Henry A. Kissinger, Le Duc Tho

Nobel Peace Prize 1973

Henry Kissinger


Bombs and cease-fire in Vietnam

Christmas 1972 saw heavy bombing raids carried out over the North Vietnamese capital Hanoi by American B-52 bombers. All over the world, thousands of people took to the streets in protest. The man who ordered the bombing was at the same time spearheading cease-fire negotiations. The armistice took effect in January 1973, and the same autumn Henry Kissinger was awarded the Peace Prize together with his counterpart Le Duc Tho. The latter refused to accept the Prize, and for the first time in the history of the Peace Prize two members left the Nobel Committee in protest.

Henry Kissinger has a German Jewish background. The family moved to the USA after Hitler came to power. Kissinger studied history and political science and was appointed to a chair at Harvard. During the war in Vietnam he prepared the peace negotiations with North Vietnam in Paris for President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Democrat, but when the Republican Richard Nixon won the election in 1968, Kissinger changed sides and became Nixon's closest foreign policy adviser. Kissinger went in for negotiations while the USA at the same time was putting North Vietnam under severe military pressure.


Le Duc Tho


Refused the Peace Prize

Le Duc Tho had had long experience of fighting against great 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 which the Communists in the north regarded as an American puppet government. When the United States decided to negotiate after 1968, Le Duc Tho was appointed North Vietnam's chief negotiator, confronting Henry Kissinger.

When Hanoi was bombed at Christmastime on Kissinger's orders, Le Duc Tho agreed to an armistice. But when he received the Peace Prize together with Kissinger in the autumn of 1973, he refused to accept it, on the grounds that his opposite number had violated the truce.