The Blind Strategist

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John Boyd and the American Art of War

Colonel John Boyd, a maverick fighter pilot, revolutionized the American art of war but his research relied on accounts written by Wehrmacht veterans who fabricated historical evidence to cover up their participation in Nazi war crimes. The Blind Strategist separates fact from fantasy and exposes the myths of maneuver warfare through a detailed evidence-based investigation and is a must-read for anybody interested in American military history.

Specifications: 9781925820348 | Cover and Jacket | 234 x 151mm/9.25 x 6 in | 360 pages 

Stephen Robinson studied Asian history and politics at the University of Western Sydney, graduating with First Class Honours. He has worked at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs researching British atomic weapons tests and as a policy officer in the Department of Defence. Stephen has graduated from 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.

Stephen’s previous books include False Flags: Disguised German Raiders of World War II (Exisle Publishing, 2016) and Panzer Commander Hermann Balck: Germany’s Master Tactician (Exisle Publishing, 2019). When researching an essay on Maneuver Warfare theory at Staff College, he began to notice the connection between the theory and fraudulent history, beginning an investigation that led him to write The Blind Strategist: John Boyd and the American Art of War.

John J. Mearsheimerthe R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago
“Stephen Robinson does a superb job of analyzing the momentous debate about the virtues of “maneuver warfare” that took place in the United States during the latter years of the Cold War. He shows in great detail that the proponents of maneuver – including their guiding light, John Boyd – based their claims on a deeply flawed understanding of history. The Blind Strategist is a must read for all serious students of modern warfare.”

Dr. James LaceyHorner Chair of Military Theory, Marine Corps University
“Stephen Robinson makes a bold, but utterly convincing, assault on the foundations of nearly fifty years of military thinking. As the United States military and its allies across the globe reorient themselves for the challenges of great state competition, Robinson’s fascinating book is certain to be at the center of the debate.”

Antulio J. Echevarria II, US Army War College
“An important book, one Boyd’s advocates will not want to read, but should.”

Mark F. Cancian (Colonel, USMCR, ret.), Center for Strategic and International Studies
“Robinson’s well researched book questions the tenets of Boyd’s OODA loop, maneuver warfare, infiltration tactics, blitzkrieg, World War II historiography, Desert Storm success, and much more. This will be controversial. Let the debates begin!”

Thomas Waldman, Senior Lecturer in International Security Studies, Macquarie University
“In this important, engaging and meticulously researched study, Stephen Robinson presents a compelling corrective to the maneuverist myth and Boyd worship affecting large parts of the US defense establishment and other Western militaries. For all the undoubted influence of Boyd’s purportedly revolutionary ideas, their uncritical embrace has fostered forms of doctrinal dogmatism, and the resulting operational tunnel vision helps explain recent failures in American strategy. In exposing the flawed foundations of maneuver warfare, this book will hopefully go some way to releasing Boyd’s followers from their blind devotion to the blind strategist.”

Army News
“If you are going to go the trouble to write a book you may as well make it controversial.”

RUSI (Royal United Services Institute)
“This book is well constructed, and easy to read, especially for those who have background in Command or Staff positions in any Armed Service. Much was learned from reading it.”

Jonathan Stevenson, Senior Fellow for US Defence, International Institute for Strategic Studies, and Managing Editor of Survival.
“With the Pentagon contemplating multi-domain operations as the next big thing in military transformation, Stephen Robinson’s meticulously researched, razor-sharp critique of John Boyd, which smartly encapsulates current debates about the relative merits of the maneuver warfare central to such operations, is a crucial resource.”

Professor Anthony King, War Studies, The University of Warwick
The Blind Strategist is a timely, controversial and iconoclastic book. Stephen Robinson takes aim at a shibboleth of American military doctrine: maneuver. Re-interpreting the story of John Boyd, it debunks the orthodoxy that maneuver is the self-evidently superior form of warfare in all circumstances. Instead, it seeks to re-habilitate the concepts of mass, firepower and attrition articulated in the apparently superseded concept of Active Defence proposed by General William DePuy in the 1970s. This book is essential and challenging reading for US military officers returning to the problem of high-interest inter-state against near peer competitors, after two decades of counter-insurgency.”

1 review for The Blind Strategist

  1. Rick

    “The Blind Strategist: John Boyd and the American Art of War” by Stephen Robinson is a very interesting book on a number of levels. I have heard of John Boyd and his ‘OODA loop’ (for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) but I had not read in depth about the man or his OODA loop; “a four-step approach to decision-making that focuses on filtering available information, putting it in context and quickly making the most appropriate decision while also understanding that changes can be made as more data becomes available”.

    It seems today that this theory can be utilized in nearly every human endeavour, from war, sports to commerce. This book looks at the development of this theory through the lens of the US Army’s struggle to find a war-winning formula after the Vietnam War debacle.

    The book is 352 pages in length (305 pages of narrative) with numerous B&W photographs and assorted maps covering various battles and conflicts. The book is divided into 11 main chapters after the author’s Introduction:

    Emergence of Maneuver Warfare
    The Maneuver Warfare Revolution
    History Written by the Vanquished
    The Father of Blitzkrieg
    Wehrmacht Operations Myth and Reality
    Riddle of the Stormtroopers
    Maneuver Warfare and Operational Art
    Maneuver Warfare and the Defense of NATO
    The Gulf War and the Illusion of Confirmation
    The War on Terror and the Return of Attrition
    Fourth Generation Warfare and Educating the Enemy

    In the book we read about the various war fighting theories put forward by various practitioners including; Deep battle/penetration, maneuver warfare, Active Defense, AirLand Battle, all looking for that battle winning formula. The author follows the development of these theories and their practical application, if pertinent, from the Battle of Cannae through to the modern conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    A large section of the book is taken up with a discussion on the German WW1 stormtrooper tactics followed by the myth of the WW2 German Blitzkrieg. Following the end of the Second World War allies had become potential enemies. The United States had established the Historical Branch by the U.S. Army in 1943 and later the subsequent expansion into the Historical Division:

    “In 1946, the Historical Division established the German Military History Program to make better use of willing prisoners and over 700 Germans worked for the program, writing manuscripts on Wehrmacht operations. After most prisoners were released in 1947, around 400 participants continued their work as paid civilians.

    The emerging Cold War changed the program’s focus as the Army faced the real prospect of war with the Soviet Union, and its leadership felt that guidance from former Wehrmacht officers would be invaluable as they had immeasurable experience fighting the Red Army. The Americans had originally sought German reflections to help clarify the context of their operations but the Cold War massively increased demand for manuscripts on the Eastern Front. The Germans accordingly wrote manuscripts on how to fight the Red Army, effectively making themselves military advisers. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Army Chief of Staff, realized the importance of their work and supported the program’s continuation and the Germans had written over 2,500 manuscripts by 1954.”

    This process opened the door for the corruption of the historical record to suit the purposes of various people pushing their pet theories on strategy and warfare and also led to the 1950 ‘Himmerod memorandum’. Of which the author states:

    “This document advised the West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer that a precondition of a West German Army included the release of Wehrmacht war criminals and the government would have to announce that German soldiers had fought honorably. Adenauer agreed and pressured the American Government to release war criminals in custody. The Cold War helped legitimize the myth of the Wehrmacht’s clean hands as the abandonment of trials and release of war criminals created an impression of innocence.”

    I read and loved those 1970’s classic accounts from German WW2 generals, including Guderian, Manstein and Rommel, however recent research has shown that the Wehrmacht does not have clean hands in regards to its operations during WW2 and blaming Hitler for all the bad or wrong decisions no longer stands up under close scrutiny. “The Blind Strategist” highlights how the selective use of these narratives amongst others were used to construct a war-winning battle theory, which was not realistically workable.

    As this quote in regards to Boyd’s OODA loop shows;

    “General John Kiszely correctly concluded that maneuver warfare ‘involves one opponent seeking to mentally outmanoeuvre the other, as in a game of chess’. Boyd, a fighter pilot, superimposed the notion of a time-competitive dogfight onto all conflict, but this does not reflect the reality of land warfare and, as Major Craig Tucker noted, there ‘is considerable difference between maneuvering a fighter and maneuvering an army.’ Maneuver warfare does not reflect the reality of conflicts like Afghanistan, as Major Gary Anderson explained in relation to the earlier Soviet-Afghan War:

    Some enemies simply don’t have OODA loops that are complicated and efficient enough to disrupt. For instance, the Soviets have launched numerous combined arms campaigns designed to paralyze the command, control, and communications of the Afghan resistance, but the Afghans simply don’t have a system that is susceptible to conventional-type attack’.”

    This book is a very easy to read account of the U.S. military’s journey to establish a war-winning formula and although its not my normal area of expertise I really enjoyed the book. It is bound to start some lively discussions between those who believe in Boyd and his OODA loop and others who follow a different path but I am sure all who read the book will come away having learnt something new.

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