Le Duc Tho was born in Nam Ha province, Vietnam on 14th October, 1911. As a young man he became involved in radical politics and in 1930 helped establish the Indochinese Communist Party. He campaigned against French rule in Vietnam and was twice imprisoned for his political activities (1930-36 and 1939-44).
In 1945 Le Duc Tho returned to Hanoi and joined with Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap in establishing the Vietnam Revolutionary League (Vietminh). Until 1954 he was Vietminh's leader in South Vietnam. A member of the Politburo of the Vietnam Workers' Party, he had responsibility for organizing the rebellion against the government of South Vietnam.
Peace talks between representatives from United States, South Vietnam, North Vietnam and the NLF began in Paris in January, 1969. Le Duc Tho served as special adviser to the North Vietnamese delegation. He eventually became North Vietnamese leader in these talks.
In October, 1972, the negotiators came close to agreeing to a formula to end the war. The plan was that US troops would withdraw from Vietnam in exchange for a cease-fire and the return of 566 American prisoners held in Hanoi. It was also agreed that the governments in North and South Vietnam would remain in power until new elections could be arranged to unite the whole country.
The main problem with this formula was that whereas the US troops would leave the country, the North Vietnamese troops could remain in their positions in the south. In an effort to put pressure on North Vietnam to withdraw its troops. President Richard Nixon ordered a new series of air-raids on Hanoi and Haiphong. It was the most intense bombing attack in world history. In eleven days, 100,000 bombs were dropped on the two cities. The destructive power was equivalent to five times that of the atom bomb used on Hiroshima. This bombing campaign was condemned throughout the world. Newspaper headlines included: "Genocide", "Stone-Age Barbarism" and "Savage and Senseless".
The North Vietnamese refused to change the terms of the agreement and so in January, 1973, Nixon agreed to sign the peace plan that had been proposed in October. However, the bombing had proved to be popular with many of the American public as they had the impression that North Vietnam had been "bombed into submission."
As a result of their role in these peace talks, Le Duc Tho and Henry Kissinger were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. However, Le Duc Tho, refused to accept the prize on the grounds that his country was not yet at peace.
The last US combat troops left in March, 1973. It was an uneasy peace and by 1974, serious fighting had broken out between the National Liberation Front and the AVRN. Although the US continued to supply the South Vietnamese government with military equipment, their army had great difficulty using it effectively.
Le Duc Tho and Vo Nguyen Giap continued to direct the military operations against President Nguyen Van Thieu of South Vietnam. The spring of 1975 saw a series of NLF victories. After important areas such as Danang and Hue were lost in March, panic swept through the AVRN. Senior officers, fearing what would happen after the establishment of an NLF government, abandoned their men and went into hiding.
Nguyen Van Thieu announced in desperation that he had a signed letter from Richard Nixon promising military help if it appeared that the NLF were winning in South Vietnam. However, Nixon was no longer in a position to fulfill his promise as he had been forced to resign over Watergate. The new president, Gerald Ford, a strong supporter of US involvement in Vietnam, tried to raise support for the South Vietnamese government but the Senate was adamant that as far as it was concerned, the war was over.
On April 23, 1975, President Gerald Ford told the American people: "Today Americans can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by re-fighting a war that is finished." Two days later. President Thieu, accusing the United States of betrayal, resigned and left the country. He was quickly followed by other South Vietnamese leaders and the remaining American advisers.
The NLF arrived in Saigon on April 30, 1975. After declaring that Vietnam was now a united country, Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam was established in July 1976. Communist governments were also set-up in Laos and Cambodia.
Le Duc Tho remained a member of the ruling Politburo until retiring in 1986. Le Duc Tho died in Hanoi on 13th October, 1990.