With the announcement Friday morning that the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet will be the latest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, the number of Peace Prize laureates will tick up to 129. That figure doesn’t match up with the number of years the prize has been given, as some years have multiple honorees and others–historically times of war–have none. But it also wouldn’t match up with the number of prizes announced.
That’s because in 1973 Le Duc Tho became the first and only person ever to voluntarily refuse a Nobel Peace Prize. The prize had been awarded jointly to Tho, a North Vietnamese politician and diplomat, and U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for their work negotiating a ceasefire in the Vietnam War.
As TIME reported, the Nobel committee’s decision “aroused an unprecedented storm of criticism”:
The biggest reason for the controversy was the obvious one: despite Tho and Kissinger’s work, the war in Vietnam continued (as it would for more than a year after the Nobel announcement). And many argued that Tho and Kissinger had been just as responsible for creating war, not stopping it. One TIME reader wrote in to say that “The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho is like granting Xaviera Hollander (the Happy Hooker) an award for extreme virtue.”
Though Tho would probably not have agreed with the second half of that argument, he did agree that Vietnam was not at peace—and, further, as the Nobel Committee puts it, “his opposite number had violated the truce.” He declined to accept the prize. He said that he might reconsider if peace were restored to his country eventually, but his decision stood.
But, as TIME noted in 1978 when Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin controversially received the prize, lasting peace was obviously not a prerequisite. Past winners included “Aristide Briand and Gustav Stresemann, the French and German statesmen who won the 1926 prize for the ill-fated Locarno peace treaties, in which Belgium, France and Germany agreed never to fight again” and “American Diplomat Frank Kellogg, who was the originator of the utopian Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, in which 15 powers, including Germany and Japan, agreed to renounce war as an instrument of national policy.”
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