inferior, defeat-able force. And there seems not anyone - uniformed or not - out of step (in the Pentagon) to stop it. And the public clueless. 

Specifically, the Pentagon's jamming, maybe compelling is a better word, women into being men - in ground combat - is wrong-headed. 

A plethora of scientific research, carefully constructed field testing with miserable results, and school house attrition rates empirical proof. Onesies, here and there, to the contrary statistically and practically insignificant. 

Readiness and performance and survival and winning is the bottom line. 

Accepting Boyd's people, actions, equipment thought and reflecting on testimony from an authority on ground combat (3 wars), less combat capability in an infantry battalion would be lost arming 10, 15, 25% of the force with muskets vice adding the same percentages of women. Whatever that percentage goal (25% the headquarters talk) of women to be jammed into ground combat forces is looming disaster. 

That said, working GS into Boyd's ideas, while begrudgingly accepting that women are going into every corner of ground combat, it's again time to rethink the conduct of ground warfare. Completely rethink - with one objective question: How to best employ, optimize, women as combatants? 

And to that thinking anew, no preconceived artificial end state and no boundaries - as if a heretofore unknown tool or capability fell out of an invention lab and search for utility must be exhausted. But, with one requirement not open to compromise: Force multiplier (women in ground combat must be).  

Again, wishing, hoping, and pushing women to perform as men is not smart use of natural differences and abilities. In Boyd in-your-face speak, it's stupid (a comment he usually emphasized with a sharp finger poke in the chest). And, as analogy from Boyd's E-M Theory, the drag coefficient is too big. 

When the day comes, and it will on this hasty tack, women are drafted in equal numbers as men and likewise (equally) assigned ground combat specialties this problem had best be already solved one way or another. 

So, find their mission. And if there is not a mission then, like ending any ill-designed equipment, kill the idea of women in ground combat. For deliberately building a mediocre force is insanity. Just as Boyd argued against building aircraft his science proved had no chance against enemy planes.  

Furthermore, beyond Boyd and Korzybski, warfare is a complex ever-flexing, ever-changing blend of science and art. 

Art. From the fine and visual arts - as to perception; color; shape; design; and abstraction; etc. - there's more still to offer Boyd's work. Or so it seems. Nikola Tesla would certainly concur. 

From my background - not as mathematician, statistician, engineer, nor any other field of technical expertise - as a painter there is without question value considering shape/color relationships as to time, space, and light (and human response to). But enough for now. 

As there was with rethinking warfare - air and ground - with Boyd's work, now with integrating General Semantics and art variables into Boyd's ideas and further refining, in light of this new quagmire paradigm of women in ground combat, there's call again to clean slate rethink ground warfare. Ugly it will be. 

Maybe nothing changes. Maybe some things change. Maybe everything changes. But doing business the same old way while pretending women can be men without impacting readiness (and combat effectiveness) is naive and predictably deadly. No modeling required. 

Solutions I offer not. But in defense another theory, Chaos Theory and it's heart, nonlinearity, comes to mind. Within is proof, in nonlinear algorithms, that the smallest of things can have exponentially huge consequences. Thanks to super-computing those consequences emerge as 'strange attractors' in multidimensional graphs. Answers there rest. Perhaps. 

To the bureaucracy that turns blind eye to reality and objective analysis for agenda and expediency and careerism and money, shame. Fairness there's not. 

As Boyd asked his subordinates, "Do you want to be or do you want to do?" To be meaning go along to get along. To do meaning, based on principle, to do what is right. 

Ergo generals and admirals (with rare exception) are still - be(ers).  

Captains, majors, lieutenant colonels, some colonels, and some non-uniformed, too, of principle need not be in step - do(ers).

So, where are the reformers? Where are Boyd's Acolytes, and their proteges? These times desperate for a Boyd Tiger or two or three - to hose bureaucrats! 

Otherwise, our military is headed for the top of the heap of gear Boyd and his Acolytes argued, modeled with E-M Theory, should not have been built. Some fights lost but in the end they proved right though not winning the bureaucratic war - that wages on. 

In closing, 

Said Tesla, "The history of science shows that theories are perishable."  

The history of the world shows that countries are perishable. And for weak defense. That's truth not theory. Read the books - thank you time-binding. 

America, to prosper or perish? 

The author worked for reformers, headquarters level, doing vice being. Thank you, Phil - USAF pilot shot down behind enemy lines in Vietnam and rescued by a U. S. Marine - for recommending Robert Coram's book. 

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