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A New Conception of War: John Boyd, the U.S. Marines, and Maneuver Warfare

A New Conception of War: John Boyd, the U.S. Marines, and Maneuver Warfare.

Ian T. Brown. Quantico, Virginia: Marine Corps University Press, 2018.

Reviewed by: Mr. Don Vandergriff

I am always hesitant to read other books on similar titles after reading a really good one. Mostly this is due to time, but also experience in being let down. I loved Robert Coram’s biography, Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, and was fortunately, able to read and comment on the draft, and was mentioned in the conclusion. But I was wrong about Major Ian Brown’s book on Boyd and Maneuver Warfare. Ian’s book effectively bridges the gap between the overall impacts Boyd had on strategy that Coram did in his book, and the book also provides details on the impact Boyd made on the evolution from attrition to maneuver warfare.

I love behind the scenes stories – what really happened. Ian fills an important gap in the Boyd scholarship by interacting with the key players involved in the maneuver warfare transformation (and what makes it more interesting is I know all of them as well and have heard similar insights). He does this by a thorough examination of the Boyd papers in the Gray Research Center archives, as well as with numerous interviews with all the key players.

Finally, this book is personal. Ian writes of the sacrifices that many people made against a centralized, top down system. Additionally, he portrays their moral courage, from John Boyd to the numerous captains and majors that wrote articles and spoke out to push the Marine Corps forward. I highly recommend this book to every Marine, of all ranks because it is also well-written. It examines the lessons learned from moving the Marine Corps to Maneuver Warfare, but also can be used to assist the Marine Corps today as they evolve once again under the leadership of Marine Corps Commandant General David Berger and Major General William Mullen. True reform as Boyd would say is people centric, pushing ideas, with technology only supplementing. Unfortunately, all too often, it is technology that leads the way while people are left in the Industrial-age.


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