In This Review

The Blind Strategist: John Boyd and the American Art of War
The Blind Strategist: John Boyd and the American Art of War
By Stephen Robinson
Exisle, 2021, 360 pp

Colonel John Boyd was one of the most influential American strategic theorists of the last century. From his experience as a fighter pilot during the Korean War, he developed the so-called OODA loop—observe, orient, decide, act—as an approach to warfighting. In the 1970s and 1980s, he convinced senior U.S. policymakers of the need to abandon strategies based on attrition and embrace those based on sophisticated maneuvers instead. He drew heavily on accounts of how the German army had gained impressive victories during the World War II and on the work of the British military historian Basil Liddell Hart, who had urged an “indirect approach” to warfare to avoid deadly frontal assaults. But as Robinson reveals, the more that scholars learn about German operations and about Hart’s determination to fit all military history into his own simplistic framework, the flimsier Boyd’s thesis appears. Robinson carries out a meticulous demolition job that will be of interest to students of the Wehrmacht and to the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, demonstrating how grand theories with an emotional appeal can go a long way on the back of dubious history.