An Extra-Ordinary Figure in the History of Nobel Peace Prize, Le Duc Tho

“Peace has not yet really been established in South Vietnam. In these circumstances it is impossible for me to accept the 1973 Nobel Prize for Peace which the committee has bestowed on me.”

Le Duc Tho made the history with this statement, by being the first and only person who refused to accept Nobel Peace Prize.

Le Duc Tho had long experience of fighting against western powers when he negotiated with Henry Kissinger for an armistice in Vietnam between 1969 and 1973. As a young man he became a Communist, and the French colonial authorities imprisoned him for many years. He gained a place in the Communist Party’s leadership during Japan’s occupation of Vietnam in the Second World War. Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam independent after the defeat of Japan in 1945, but the French returned, and Le Duc Tho became one of the military leaders of the resistance against the French.

After the defeat of the French, Vietnam was divided. The USA supported a government in South Vietnam and this led to a more conflict in the region. The clash between the communist Northern Vietnam and the U.S. supporting anti-Communist South Vietnam together with the USA military in the mid-1960s turned into what is known as the Vietnam War.

With staggering civilian and military casualties, Tho, who had returned to South Vietnam as an ally of the Viet Cong, was called upon to join the Paris peace negotiations in June, 1968. He and U.S. national security adviser Henry Kissinger eventually met in secret in 1969 and several years later negotiated the January 1973 Peace Accords after the U.S. December bombing raids on Hanoi and Haiphong.

Many hoped that it would mean the end of one of the most terrible wars of the 20th century, and the Norwegian Nobel Committee rewarded the negotiators with the Peace Prize. The awards to Kissinger and Le Duc Tho became, however, one of the most controversial issues in Peace Prize history.

Tho declined the prize and told that it was because the USA and South Vietnam had broken the ceasefire. The 1973 Peace Prize stirred heated debate, and for the first time in the history of the prize, two of the Norwegian Nobel Committee members resigned in protest.

Having reportedly suffered from cancer, Le Duc Tho died on October 13, 1990, in Hanoi, Vietnam.


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