Tuesday, May 05, 2009

'Good morning, sir!'

I must say that it's a fine experience to approach one of those massive brick buildings at Quantico and have a cammie-clad major hold the door for me, smile, and cry: "Good morning, sir! How are you today?" Fifty-odd years ago I was a specialist fourth class, which is to say, a corporal without authority to command troops. A major at that time looked considerably older than today's model, and he wouldn't have wished me a good morning. Indeed, it was with a pained expression that he returned my salute, if I hadn't been quick enough to move to the other side of the street.

I'm at Quantico to explore the papers of John Boyd of the US Air Force. Boyd by all accounts was an extremely irritating man, especially to those of higher rank than he. (We shared that attribute, at least.) Of course the Air Force couldn't abide him, and in time he was taken up by the Marine Corps, whose battle tactics (and in time, those of the US Army) he helped to shape. I'm interested in how his ideas might apply to the problem of the day: counter-insurgency. He did have quite a bit to say about what he called 'guerrilla operations'--but almost always from the point of view of the insurgent, notably T E Lawrence and Mao Zedong. Of 'counter-guerrilla operations', he has much less to say. But perhaps it can be deduced? Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

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