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The Korean War

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
5 days
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
To understand the Korean War and how it changed the Cold War.
  • Prior to beginning this class, the students will need to have no extensive knowledge on Korea, but maybe understand the importance of this country in retrospect with other Asian countries.
  • WWII has ended and the United States is currently in a Cold War with the Soviet Union East vs. West.
  • Make sure that students understand that many Americans feared the spread of communism.
  • Understand the new role that United States stepped into as WWII end.   (SUPER POWER ---what does this mean)
  • Iterate to the students that history often repeats itself, and as historians we try to learn from our previous mistakes.
  • It is important that the students remember the Munich Agreement between Adolph Hitler and Neville Chamberlain.  
  • How does the Munich agreement play a role with Korea?
  • In this class we will read an array of primary and secondary sources.
  • The students will also watch a documentary on Korea.
  •  The students will analyze the theme song from MASH- Suicide is Painless.
  • Did Truman handle Korea correctly?   What kind of impact did Korea have on the U.S. involvement in Vietnam?
Rationale (why are you doing this?)
  • My rationale for covering this topic is because I want to focus more time on Asia.
  • So many of my students are of Asian decent (primarily Chinese and Vietnamese), they barely study any Asian history in the curriculum.   Even though the Korean War will be studied in an United States history context, I think it is still important for my students to study the war and hopefully have their interest piqued –to want to continue studying but maybe from a different perspective.
  • To understand the Korean War and how it changed the Cold War.
  • To compare Vietnam and Korea.   Did the actions in Korea have much of an impact as to how Vietnam was handled?
Lesson Objectives - the student will
  • To understand the war in Korea better.
  • To understand Korea’s role in regards to the Cold War.
  • To have fun, while learning the Korean War.
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met

Massachusetts Frameworks

  •      United States History Learning Strands
  •                   Cold War America at Home:  Economic Growth and Optimism, Anticommunism and                   Reform.
  •                   USII.22, USII.23

Kansas Standards

Benchmark 3: The student uses a working knowledge and understanding of individuals, groups, ideas,
developments, and turning points in the era of the Cold War (1945-1990).
2. analyzes the origins of the Cold War (e.g., establishment of the
Soviet Bloc, Mao’s victory in China, Marshall Plan, Berlin Blockade,
Iron Curtain).
3. (A) evaluates the foreign policies of Truman and Eisenhower during
the Cold War (e.g., establishment of the United Nations,
containment, NATO, Truman Doctrine, Berlin Blockade, Korean
War, Iron Curtain, U-2 incident).

Benchmark 5: The student engages in historical thinking skills.
3.(A) uses primary and secondary sources about an event in U.S.
history to develop a credible interpretation of the event, evaluating
on its meaning (e.g., uses provided primary and secondary sources
to interpret a historical-based conclusion).

Missouri Standards

3aW:  Describe and evaluate the evolution of United States domestic and foreign policies including the Cold War.
3aY:  Describe the changing character of American society and culture.
6N:  Predict the consequences that can occur when institutions fail to meet the needs of individuals and groups.
7A:  Distinguish between and analyze primary and secondary sources.

    Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed
    • Boose Jr., Donald W. "Fighting While Talking: The Korean War Truce Talks." OAH Magazine of History 14.3 (2000): 25-29. Print.
    • Garraty, John A., and Mark C. Carnes. The American Nation: A History of the United States. New York: Longman, 2000. Print.
    • Guyburgundy. "Korean War Documentary Part 1-3." YouTube. YouTube, 24 Feb. 2012. Web. 23 July 2012. .
    •  McCullough, David G. Truman. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993. Print.
    • O’Neill, M. "Soviet Involvement in the Korean War: A New View from the Soviet-era Archives." OAH Magazine of History 14.3 (2000): 20-24. Print.
    • Pierpaoli Jr., Paul G. "Truman’s Other War: The Battle for the American Homefront, 1950 - 1953." OAH Magazine of History 14.3 (2000): 15-19. Print.
    • Roberts, Priscilla. "New Light on a "Forgotten War" The Diplomacy of the Korean Conflict." OAH Magazine of History 14.3 (2000): 10-13. Print.
    • Tucker, S. C. "Why Study the Korean War?" OAH Magazine of History 14.3 (2000): 3-5. Print.
    • "Suicide Is Painless (Mash Theme Song)." Suicide Is Painless (Mash Theme Song). N.p., n.d. Web. 23 July 2012. .
    Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed
    Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?
    • At the beginning of class I will distribute the speech by Dean Acheson given on January 12, 1950, I will ask each student to read the speech.  
    • After the speech is done, I will the students the following questions:
    1. Who is Dean Achenson and why is he important?
    2. What is the message in the speech?
    3. What countries does Dean Achenson mention?   Do you think that he forgets to mention anything?
    • After reading Dean Achenson’s speech, I will hang the map I have of Asia up on the wall – and once again I will ask the class if there are any other countries that maybe he should have mentioned in his speech?
    • I will pass out a map of Korea from the OAH Magazine PG 5 and I will ask the students to keep the map on their desk.
    • I will give a little bit of background on Korea.


    KOREA (my class notes) many of my notes are taken from the Teaching Company series.


    • The Korean War really put the containment policy to the test for the first time.
    • Kim Il-Sung, who was the Northern Korean dictator, invaded South Korea in June of 1950.
    • Korea had been one of the many places that had been invaded by Japan during WWII, and it had been temporarily partitioned at the 38th parallel when the Second World War ended – into a Communist and anti-Communist Zone, in the expectation that it would then be reunited by the elections.
    • A speech by Secretary of State Dean Acheson appeared to exclude Korea from the nations under American protection, and it was probably what gave the North Korean dictator confidence that it could get away with an invasion.
    • President Truman and Dean Acheson agreed that they must support the South Korean dictator, SYNGMAN RHEE, who was anticommunist to prevent this invasion from succeeding.
    • American policy makers after the war had in mind what had happened in the 1930s.
    • They said, “Look at the mistakes that Neville Chamberlain and the French leaders made in the late 1930s.  They appeased Hitler.  Instead of standing up to him and fighting back against his straightaway early, when they could have defeated him with relative ease, and they waited and temporized and in the end they fought Hitler when he was much stronger.  Let’s make sure we do not make that mistake again.”
    • American foreign policy after the war was strongly impreg