In Henry Kissinger’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech he noted, “More than the achievement of peace, the [Peace Prize] symbolizes the quest for peace,” which is fair to note, given that Kissinger was receiving the award in 1973 for negotiating peace in Vietnam, where “peace” wouldn’t be achieved for another two years.
Kissinger’s co-peace prize winner and Vietnamese counterpart in peace talks, Le Duc Tho, declined his award on the very grounds that peace had not yet been achieved in Southeast Asia. “In these circumstances,” the New York Times reported Tho as saying, “it is impossible for me to accept” the prize.
Tho’s rejection of the prize put both Kissinger and the Norwegian Nobel Prize committee in an awkward position, as there was a palpable lack of symmetry coupled with heaps of controversy. How could you award a prize for peace when one half of the negotiating parties said peace did not yet exist? Kissinger himself sent a proxy to the award ceremony. And while the peace prize had never been declined before—nor since—a Nobel Prize had gone intentionally unclaimed once before, by another French-speaking Marxist: the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.