The American Can-Do Attitude

We Americans are a positive and optimistic bunch. We start out assuming that we’ll find a way to be successful at whatever we attempt. We expect good weather and happy outcomes. And we never doubt our ability to deal with whatever lies ahead.

We also assume, without saying so, that we are a superior culture. We find other civilizations quaint and faintly amusing. We take for granted that American English is superior to the English spoken in other countries and get impatient with foreigners’ struggle with our language. We seem to believe that if others were superior like us, they wouldn’t have any trouble speaking American English.

We make little effort to learn the languages of other countries, expecting, instead, that others will learn our language. We are alone in the world at assigning ambassadors to other nations who do not speak the language of those nations.

Our can-do attitude served us particularly badly in Vietnam. We judged, correctly, that we were the strongest and best-equipped military in the world. Defeat of the Vietnamese communists was never more than a year away. We were baffled when, time after time, we set out to attack the enemy but found that he’d decamped before we got there. We never understood the North Vietnamese fighting strategy, summed up by Mao Tse Tung:

Enemy advances, we retreat.

Enemy camps, we harass.

Enemy tires, we attack.

Enemy retreats, we pursue.

It’s telling that we won every major battle we were able to engage in during the war, but for the first time in our history, we lost the war.

The can-do attitude is a flawed perspective.

One thought on “The American Can-Do Attitude”

  1. Some assets can also be liabilities. Our can-do spirit has served us well at times. Surely it brought us independence from the most powerful nation in the world in the 18th century. It saved the world from totalitarianism as well. We Americans need to do a better job of learning from our mistakes. Vietnam became a topic nobody wanted to speak of from early on after the war. But there was a great deal there to unpack.


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