WASHINGTON -- On Wednesday, I was an unwilling eyewitness to a dramatic political event, and it made me wonder where we are headed as a nation. More on that in a moment. First, a little background.
There is no doubt that leadership matters. The study of human history provides evidence that empires -- even entire civilizations -- rise and fall on the ideas, virtues and skills (or lack thereof) of great leaders. From Mesopotamia to Europe, those who chronicled the triumphs and failures of great leaders in the Western world measured success based on military prowess and territory conquered. Herodotus detailed how the Persian Empire, built by Darius, eventually succumbed to Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C. That vision of leadership began to change in what is now Israel.
Old Testament prophets described a Messiah -- a leader and savior who would deliver the Jewish people from their travails. For more than two millenniums, Christians have believed that the Messiah is Jesus of Nazareth and that at the appointed time, he will come again in triumph. Unfortunately, in the modern era, there have been many other leaders who perceived that they had messianic qualities that only they could provide.
Napoleon, in the aftermath of the bloody French Revolution, described himself as "essential" to the future of France and was appointed dictator. The aftermath was a disaster for his countrymen and much of Europe.
Adolf Hitler was elected by the German people and then given absolute power because he claimed that only he could "preserve the Aryan race." The result was a global conflagration that resulted in the deaths of more than 25 million.
More recently -- from Idi Amin in Uganda to Pol Pot in Cambodia, Kim Jong Il in North Korea and Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe -- men have "led" their people to perdition after describing themselves as the only men capable of leading their populations through difficult times. Yet all their people were ultimately worse off.
It is notable that until the 20th century, the American people managed to avoid selecting leaders who held messianic self-esteem. Neither George Washington nor Abraham Lincoln -- arguably two of this nation's greatest leaders through the toughest crises in our history -- described himself in such terms. In fact, the record of what they said and wrote is replete with humility.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.