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Robert Coram
Robert Coram
Boyd:  The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War
ISBN: 0316796883
Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War
—from the publisher's website

John Boyd may be the most remarkable unsung hero in all of American military history. Some remember him as the greatest fighter pilot in American history-the man who, in simulated air-to-air combat, defeated every challenger in less than forty seconds. Some recall him as the father of our country's most legendary fighter aircraft-the F-15 and F-16. Still others think of Boyd as the most influential military theorist since Sun Tzu.

They only know half the story.

Boyd, more than any other person, saved fighter aviation from the predations of the Strategic Air Command. His manual of fighter tactics improved the way every air force in the world flies and fights. He discovered a physical theory that forever changed the way fighter planes were designed. Later in life, he developed a theory of military strategy that has been adopted throughout the world and even applied to business models for maximizing efficiency. And in one of the most startling and unknown stories of modern military history, the Air Force fighter pilot taught the U.S. Marine Corps how to fight war on the ground. His ideas led to America's swift and decisive victory in the Gulf War and foretold the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

On a personal level, Boyd rarely met a general he couldn't offend. He was loud, abrasive, and profane. A man of daring, ferocious passion and intractable stubbornness, he was that most American of heroes a rebel who cared not for his reputation or fortune but for his country. He was a true patriot, a man who made a career of challenging the shortsighted and self-serving Pentagon bureaucracy. America owes Boyd and his disciples the six men known as the "Acolytes" a great debt.

Robert Coram finally brings to light the remarkable story of a man who polarized all who knew him, but who left a legacy that will influence the military and all of America for decades to come.

Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War
Program Air Date: January 26, 2003

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Robert Coram, who was John Boyd?
ROBERT CORAM, AUTHOR, "BOYD: THE FIGHTER PILOT WHO CHANGED THE ART OF WAR": John Boyd was one of the most important unknown men of our time. His ideas were responsible for our victory in the Gulf war. His ideas turned the U.S. Marine Corps around in the 1980s, changed the way they went into battle. His ideas are the basis for the time-based management theories that we have today. And his ideas are gaining an ever greater circle of respect around the world. He was a man who changed the world.
LAMB: How do you know all that?
CORAM: I spent the past three years researching his life and talking to the people who knew him best and going through records that showed his great influence.
LAMB: Is there a way to cap -- so many phrases and stuff in the book that I remember. Let me start with "Patterns of Conflict." What was that?
CORAM: It was his great legacy to military theory. It made him the greatest military theoretician since Sun Tzu. It was a time-based theory of conflict that was responsible for our victory in the Gulf war.
LAMB: What service was he in?
CORAM: He was in the Air Force.
LAMB: What was his rank?
CORAM: He retired as a colonel. He was lucky to become a colonel.
LAMB: What years was he in the service?
CORAM: From 1952 until 1974, I believe -- `75, perhaps.
LAMB: What kind of jobs did he have?
CORAM: He started out as a fighter pilot, flew combat in Korea. Then he became an instructor at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, where he got a reputation as "40-second Boyd," the man who defeated all comers in under 40 seconds, or he paid them $40, and he never had to pay off. He was beginning to develop his theories of air combat at the time, but he knew he needed more. So he went from Nellis to Georgia Tech, got an engineering degree. Then he went to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, where he developed the theory, and then came to the Pentagon, where he was responsible for the F-15 and the F-16 and the F-18.
LAMB: Where did you get this idea?
CORAM: I had known of Boyd for about 20 years, since I was a reporter at "The Atlanta Constitution." But about three-and-a-half years ago, I was out of ideas, air speed and altitude all at the same time, and Chuck Spinney, who`s in the Pentagon, one of Boyd`s closest friends and a person I have known for 20-some-odd years, said, It`s time to do the Boyd book. So I came to Washington and spent about a week doing some basic research, wrote a proposal. My agent sold it in one day.
LAMB: To Little Brown.
CORAM: To Little Brown.
LAMB: What did they like about it? Did they tell you right away?
CORAM: No. I think they liked the story, a man who`s unknown but who made such an enormous contribution to America and to national defense and to intellectual discourse.
LAMB: Why is he unknown?
CORAM: A, he was in the military. B, he never wrote anything. Therefore, academics have nothing to ponder over and explain to us what it means and to perpetuate his legacy. And unfortunately, that`s the way a lot of people are remembered, are through their writings. And he never wrote anything. He came from an oral culture, and "Patterns of Conflict" is a briefing. Trying to read the briefing slides is like reading a foreign language. It`s impossible.
LAMB: Now, you refer often in the book to the oral history, the Air Force oral history, with John Boyd. Where is it? How much is it?
CORAM: Boyd`s oral history in the Air Force?
LAMB: Yes.
CORAM: I`m not sure I understand. He...
LAMB: Well, it...
CORAM: It`s an oral culture.
LAMB: No, no. I mean, you refer to the oral history in your book. Did you listen to tapes of his?
CORAM: Oh, I see what you mean. I talked to a number of his friends who knew him, but the oral history -- he dictated a number of notes that became long monograms for the Air Force.
LAMB: But did he tell his story at any point, his own story?
CORAM: More or less, but it had the fighter pilot`s coloring in it, and it was not always reliable. It was somewhat exaggerated, so I had to sift through that.
LAMB: So how did you go about finding out the Boyd story?
CORAM: Talked to his family. There`s a lot of passive-aggressiveness, if you will, on the part of his family toward him, and they revealed things to me in the first interview that I would have been surprised to find out in the tenth interview. His friends are all extraordinarily bright and articulate and have photographic memories. Plus, there are records of his Air Force days, his efficiency reports.
LAMB: Before we go to the family and some of the people you`ve talked to, is he responsible for the F-15?
CORAM: He is.
LAMB: Is he responsible for the F-16?
CORAM: He is.
LAMB: How? How could one man who`s unknown be responsible for both of those planes?
CORAM: He developed what was known as the "energy maneuverability theory" or EM theory, and it`s a clear line of demarcation between the old aviation and the new aviation. It gave a way to quantify the performance of an aircraft, to compare an aircraft performance with that of the adversary, and a way to design aircraft. When he was brought to the Pentagon to bail out what was then called the FX, it was a plane that was about to go down in ignominy and have the Navy force another salt-water airplane, as they`re called on the Air Force, another humiliation. Boyd salvaged the FX, and that became the F-15.
LAMB: Are there people out there that would disagree with you?
CORAM: I don`t think so. There are some who -- senior officers who were there when the aircraft went into production who would like to be known as the father of the F-15. But by the time they came on board, the heavy lifting had been done. The people who were there and know what train delivered the goods to the station will tell you that John Boyd was the father of the F-15 and the F-16 and the F-18.
LAMB: Have you ever -- did you ever meet him?
CORAM: I did not.
LAMB: Have you ever seen him, other than pictures?
CORAM: We talked on the telephone once or twice. He wanted me to hear his briefing, but we never did that.
LAMB: How long did his briefing last?
CORAM: Oh, "Patterns of Conflict" was seven hours on some days. Some days it was longer. It depended on his mood. But his entire briefing, all of his works, were about 15, 18 hours. He`d deliver them over two or three days.
LAMB: How often did he give his "Patterns of Conflict" briefing?
CORAM: Every time he got a chance. He would stop people in the halls of the Pentagon and say, You got to hear my briefing. He delivered it hundreds of times. And as it became better known, he worked his way up the chain of command to ever more senior officers and eventually delivered it to a number of three and four-star generals.
LAMB: Somewhere in the book I think you say he was the greatest fighter pilot in history?
CORAM: One of. Never defeated in air-to-air combat. He had a reputation as "40-second Boyd." And it`s like a gunslinger. If you have a nickname and a reputation, you`re always called out. And he was called out by Air Force pilots, by Marine Corps pilots, Navy pilots, by exchange pilots from other countries. But he was never defeated in simulated air-to-air combat.
LAMB: But it wasn`t air combat -- he wasn`t up there in the sky when he was not defeated.
CORAM: Yes, this was simulated air-to-air combat.
LAMB: But he didn`t fly -- I mean, it wasn`t -- it was in a simulator.
CORAM: No, it was in an F-100, doing simulated combat -- not shooting guns but doing the maneuvers and...
LAMB: Training.
CORAM: Yes, training -- and getting on the 6:00 o`clock and getting 16 frames of gun camera film.
LAMB: How much actual warfare did he see in his life? How many wars was he in?
CORAM: I think he -- he was in World War I -- I`m sorry, World War II, briefly as an enlisted man. He came out of a high school in Eerie, Pennsylvania, and went in at the very end of World War II, but he was a swimming instructor. He flew combat in Korea, 20 -- I forget, 20-some missions, I believe.
LAMB: How many MiGs did he hit?
CORAM: He hit one. He got a piece of one. But that`s not really a good indication because I know a man named Hank Buttleman who got -- who was an ace, and I think he flew 50 missions without ever seeing a MiG. So it depends on being in the right place at the right time.
LAMB: What`s it mean to be an ace?
CORAM: Five airplanes shot down. A great cachet goes with being an ace, which is another reason a lot of Boyd`s work is relatively unknown because it`s been overshadowed, if you will, by some of the writings of men who were aces.
LAMB: What`s the reaction to this book so far?
CORAM: It`s been extraordinary. It`s been entirely unexpected for me, in that I`m getting phone calls and e-mails almost daily from people who -- first of all, they`re reading it in one or two sittings, and it`s 500 pages. So that`s unusual. Secondly, they feel a deep passion about the book, and they have to talk about things that are in there. And the conversations get very emotional.
LAMB: Why?
CORAM: Because of all that Boyd did and all he gave and how little he got in return and how little he`s recognized. See, all men, Brian, are somewhat like little boys at heart. We all want to do things bigger than we are. We want to be part of a great cause and make a contribution to our country and our society. But the truth is, most of us live rather humdrum lives, and we don`t get to do those things, but we get a vicarious kick out of other people doing it. That`s why we read some of the books we read.

But John Boyd gave men a chance to live an exciting life and...

LAMB: You say he was at Nellis Air Force Base outside of Las Vegas for six years.
LAMB: How important was that?
CORAM: It was sort of the foundation. It`s where his reputation as a fighter pilot began. But his most important work had nothing to do with aviation. It was -- he moved beyond flying later in his career.
LAMB: You say he went to Thailand for one year, Nakhon Phanom, the secret Air Force base in Thailand in the middle of the Vietnam war?
CORAM: Toward the end of the war, `72. He shot down -- what was it -- I think it was `72. The war was -- that part of the war was winding down when he was there. He shot down what was called the "McNamara line," the electronic sensors placed along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. He was vice commander of Task Force Alpha, and then he became the base commander and turned around a base that had a severe morale problem, a lot of discipline problems. And it was his only command, and he performed admirably.
LAMB: Only command while he was in the service?
CORAM: Correct.
LAMB: Got out of the service in `75, didn`t die until 1997. What did he do through those years?
CORAM: First couple of years after he retired, he went into seclusion. He read the most daunting list of books imaginable. It was far beyond what most post-graduate degrees are. He came out of that with "Patterns of Conflict." That was what he had done during the year he was -- year-and-a-half he was away. And then another series of briefings and his work -- he did a lot of work with the Marine Corps.

One of the great untold stories of modern military history is how this retired Air Force colonel changed the way the U.S. Marine Corps does business. And if you know anything at all about military culture, that`s extraordinary. He also turned the Marine Corps, unbeknownst to other branches of the service and to the public, into the most intellectual branch of the U.S. military. He did work with a fellow named Jim Burton, who was responsible for a lot of safety additions to the Bradley fighting vehicle. He was the heart of the military reform movement in the early `80s.

LAMB: What was the "OODA loop"?
CORAM: OODA -- observe, orient, decide and act. That`s his great contribution to thought today, both in business and in the military. If you go to the Internet and type in OODA loop, you get about a thousand hits. observe, orient, decide and act. The military has tried to hard-wire it to make it a linear high-speed cycle, and it`s far, far more than that. Its impact is devastating if someone really understands its usage.
LAMB: Why devastating?
CORAM: Because if you can cycle through the loop quicker than the adversary, you cause ambiguity, uncertainty, confusion, mistrust in his mind, and time is stretched out for him, and at the same time, because you can cycle through it quicker, time is compressed for you. So you`re getting ahead of his decision cycle, and he becomes confused. He turns inward instead of outward. He mentally collapses. It has happened in warfare and in business.
LAMB: Can you give me an example of what you just said?
CORAM: An example of...
LAMB: Cycling through what? I mean, give us a concrete example of what he`s talking about.
CORAM: Observation -- you see something. Then you become oriented to it, and the orientation phase is the most complex because into that comes the genetic heritage, your education, your background, so many intangibles, and they`re different for all of us. So the orientation phase is different. Then you decide what you`re going to do, and then you take an action. Once you become proficient at this and you have an intuitive understanding of how you relate to your -- this evolving situation, you can go from the observation to the action phase, skipping, apparently, the orientation and decide, while the other person is still going through the full cycle.
LAMB: How many -- you go back to the family. You talked to them. How many of the family did you talk to?
CORAM: All of them.
LAMB: How many are there?
CORAM: There were three -- five children, three boys and two girls. One of the boys died right after Boyd did, so I talked with the four surviving children, all of whom are adults now.
LAMB: And where are they? Where`s his wife, Mary, now?
CORAM: His wife, Mary, and daughter, Cathy (ph), and son, Jeff (ph), live in an apartment in Delray Beach. Mary Ellen (ph) lives in the Washington area, and son, John Boyd -- John...
LAMB: Scott.
CORAM: Scott -- thank you -- who goes only by the name Scott, lives in California.
LAMB: What about the snakes?
CORAM: Boyd was very rough on his children. He had little time for them, and they found solace each in different ways. For Jeff (ph), it was snakes and spiders, insects. And he has quite a collection.
LAMB: He`s now, what, in his 40s?
LAMB: Lives with his mother in Delray Beach, Florida, along with his sister, and he keeps those snakes in the apartment.
CORAM: Correct.
LAMB: It`s a problem for him down there, around the apartment?
CORAM: He doesn`t talk about it very much. It -- he`s afraid that it could be a problem.
LAMB: But you also talk about when he keeps -- at one point, kept the snakes in his car because...
CORAM: When he first went down, Boyd wouldn`t let him bring all that collection into the house, so he kept a number of a poisonous scorpions and snakes in his car, parked in the shade all the time, and he would go out and feed them in his car.
LAMB: What`s he do for a living?
CORAM: He doesn`t work.
LAMB: Any reason for that?
CORAM: He should be under heavy medication but is reluctant to take it. His sister should be institutionalized...
LAMB: Which sister is this?
CORAM: Cathy (ph), who lives with him. She`s taking heavy medication and has told me her diagnosis, which is pretty serious. It runs in the Boyd family.
LAMB: What`s his wife, Mary, like?
CORAM: Very quiet, very demure. It would sound unkind to say she`s a professional victim, but we all know people that way. And I think she has a great deal of resentment still toward Boyd for how he ignored her and -- it`s not a pleasant side of Boyd, the domestic side. All of us have our dark sides, and his is very dark.
LAMB: We have some video where he lived for 22 years here in the Washington, D.C., area, out on Beauregard Street. And you say in your book that this is -- this is, like, apartment, what, T3.
CORAM: I think so.
LAMB: This is a basement apartment there in garden -- a garden-type apartment, not too far away from Route 236. What`s the significance of him living there for 22 years?
CORAM: One of the great resentments his family has towards him is that they lived in that basement apartment for so long, when he could have bought a house, and he wouldn`t do it. And today, all of the children still have a great deal of anger about having to live in that tiny, cramped apartment for so long.
LAMB: One of the things that comes through in your book is that you keep hearing him -- it`s shrill. His -- he`s loud. He`s in your face. He smokes cigars. He even lights a couple of ties on fire. Explain what that part of his personality`s all about.
CORAM: He was a man on a mission, and as long as you understood or tried to understand what he was about, he was accommodating and would help you along. But if you had what he called an obstruction -- that is, you disagreed with him or thought he was wrong, he had to bring you over to his side. And if he couldn`t, he dismissed you forever. He had a knack for cutting people out of his life completely.
LAMB: How big was he?
CORAM: About six-one, I believe, 170, a big, rangy fellow.
LAMB: What were his politics?
CORAM: I don`t know. I don`t know. He came back from Vietnam surprised that the Nixon administration and stalked the halls of the Pentagon during the Watergate days. Keep in mind he`s a colonel on active duty in the Air Force, accosting people in the halls of the Pentagon, saying, Nixon is a crooked son of a bitch. We need to get rid of him. And you don`t hear many active-duty officers taking that position. I`m not sure that was politics as much as it was an issue of morality because he always did the right thing, and he had no tolerance for those who did not.
LAMB: Did he drink?
CORAM: Moderately. There`s only one known instance of his being drunk, and that`s when he was passed over for lieutenant colonel.
LAMB: Was he religious?
LAMB: The Wednesday night meetings at Fort Myer here in this area, at an officers` club -- when did they start? What were they? Who was there?
CORAM: They were started by Tom Christie, who had this thing going down in Florida, and he came up here and sent one of his young associates, Chet Richards (ph), out to find another place. He found Fort Myer. Those meetings have been going on for about 30 years. Some of the greatest patriots in America go there, men who`ve made a greater contribution to national defense and to our country than any collection of men you could find anywhere else. And they sit around, and they tell the old war stories, and they remember Boyd and the perpetuate his good work.
LAMB: Did he go to those meetings?
CORAM: He did.
LAMB: For how many years?
CORAM: He came to Washington in `66 and went to the meetings until -- I think he came back even after he retired in `74, when he came back through town.
LAMB: How did it work that he would go to these meetings, and he would say things to this group -- "I just hosed another general today" -- and not get back to the general?
CORAM: It did, but he didn`t care. He once invited a general to a party, and the general said, I`m not coming because I don`t need you to tell me how stupid I am. Boyd had very little respect for rank. He thought most generals do nothing but get promoted, that they were careerists. Those generals are remembered for their contributions to their branch of the service, but Boyd is remembered for his contributions to his country.
LAMB: Now, we read in your book a lot of quotes from his efficiency reports. What were they?
CORAM: An officer, as he progresses upward through the ranks, is judged at certain intervals by his superiors. It was important to me that I get all of those and use them because, as some English writer said, old men forget. And I found out that a lot of people who had achieved higher rank -- i.e., generals -- denied having thought kindly toward Boyd when they were at lesser ranks. One, in fact, gave Boyd the greatest ER he ever had and then denied it until I showed him the efficiency report. So those are pickled records, if you will, of his progress through the military. They`re very important.
LAMB: "Pickled records"?
CORAM: Pickled in the sense that they can`t be changed and they can`t -- they are as it was at that time.
LAMB: Why did you get to see them?
CORAM: Through the good offices of his daughter. She allowed the military records repository to send them to me.
LAMB: So you actually just requested them all, and they came to you?
LAMB: Were they wide open? Was anything redacted from them?
CORAM: No. No, they were -- it was his record, and there`s nothing classified in there, so it was the complete record. It was a big help. It`s the spine of the book.
LAMB: You keep talking about the "firewall" on these records. What`s that?
CORAM: That`s the far right side of the ER. And you want -- an officer who is a careerist and is concerned with his promotion wants all of the marks. There are five or six boxes. But he wants it firewalled -- that is, all the checkmarks on the far side of the efficiency report.
LAMB: You get the impression from reading the book that John Boyd thought he was always right and everybody else was wrong.
CORAM: He knew that what he was doing was right. His motives were the highest and the best. He was concerned not for his career, not for money, not for advancement but for doing the right thing, for taking care of the men whom the military describes as being at the pointy end of the spear, the ones all of us should be concerned about. And that was Boyd`s life. And if someone thought more of their career or more of getting a job with a defense contractor after they retired, you bet, he was on them in a minute. He had no patience with that sort of short-sighted careerism.
LAMB: You reference an April 22nd, 1991, hearing that was held in the House of Representatives. Les Aspin was chairman. He was from Wisconsin. He went on to be secretary of defense. He`s now deceased. We have some videotape from that, to see what John Boyd sounded like and looked like. Have you ever seen him in action?
CORAM: No, I haven`t seen that!
LAMB: There he is.
CORAM: I tried to get it but...
LAMB: You`re going to see him in just a second.


JOHN BOYD, FORMER CHIEF OF DEVEL. PLANS & ANALYSIS, U.S. AIR FORCE: Prior to 1982, the U.S. Army`s basic manual for war fighting, FM 100-5, emphasized an attrition scheme via firepower and frontal assault against oncoming enemy threats. Even if such an unimaginative scheme could win, it would produce -- it would produce a high body count of our own soldiers. Needless to say, such a scheme doesn`t represent an attractive proposition to the troops who are supposed to...


LAMB: We`ll show some more of this later. You can talk over it. But one of the things you notice in there is John Lehman, the former secretary of the Navy, who never looks at him during this hearing. Can you explain why?
CORAM: A lot of people were intimidated by Boyd. He -- we`re all intimidated by people who always do the right thing, who are models of probity and rectitude. That was one of Boyd`s finest days. He wore that -- that awful coat deliberately because he`s surrounded by all these men in dark suits. He knew he would stand out. He turned that hearing into -- it was supposed to be about weapons in Vietnam, as I recall, and he turned it into a hearing on the personnel policies of the military, primarily regarding his friend, Colonel Mike Wiley (ph), who had just been not promoted to general.
LAMB: We`re going to show...
CORAM: It was one of his finest days.
LAMB: ... show you a little bit of that later, when he does talk about Mike Wiley (ph). He`s sitting next to Gary Hart, and there are also some others in the room at that particular hearing. You also mention in this book his connections to Senator Grassley, Senator Kassebaum`s top aide, Senator Gary Hart`s top aide, the Reform Caucus in the House of Representatives, and the vice president of the United States, now -- then secretary of defense, Dick Cheney. What -- how did that work?
CORAM: Boyd met all of the above when he was the leader, the spiritual leader, if you will, of the reform movement. Dick Cheney, then a young congressman from Wyoming, heard his briefing, then had a number of one-on-one sessions with Boyd. When Cheney became secretary of defense, he was rare in that he knew more about strategy than most of his generals did. He called Boyd out of retirement in the early days of the Gulf war, and from him got an updating, if you will. And it was Boyd`s strategy, not Schwarzkopf`s, that led to our swift and decisive victory in the Gulf war.

The vice president, Cheney, gave me about 30 minutes to talk about Boyd. And on television, he seems very reserved and controlled, but when he talked to me about John Boyd, he was enthusiastic, and I could tell he had great respect for this man.

LAMB: What part of the Gulf war in 1991 plan did John Boyd have some responsibility for?
CORAM: All of it. The multiple thrust, the feints, the ambiguity, the Marine feint, the...
LAMB: You mean the landing in Kuwait, the early landing?
CORAM: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: That was his idea?
CORAM: It was his idea. He was behind every bit of it.
LAMB: Why did we not know this before now?
CORAM: Anecdotally, it`s been known, to some degree. Boyd was coming to Washington. He wasn`t talking to any of the acolytes, except Jim Burton (ph). He was -- a lot of people knew he was meeting with Cheney. And the secretary of defense didn`t have a lot of time during those days. He was working 18-hour days. So if he`s meeting with Boyd, there`s only one thing they have to talk about. The books that came out after the Gulf war, particularly General Bernard Trainor`s book, "The Generals` War," goes into a great deal of detail about how Cheney threw out Schwarzkopf`s battle plan. And the vice president told me that he summoned Boyd to Washington to talk about maneuver warfare.
LAMB: Former Marine Corps general Bernard Trainor, who we see on television all the time now.
LAMB: Played what role back in those days? And how did he know John Boyd?
CORAM: He was head of Marine Corps education at the time and had given Colonel Mike Wiley (ph) the mandate to straighten up the tactics section of the amphibious warfare school. Colonel Wiley (ph) invited Boyd down to lecture, and that`s how they became known, and it was the beginning of Boyd`s work with the Marine Corps.
LAMB: How many books does this make for you?
CORAM: Eleven.
LAMB: The other 10 are what?
CORAM: Seven novels, distinguished only by the speed at which they were remaindered, three non-fiction books.
LAMB: You say on your Web site and you have one,, that you were fired twice.
CORAM: Correct.
LAMB: By the "Atlanta Constitution" and the "Atlanta Journal."
CORAM: Right.
LAMB: Came together at one point as one newspaper.
CORAM: So that they can never be duplicated.
LAMB: Now, how did you get fired?
CORAM: It was easy. The first time I tried to start a union movement and six months later I was fired ostensibly for other reasons but because of my union activities. The second time because of what we`ll call aggressive interviewing techniques.
LAMB: What does that mean?
CORAM: It means I leaned on people too hard.
LAMB: Why?
CORAM: Because it was my job.
LAMB: How long have you been a writer?
CORAM: It`s all I can do. I`ve been fired from every other job I ever had. I`ve been a writer since the mid `60s with the newspaper.
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
CORAM: Deep southwest Georgia, Edison, Georgia.
LAMB: And what kind of novels have you written over the years?
CORAM: Police novels, narcotics trafficking, novels about the Atlanta Police Department.
LAMB: Where would you put this book on a scale of all the 11?
CORAM: It`s in a different universe. It took me three years to write. The others took six months or so. This one took a lot out of me. There are still parts of it I can`t read without getting emotional. And, Boyd was a man such as comes along very rarely. I was fortunate to be able to write this book.
LAMB: And why emotional?
CORAM: His life was sad. It was tragic. He was unknown and he did so much.
LAMB: There`s got to be more to it than that, though. I mean beside the tragedy. What is it that touches your emotional nerve?
CORAM: I think he was the sort of man that all of us would like to be.
LAMB: And that is?
CORAM: He always did the right thing. He left his mark. He changed the world.
LAMB: But you then tell the family part of this which isn`t very pretty.
CORAM: Well, it`s part of what I do. I tried to run it straight down the middle to be as fair as I could. His contributions were so great that if I emphasized only those it would be a hagiography. Is that how you pronounce that word?
LAMB: Close.
CORAM: And I didn`t want it to be that, and the only dark side to Boyd that I could find other than some personality quirks was his family, and frankly I cut out several hundred pages after the book was finished because the real situation is far more bleak than is portrayed in the book. It`s just beyond description.
LAMB: In what way?
CORAM: In ways that were so bad I didn`t want to put them in the book because it would be disconcerting from what his life was all about.
LAMB: Are you talking about the family part of this?
CORAM: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: In his own family, you say he grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania.
CORAM: Right.
LAMB: And you keep telling us through the book that he goes back through his life all the time, goes back to see a man that was his mentor.
CORAM: Frank Patanotto (ph), the father he never had. Boyd`s father died when he was two years old and Patanotto filled that gap, became a surrogate father and he was an old-fashioned guy who implanted in Boyd some old-fashioned virtues.
LAMB: At one time you have him going back to Erie with his family and his mother won`t let the kids stay in the house.
CORAM: She was a very gruff German lady, very little patience, and she did not want to be bothered by the kids and, frankly, I can sympathize with her on that point. So, she sent them all to a motel but it was a terrible blow to Boyd. He never got over that.
LAMB: His father?
CORAM: A salesman for Hammermill Paper who died of pneumonia when Boyd - shortly before Boyd`s third birthday, an Irish guy, very garrulous, outgoing, pale fellow, well meant.
LAMB: A brother died fairly young.
CORAM: Bill died of a mental problem, schizophrenia.
LAMB: How much mental problem in the family?
CORAM: There`s a strain of it. I got the medical records from the asylum where the brother died and they mentioned some family beyond that and there`s a fear among some members of the family that it might crop up in some of the children now who are now quite young.
LAMB: Tell the story about Eglin Air Force Base. He was there and wanted computer time from the Air Force for what?
CORAM: To develop his theory. This was in the early days of computers and his theory was mathematically based and to run through all the variables it would have taken him several lifetimes and then it might not have worked out. Computers short circuited that process immensely.

He was a maintenance officer. He came in asking for computer time and the civilian threw him out of his office. He tried to do it the Air Force way, sent letter after letter after letter saying what I`m working on will change aviation forever. He was dismissed. He stole a million dollar`s worth of computer time.

LAMB: Stole but from how?
CORAM: Through the good offices of Tom Christie who now works in the Pentagon. He was then in charge of an office at Eglin that did 60 or 70 percent of the computer work on the base and he simply gave Boyd a project number that Boyd tied on to what he was doing, developed his theory.

Later on the inspector general came down to investigate, wound up seeing what Boyd had done, the results of it and exonerated Boyd completely and turned his wrath on the civilian who refused him computer time.

LAMB: Is this where he used the computer to prove that the Soviet MiG was better than our F-111?
CORAM: Correct.
LAMB: What year would that have been?
CORAM: `63, `64, `65.
LAMB: Did he have any license at that point to do that or was he doing it...
CORAM: None whatsoever.
LAMB: Doing this on his own?
CORAM: Not in the beginning. He was a maintenance officer but later on he did as he had said he would do. He worked himself out of the maintenance officer job and it might be the first time in Air Force history that a fellow has come up with a theory and then the Air Force told him to spend all of his time working on that theory. So, after the Air Force acknowledged the theory, then he was cleared to do it.
LAMB: What happened when he made his presentation to prove that the MiGs were better than the F-111?
CORAM: No one believed it. He briefed it to higher and higher levels and finally he was briefing it to General Sweeney then in charge of the Tactical Air Command, and the briefing was to last for 20 minutes, but Sweeney heard enough then to know he wanted to hear more.

So the briefing lasted all that day and into part of the next day, at the end of which the general said I haven`t seen the slides on the F-111, which was the pride of the Air Force. It was one of those do anything planes. It could be a fighter plane. It could be a bomber. It could be a low level. It could do everything but dust crops and it was the ultimate airplane.

LAMB: I keep getting the message in the book again in layman`s terms that he wanted a lighter airplane that the Air Force always wanted to build a heavy fighter plane.
CORAM: Bigger, heavier, higher, faster, farther, that`s the tradition of the Air Force. If you look at the long chain of fighter aircraft, each one is bigger, heavier, less maneuverable than its predecessor until Boyd came along.
LAMB: And the weight, like 70,000 pounds?
CORAM: Correct.
LAMB: Versus what he wanted what, 40,000?
CORAM: He wanted about 30,000, 35,000 pound single engine and it became two engines, much heavier, and then it was missionized, as the Air Force calls it, which means they kept adding equipment that degraded the performance even farther. So out of his disgust with what the Air Force had done to the F-15, he then went into the lightweight fighter project, and out of that came the F-16.
LAMB: So, if he were sitting here today and we said, Colonel Boyd what do you think of the F-15 and the F-16 that the Air Force flies, what do you think of the F-14 and the F-18 that the Navy flies, what would he say?
CORAM: He would not think much of any of the above.
LAMB: Because?
CORAM: Because of what they were in the beginning, what they could have been, what they were and what the Air Force did to them after they were missionized because the F-16 is a perfect example.

It was born as the most nimble, agile, fastest turning and burning aircraft ever made, the ultimate fighter airplane, famous for the buttonhook turn. It could - its performance has never been equaled before or since. It rivaled the performance, exceeded the performance of the F-15, then the darling of the Air Force.

So, to prevent that from happening, the Air Force added a plug in the middle to make it longer. They added hard points for all the missions. They added more bombs and rockets. They added fuel tanks, everything to degrade the performance and they wouldn`t make the wings significantly bigger and it turned it from being a great fighter airplane into a little short legged bomber.

LAMB: What did he think of the B-1?
CORAM: It was one of the worst airplanes the Air Force ever built.
LAMB: B-2?
CORAM: Pretty close to the same.
LAMB: Didn`t like the big bombers?
CORAM: No. Part of it was because he was a fighter guy but part of it was because those aircraft had so many, so much gold plating on them their performance was degraded. You can`t have an airplane do everything.

It has to be a precise role in order to get the maximum performance. It`s like trying to have a sports car that you want to haul gravel in and take your family across country. You got to pick a car for what you want to use it for and it`s the same with aircraft.

LAMB: You can just hear - let`s just say there`s a general watching this right now who made a career out of the Air Force says something to the effect if John Boyd was so good and the rest of us are so bad and all these planes don`t matter, why are we number one militarily in the world and have been quite successful in most military campaigns with the exception of Vietnam?
CORAM: Have we?
LAMB: I`m just saying that`s what they`re saying.
CORAM: But if you look at the long chain of wars in the last ten years, that statement could be questioned. We ran out of Mogadishu, just go down the list.
LAMB: Is that the military`s fault?
CORAM: I don`t know the answer to that. Are you saying if the equipment is that good we have the greatest military? I think that`s a pretty risky proposition. What you say is correct but sometimes you wonder if it`s the right equipment in the right place and for the right reasons and were we really, really lucky.

In Afghanistan, for instance, we brought in weapons. We couldn`t catch the head of al Qaeda. We couldn`t catch the mullah we were looking for. We sort of timidly engaged in Operation Anaconda because we were afraid of fatalities.

LAMB: Do you think if John Boyd had run it all we`d have caught Osama bin Laden?
CORAM: I think it would have been done differently. I don`t know if we would have caught Osama bin Laden but I think we would have come closer than we have today.
LAMB: Who are the acolytes and there`s a whole page of them, six of them?
CORAM: They`re Boyd`s I think greatest legacy. They`re men of great intellect, great ability, great contributions to America, the most extraordinary group of men I`ve ever met.
LAMB: Why don`t we just go down the list and start up. You mentioned Tom Christie earlier and he is a civilian and always has been?
CORAM: Tom Christie has got I think the highest ranking job in the Pentagon you can have as a civil servant, as an appointed job.
LAMB: Who`s Pierre Sprey?
CORAM: Pierre Sprey is the brain of the group. He runs Maple Shade Studios out in Maryland, one of the greatest music making facilities in the country. He is revered by audiophiles.
LAMB: Who is Ray Leopold?
CORAM: Vice president of Motorola. He holds about 50 patents. He`s the father of the Iridium telephone system, lectures at MIT, brilliant, brilliant guy, Air Force Academy guy.
LAMB: Chuck Spinney?
CORAM: The keeper of the flame. He`s still in the Pentagon, carries on Boyd`s work. He writes blasters that he e-mails to a very influential group of people.
LAMB: Jim Burton (ph)?
CORAM: Jim Burton , Air Force colonel, first graduating class at the academy. He`s the reason the Bradley Fighting Vehicle is as safe as it is and performs as well. He has probably done the most of all the group and saved many, many lives in the Gulf War by his work.
LAMB: Colonel Mike Wyly?
CORAM: Mike was the point man for changing the Marine Corps in the 1980s. He turned the Marine Corps into the most intellectual branch of the U.S. military and is behind the Marine Corps University, made enormous contributions to the Marine Corps and then was passed over for promotion.
LAMB: And at that hearing we showed in 1991, he was the subject of discussion, why?
CORAM: Because of the way he was - the many contributions he made and the way he was treated by the Marine Corps and Boyd took personal offense at that and it was Boyd`s greatest day when he came to Mike Wyly`s defense. Boyd overshadowed the purpose of the meeting, overshadowed the luminaries who were there some of whom you mentioned and it was his day on behalf of Mike Wyly.
LAMB: Now when you saw John Boyd earlier were you surprised by what he sounded like?
CORAM: I was. I had not seen that tape. I looked for it and I was told it did not exist, so I want to talk to you about that later.
LAMB: You didn`t call. Anybody can get it. We have an archive. Let`s look at a little bit more. What we`re going to show now is when he starts to talk about Mike Wyly. Where is he today by the way?
CORAM: Mike Wyly is in a little town in middle Maine where he supervises a ballet school. He`s been written up on the front page of the "Wall Street Journal" as a combat decorated Marine Corps colonel who runs a ballet school in Maine.
LAMB: Here`s a little bit more from that hearing.


JOHN BOYD: More than three years before (UNINTELLIGIBLE) innovations, Mike Wyly, a Marine officer became concerned about the way Marines viewed the concepts and practices associated with war. A highly respected company commander with two Vietnam combat tours behind him, he felt the Marines needed a new approach to war fighting.

By the late 1970s his dissatisfaction brought him into contact with newly emerging ideas associated with maneuver warfare. He recognized that these ideas offered a way out of the high casualty morass he personally experience in Vietnam.

Shortly after absorbing these ideas, he began laying out his version of maneuver warfare by articles in the Marine Corps "Gazette" as well as by testing these ideas in the field and revising them based upon his own field experiences and tactical exercises.

Out of this he produced unconventional thinking memoranda of how maneuver warfare should be conducted at the tactical level. These ideas were eventually incorporated in Bill Lind`s highly regarded "Maneuver Warfare Handbook."

As his efforts became more and more visible other officers, primarily junior officers, sought him out so they might learn these new unconventional methods that were not yet part of the Marine Corps way of war fighting.

Unsurprisingly, a number of higher ranking officers tried to suppress his efforts by transferring him elsewhere where his ideas would have far less impact or by placing officers above him who were unsympathetic to what he was trying to accomplish. This, I might add, was done several times.


CORAM: Men like Boyd don`t come along very often.
LAMB: What`s he doing though? What`s he doing that other people don`t do?
CORAM: What did Boyd do?
LAMB: Yes.
CORAM: He always did the right thing. He - I don`t know how to explain it beyond that. He had an idea, a mission, a destiny. His entire life was devoted to that. One definition of genius is concentrating on one thing to the exclusion of all others and Boyd`s life was concentrated entirely on his work.
LAMB: You said today that his papers are held by the Marines?
CORAM: Correct.
LAMB: Why?
CORAM: Because the Air Force takes great pride in the fact John Boyd had no influence whatsoever on them. On the other hand, the Marine Corps, which had to make the biggest leap to embrace his ideas did so, and Commandant Charles Krulak made the decision within minutes once the idea was broached to him and I think a half day after someone came to him with the idea the machinery was moving to get Boyd`s books and papers down at Quantico. That`s where I started the research on this book was at Quantico.
LAMB: What`s there?
CORAM: All of Boyd`s papers, his books, which are underlined and annotated as you have done that one. It`s a great foundation, a place to start doing a biography about a man whom I didn`t know.
LAMB: You open the story at the funeral I mean open this book at the funeral, and what`s the story?
CORAM: I tried to do it chronologically but then I would run into the question of who is John Boyd and why should I buy a book about a guy I never heard of, so I used the device of the memorial service to summarize his entire life and it shows the Marine Corps-Air Force thing, all of Boyd`s work, the feelings people have about him. And by then, if the reader gets through that and doesn`t want to read the rest of the book, I`ve not done my job.
LAMB: How did you find out who was at that funeral and what the circumstances were? Who described it to you?
CORAM: I watched the videotape about 100 times and then talked to a number of people who were there, and I probably spent more time working on the prologue than any other part of the book. I must have written it 30 or 40 times.
LAMB: Where did you get the videotape?
CORAM: From a member of Boyd`s family.
LAMB: And one of the things I want to ask you about, there`s no footnotes in your book.
CORAM: I did that deliberately. I want the book to be accessible because so many biographies are just deadly dull and you got to read them but you also need a lot of caffeine when you do it.

And I didn`t want my book to be that way so I put all the research materials at the back. I didn`t want people slowed down by footnotes, and I know the academics might get heartburn over that, but I want a book that people will read and enjoy and have fun with, not an academic tomb.

LAMB: But there is a lot of implied attacks in here on generals and people who run the Air Force. Did anybody challenge you on this, whether this is accurate or not?
CORAM: One person since the book came out has said that what I portrayed as black and white is really a gray area where principled people are different. But I wrote it from the standpoint of Boyd and his friends and they were in a bunker mode. They were at war with the Pentagon and they felt this way toward those people.
LAMB: Are they still at war with the Pentagon? Like is Tom Christie still at war with the Pentagon?
CORAM: Tom can not afford to be at war with the Pentagon because of his job but he, Tom does the right thing. He might be a bit slow getting there but he gets there eventually.
LAMB: Who were the fighter mafia?
CORAM: That was Pierre Sprey and Boyd and a fellow named Riccioni who forced the lightweight fighter, which became the F-16, onto the Air Force without the knowledge or consent of the Air Force. It was one of the most audacious projects ever hatched against the U.S. military.
LAMB: You tell stories about John Boyd confronting a defense contractor who was involved what, in the - I can`t remember which plane it was, was it the F-15, who then ended up being a friend of his?
CORAM: I`m not sure it was a contractor who became a friend of his. Boyd did not much like contractors because they covered the performance of aircraft and made it seem better than they were and they are interested in making money for their companies rather than being interested in national defense.

Let me say there are exceptions to all of this. Despite Boyd`s aversion to generals, there were a number of instances in his career in which generals saved him. It was almost like machinery of the gods. These generals came out of nowhere to save his career.

The Acolytes did that same thing on a day-to-day basis, so not all generals are bad and I`m not sure all contractors are bad, but generally there`s a conspiracy - not a conspiracy but a consortium, if you will, of contractors, members of Congress, and the defense industry.

LAMB: Did you come to this with certain views of the military?
CORAM: I came - my father was a career Army guy, 31 years in the Army. I never had a childhood. I had a rather extended boot camp. So for years I was away from the military, wanted no part of it.

And this book made me understand what my father was trying to teach me that I never got at the time because the people I write about in here, Boyd manifests the highest and best qualities we expect in all people in uniform but not all of them have. Through Boyd I learned what my dad was trying to teach me as a child.

LAMB: And where were you in the military? Did you live around the world?
CORAM: I went to school in three different states in the first grade. My dad retired when I was in the third grade after 31 years in the military.
LAMB: And what rank was he when he retired?
CORAM: He was a super sergeant. He had stripes all - he wore his fatigue jacket with his service stripes and his chevrons for years after he retired, wore his khakis in his boots. He was called "The Sarge" in my hometown of Edison. He never really retired and he never let me forget that I was a son of a military man.
LAMB: And how did he do that? How did he tell you this all the time?
CORAM: I had to go to bed at nine o`clock. I had to turn the lights off when I left a room. I had to shine my shoes daily. Yes, sir and no, sir to people who might be two minutes older than I, always respectful toward my elders, be on time for everything.
LAMB: Were you ever in the service yourself?
CORAM: I was in the Air Force as an enlisted man in the mid 1950s.
LAMB: Did you go to college?
LAMB: Where?
CORAM: I started out at North Georgia College, a military college, and flunked out and then went into the Air Force, and after that I worked my way through school at Georgia State University in Atlanta in night school.
LAMB: And in the course of the publication of this book, have you spoken to a lot of military groups about this?
CORAM: No. No.
LAMB: No interest or just you haven`t done it?
CORAM: No, haven`t heard from them.
LAMB: Have you been on much of a book tour?
CORAM: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: What reaction do you get when you address audiences?
CORAM: The one I had at Olsson`s here in Washington several weeks ago, people who go there to book signings often said it was the best one they`d ever been to because there was so much back and forth. I got not only the audience engaged with me but with each other and it was a rather tumultuous session. It went about 30 minutes over the allotted time. It was - Boyd generates enormous feelings and emotions one way or the other and people like to talk about him and want to try to understand him.
LAMB: Do you have any idea how many copies of this book are in the market?
CORAM: The first printing was 27,000, and after three weeks with virtually no promotion it`s gone into a second printing. The numbers are holding good. The portents are good.
LAMB: What`s a cake job?
CORAM: Getting a superior officer to overextend himself and to fall into ignominy and disgrace because of his lack of knowledge, his lack of doing his homework.
LAMB: Even though I read this, half of these I`m afraid to ask you what they are, barbecue enchiladas - no, barbed wire enchiladas?
CORAM: It`s forcing someone to accept something they don`t want to accept and it`s extremely unpalatable in the process.
LAMB: Tube steaks?
CORAM: Sort of the same thing.
LAMB: Air, I got to be sure I say this totally, air-to-rug maneuver?
CORAM: Boyd was talking on the telephone with a gentleman, who at the time was a lieutenant colonel, who became so upset at talking to Boyd. He was trying to get Boyd to do something that Boyd thought was wrong and Boyd wouldn`t do it and the colonel got so upset that he began frothing at the mouth and fell out of his chair onto the rug.

And it turned out later, Pierre Sprey was in the room with him and said the strangest thing just happened and Boyd said well, I was on the phone talking to him. And so that became known as the air-to-rug maneuver, and that gentleman later became a four-star general and head of the Air Force, chief of staff of the Air Force.

LAMB: Did you ever get his name?
CORAM: I did.
LAMB: Can you tell us who it was?
CORAM: I can`t remember because I just didn`t use it. It wasn`t that relevant. Perhaps I should have. He`s in the Washington area. If you told me I would remember it, I`m sure.
LAMB: Well, there are a bunch still here in the Washington area.
LAMB: Is he out of the service now?
CORAM: He is. He works for a defense contractor. I`m sorry, I can`t remember his name.
LAMB: Not General Jones, David Jones?
CORAM: No. No.
LAMB: All right. You called Tom Christie "The Finagler," why?
CORAM: He was the adult child of an alcoholic. He learned how to do things below the radar screen of those who might interfere with him. He carried that knack, which many adult children of alcoholics have, into the bureaucracy. He could get things done when nobody else could and not have people offended at his doing them.
LAMB: You called Pierre Sprey "The Intelligent."
CORAM: A lot of people are described as having a clear, cold intellect. Pierre is I think one of the brightest people I`ve ever met. I`ve never seen an intellect like that. He can pierce instantly to the heart of a person or the heart of an issue and just lay it bare in a clinical, dispassionate fashion. At the same time, he has a very acerbic, biting intellectual wit. He`s one of the most charming people I`ve ever met.
LAMB: You called Ray Leopold "The First."
CORAM: Ray always has to be first at everything he does and he has been for most of his life. He`s an overachiever in the classic sense. He`s first in everything.
LAMB: You called Chuck Spinney "The Brash."
CORAM: Chuck has a battle joy about him. He loves to tangle with the bureaucracy when they`re wrong. He gets great fun, great pleasure out of it. He will take on anyone. He`s not intimidated by any person.
LAMB: You called James Burton "The Unbending."
CORAM: Burton probably had to go farther than the other Acolytes because first class at the academy, he was a water walker. He was destined to be a general, maybe even chief of staff but Boyd changed him from somebody who wanted to be somebody into someone who wanted to do something and that same probity and rectitude he showed as an Air Force officer was turned the other way.

Boyd is - I mean Burton will not bend when he`s right and he proved that day after day after day working on the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, and he`s proving it today out in Loudoun County where he`s an elected official and has almost single handedly had a great deal to do with stopping development out there.

LAMB: Loudoun County, Virginia. And finally, you often refer in the book that John Boyd loved Wagner and "The Ride of the Valkyries," why?
CORAM: I don`t know.
LAMB: What does that mean to you?
CORAM: I don`t know what it means to me or what it meant to Boyd. I know that at certain points in his life he found great relief and great solace in listening to Wagner turned up a deafening levels and it was usually "The Ride of the Valkyries." He would play it over and over and over. For what purpose, I do not know.
LAMB: How much of this to you really sounds and writes and feels like a novel?
CORAM: I did that deliberately. I wrote seven novels that did not do well but I used those techniques, and Boyd`s life is like a novel and it`s a bigger than life character, a great story, a sweeping backdrop, all the ingredients of a novel.
LAMB: Lived for 70 years, died in 1997.
CORAM: Right.
LAMB: This picture on the cover of the book is from when?
CORAM: He was climbing into the cockpit of an F-86 saber jet in Korea. He was right out of college there.
LAMB: Our guest has been Robert Coram and the book is called "Boyd," B-O-Y-D. Thank you very much for joining us.
CORAM: Thank you.

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