American Caesar's Fatal Flaw

Significant Christian leaders have referenced William Manchester’s bestselling biography of General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964), American Caesar, among the most influential books of that genre a godly man might want to read.

Recently I picked up a copy to tackle for my neighborhood book club choose-your-own-biography night. I was not disappointed.

Prior to reading this nearly 800 page tome, all I knew about MacArthur I learned from watching Mash reruns on TV. Few generals have distinguished themselves in terms of military accomplishments like MacArthur did in the Pacific theater in WWII and the Korean conflict. I took notes as I read on the man’s numerous virtues as a leader, everything from bodacious courage to strategic planning.

But the biggest lesson learned from this read had to do with the man’s fatal flaw, his ultimate undoing. I will let Manchester explain:

Probably no other commander in chief relished the spotlight so much or enjoyed applause more. In a word, he was vain. Like every other creature of vanity, he convinced himself that his drives were in fact selfless. . . . What Douglas MacArthur believed in most was Douglas MacArthur. . . . The yearning for adulation was his great flaw. He had others, notably mendacity and overoptimism, based on his conviction that he was a man of destiny, which repeatedly led him to announce “mopping-up” operations before battles had been won. . . . But it was his manifest self-regard, his complete lack of humility, which lay like a deep fissure at his very core. In the end it split wide open and destroyed him ( p. 9).

Little wonder. The Bible says in Prov. 16:18, Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Now I am no MacArthur nor son of  a MacArthur, but I fight the temptation to relish the spotlight and enjoy applause. I wasn’t a theater major for nothing in my undergraduate, pre-Christian days. And God help me, I can love adulation way more than I should.

Douglas MacArthur’s legacy of hubris serves as a good reminder to me to embrace the words of the prophet Micah, which a young, budding preacher/church planter recently reminded me of: He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (6:8, emphasis added).

Are you guarding your heart from the fatal flaw of the American Caesar?

3 responses

  1. John Piper’s Journal Entry, 12/6/88 (from What Jesus Demands from the World):

    Is not the most effective way of bridling my delight in being made
    much of, to focus on making much of God? Self-denial and crucifixion
    of the flesh are essential, but O how easy it is to be made
    much of even for my self-denial! How shall this insidious motive of pleasure in being made much of be broken except through bending
    all my faculties to delight in the pleasure of making much of
    God! Christian Hedonism5 is the final solution. It is deeper than
    death to self. You have to go down deeper into the grave of the
    flesh to find the truly freeing stream of miracle water that ravishes
    you with the taste of God’s glory. Only in that speechless,
    all-satisfying admiration is the end of self.

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