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?