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Book Excerpt: Read Chapter One of "Religion, Terror and Error"
His mantra for the military's technology idol worshippers: "Machines don't fight wars, terrain doesn't fight wars. Humans fight wars. You must get into the minds of humans. That's where the battles are won."[v] As Boyd dove deeper into the study of ground war, he came to understand war as something that every person experiences in some form. Conflict is embedded in human nature. To prevail, whether in war, business, or personal relations, one must understand what one's adversary believes. To empathize also means to see yourself through your adversary's eyes.
The ability to get inside the mind of the enemy fascinated Boyd. This led him to study conflicts and battles in which numerically inferior forces defeated much larger ones, summed up in his four-hour briefing, "Patterns of Conflict." He saw brute force, head-on collision warfare (a.k.a. "high diddle diddle, go up the middle") as being less and less the paradigm for the future. Speed, ambiguity, deception, getting inside the head of the adversary, and, most important, doing what is least expected will be the hallmarks of success for future commanders. And the very best will be those who, in the tradition of Sun Tzu, unravel the enemy before the battle.[vi]
This is what Marine Lt. Col. Stanton Coerr, writing in the January 2009 edition of the Marine Corps Gazette, thinks Osama bin Laden accomplished. "It's as if bin Laden had read Boyd and foreseen the American overreaction to 9/11" Boyd explains:
Pull the adversary apart by causing him to generate or project mental images that agree neither with the tempo nor transient maneuver patterns he must compete against. Enmesh the adversary in a world of uncertainty, doubt, mistrust, confusion, disorder, fear, panic and chaos.[vii]
"America reacted precisely as Bin Laden knew we would," Coerr reflects, "with a huge public, angry, unilateral, military lashing out in Muslim lands. In doing so, we allowed bin Laden to become the voice for the Muslim world...authentic in the face of First World mechanized overkill."[viii] As of this writing, America has lost close to 6,000 lives and one trillion dollars in reaction to an attack that cost the lives of 19 hijackers and well under a million dollars.[ix] While America focuses on winning battles, our opponent will be focused on winning wars by striking where we are weakest, remaining in the shadows, promoting instability, and draining our treasury. As bin Laden himself said:
All we have to do is send two mujaheddin to the furthest point east to raise a cloth on which is written al-Qaeda, in order to make the [U.S] generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses...so we are continuing this policy of bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.[x]
Boyd's theory helps us understand why this is so.
The OODA Loop
Successfully getting inside the enemy's mind is part of a complex, four-part process that became known as the Boyd Cycle or OODA Loop: observation, orientation, decision, and action. William Lind, a leading figure in the U.S. military reform movement of the 1970s, succinctly captured this cycle in his now-famous handbook on maneuver warfare:
Conflict can be seen as time-competitive observation-orientation-decision-action cycles. Each party to a conflict begins by observing. He observes himself, his physical surroundings and his enemy. On the basis of his observation, he orients, that is to say, he makes a mental image or "snapshot" of his situation. On the basis of this orientation, he makes a decision. He puts the decision into effect, i.e., he acts. Then, because he assumes his action has changed the situation, he observes again, and starts the process anew.[xi]
Douglas Johnston is the president and founder of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy. Johnston comes to this work after a long and productive career serving in the United States military and government. His edited collection Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft has long been cited as a key text in conflict resolution studies.