Why did Henry Kissinger win the Nobel Peace Prize? Why was it so controversial?
Henry Kissinger was awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize, one of the most controversial in the award’s history for which it was dubbed “the War Prize.”
Henry Kissinger had a hand in reshaping US foreign policy, advising 12 presidents from John F Kennedy to Joseph Biden. He was both celebrated and reviled for his realpolitik and had a hand in epoch-changing global events.
As the top US diplomat for the Nixon administration, he negotiated with his North Vietnamese counterpart Le Duc Tho at the Paris peace talks to bring an end to the War in Vietnam. His strategy was to apply powerful military pressure while negotiating, part of which was a massive bombing campaign including on Hanoi, the North Vietnamese capitol, during Christmas in 1972.
Why did Henry Kissinger win the Nobel Peace Prize?
In January 1973, both parties reached a deal and agreed that the US military forces in Vietnam would withdraw. Just two days after the Paris peace accords were signed, both Kissinger and Tho were recommended for the Nobel Peace Prize that year by a member of the award committee.
That member John Sanness, a Norwegian academic, reasoned that the choice “would underline the positive that talks have led to a deal that will bring armed conflict between North Vietnam and the United States to an end.” He and the rest of the Nobel committee, The Guardian reported, were well aware that the ceasefire was “unlikely to hold” but both men, even so, were awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize.
Why was it so controversial?
As feared, fighting between the North and South Vietnam continued, but the US involvement ended. The war finally ended with the fall of Saigon to North Vietnamese forces less than two years later.
The awarding of the peace prize to Kissinger stirred up outrage with some asking if it wouldn’t be better to call it “the War Prize.” For the first time in the history of the award, two Norwegian Nobel Committee members resigned in protest over the committee chairman breaking an unwritten rule that prohibited public mention of internal deliberations. A statement had been released that the committee had unanimously supported the selection of Kissinger and Tho.
Tho declined to accept the award saying it would be impossible. “When the Paris agreement on Vietnam is respected, guns are silenced and peace is really restored in South Vietnam, I will consider the acceptance of this prize,” he wrote in a telegram to the committee.
Kissinger did not travel to Norway for the ceremony but did accept the award. However, the day after Saigon was captured and the war ended, Kissinger attempted to return the award saying the “peace we sought through negotiations has been overturned by force.” However, the committee refused.