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Historical Dictionary

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ATTENTISME

This term refers to an attitude by which one delays making a clear decision until the situation becomes clearer. The word became common in France during World War II, when many had to make difficult choices between supporting political forces allied with Philippe Pétain, Charles de Gaulle, the Nazis, or others. The term was widely used during the Indochina War in both French and Vietnamese circles to refer to mainly non-communist Vietnamese nationalists unhappy with or wary of the policies of the French “colonialists” and the Vietnamese “communists” of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV). At the local level, this term could refer to traders and merchants who refused to come down on one side or the other, preferring to operate in both French Union and DRV-controlled zones. It could also refer to patriotic intellectuals and professionals who preferred to stay in the cities under French control, but remained unhappy with the French refusal to grant full independence to the Associated State of Vietnam. At another level, it referred to important non-communist leaders such as Ngo Dinh Diem or certain Greater Vietnam Nationalist Party (Dai Viet Quoc Dan or Dai Viet) politicians, who refused to join one side or the other. The internationalization of the war in 1950 led a number of Vietnamese non-communist nationalists to climb down from the fence and join the political mêlée. This was certainly the case of Ngo Dinh Diem, who saw in the Western recognition of Bao Dai’s Associated State of Vietnam the chance to take Vietnam in a new direction. As he wrote in a letter to his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu in 1953, attentisme was no longer a viable policy. It was time to take action. See also COLLABORATION; CROSSOVER; DESERTION