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Douglas MacArthur and Hubris

Guiding Questions

  • Can a hero sometimes fall because of a character flaw related to pride?
  • Why did the Founders place control of the military under elected officials?


  • Students will understand the importance of civic virtue for all leaders.
  • Students will consider the wisdom of the American system that places non-military elected leaders in positions of authority over military leaders.

  • Hubris
  • Humility
  • Civic virtue
  • Authority
  • Consequences
  • Commander-in-chief
  • Chain of command
  • Perspective
  • Containment


Borneman, Walter. MacArthur at War: World War II in the Pacific. New York: Little, Brown, 2016.

Brands, H.W. The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War. New York: Doubleday, 2016.

Dallek, Robert. Harry S. Truman. New York: Times Books, 2008.

Hamby, Alonzo L. Man of the People: A Life of Harry S. Truman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Herman, Arthur. Douglas MacArthur: American Warrior. New York: Random House, 2016.

Klein, Christopher “MacArthur vs. Truman:  The Showdown That Changed America” See for a short and very useful summary of the issues.

Manchester, William. American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur, 1880-1964. New York: Back Bay, 2008.

McCullough, David. Truman. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992.

Perrett, Geoffrey. Old Soldiers Never Die: The Life and Legend of Douglas MacArthur. New York: Random House, 1996.

Perry, Mark. The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur. New York: Basic Books, 2014.

To provide context for this lesson, students should be familiar with the events of World War II and the Korean War.

Provide the handout, Hubris: Douglas MacArthur and Hubris Essay, and have students read the essay before class time.

Write the word hubris on the board and define it: To show excessive pride or vanity, arrogance, or conceit that usually brings about a downfall.

Explain that the ancient Greeks are generally credited with creating our understanding of hubris and the fall of the tragic hero from greatness in their epic poetry and drama. However, the literature of many different civilizations and the texts of many different religions also warn against the dangers of pride. Ask students for real and fictional examples of hubris and write them next to the definition. Discuss how excessive pride and arrogance can lead to a downfall.

Activity 1 (10 minutes)

Assign students to groups of 4 or 5 and use the Activity: Mind Map of Hubris to have the groups analyze the relationship between hubris and vices likely to result from it.

Activity 2 (20 minutes)

Provide the Discussion Guide for the Hubris essay, assign students to small groups, and have groups talk through the questions listed. For question 4, each group will need a map of Korea and colored pencils. Have each group select what they believe to be the most interesting/important question on the Discussion Guide. Take a quick poll and engage the whole class in the most-often selected question(s) as time permits.

Read aloud and discuss MacArthur’s speech: invite a student to read excerpts of MacArthur’s speech to Congress. Ask the class to decide whether they would have supported Truman or MacArthur, but to keep their decision secret for now. Randomly assign students to support Truman or MacArthur and distribute sticky notes. Students should post their reasons for their support, with support for Truman in one section of the classroom wall, and support for MacArthur in another section. After allowing students to read the sticky notes on each side, ask for a show of hands: Was Truman justified in firing MacArthur? Then ask whether students changed their mind regarding Truman/MacArthur during the activity and discuss.

Use the Hubris Worksheet to have students write about a time when they have shown excessive pride.

Provide students with the Virtue in Action – Douglas MacArthur and Hubris handout to encourage further personal reflection and application of the costs and consequences of hubris.

Civilian control of the military is one of the most important features of representative democracy. The opposite of civilian control can be a military dictatorship. Have students list a few historical examples of both forms of government and explain how liberty is at risk if civilians are not in control of the military.

Student Handouts

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