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The Blind Strategist

John Boyd and the American Art of War


Stephen Robinson

Gosford, NSW: Exisle Publishing, 2023

Hardback  304pp   RRP: $49.99


Reviewer: Neville Taylor, May 2024


John Boyd was an American pilot who flew missions over Korea in the early 1950s, then became an Air Force tactics instructor. His air-to-air combat manual Aerial Attack Study became the fighter pilots’ ‘bible’. He analysed why the US pilots were incredibly successful against an enemy that flew fighter aircraft with superior aerial manoeuvrability. His design suggestions led to the development of fighters using energy manoeuvrability.

Retiring from the USAAF in 1975, Boyd led the Defence Reform Movement that sought out real data in tests and acquisitions. In 1977 his briefing Patterns of Conflict explaining manoeuvre warfare was influenced by Sun Zu, Ghengis Khan, Liddell Hart, First World War German stormtroopers and the Second World War Blitzkrieg. The concept involve a decision ‘loop’ that provided a rapid response in any situation, thus gaining a winning advantage over one’s opposition. Updated, the briefing morphed into a thirteen-hour lecture A Discourse on Winning and Losing – which he delivered in excess of 1500 times in the succeeding 20. years. In 1982 manoeuvre warfare was incorporated into the United States Army’s doctrine and into the Marine Corps’ doctrine in 1989.

Boyd had assumed that what worked in air-to-air combat was the answer to any military situation. He believed in the falsities created by Liddell Hart in collaboration with Second World War German generals eager to dispel negativity and paint themselves in a positive light with manoeuvre warfare as the basis of their wartime activities. Professional historians were to eventually reveal this attempted blindsiding of their readers.

Stephen Robinson has worked in the Department of Defence, graduated from the Australian Command and Staff College, worked as an officer in the Australian Army Reserve and has served as an instructor at the Royal Military College, Duntroon. The author of two other military titles, here he has undertaken to challenge doctrine that has been espoused for 50 years by two of the world’s great forces. Because of Stephen’s extremely well-respected international reputation, The Blind Strategist has been championed by current defence leaders as a welcome light to be shone on a contentious doctrine.

Extensively researched and very readable, it come with a fifteen-page Bibliography, fourteen pages of Notes and a comprehensive Index. This work truly exposes the ‘if it’s said often enough, then it becomes truth’ modus operandi that so often pervades society today. A most valuable adjunct to military theory and doctrine.



The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.

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