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 impregnated with this memory: “Let’s fight the enemy when he’s weak and far away, even in places like Korea or Vietnam, rather than having to fight him later, when he is stronger and closer.
  • Because the Soviets were boycotting the United Nations Security Council due to it’s refusal to seat a member from the Communist China, the Americans were able to get a United Nations resolution condemning the North Korean invasion of the South and supporting a United Nations Military invasion action to repel the invasion. (Truman never asked Congress to go to war with Korea)
  • It was overwhelming an American campaign, although it did have the support of other western nations.
  • General Douglas MacArthur was presiding over the rebuilding of the Japanese society on a democratic basis, took command over the American invasion.
  • MacArthur had been in Japan ever since the war had ended and was now laying the foundations of the Japanese economic miracle, and its very rapid recovery and return to the world economic leadership, which it achieved in the 1960s, 1970s and also its conversion to the things like baseball, elements of the American way of life.
  • The invasion of Korea, which MacArthur arranged in the 1950s, was technically very brilliant.
  • However it did not succeed initially as MacArthur had hoped.
  • For 3 months fighting went bad for the Republic of Korea (ROK) and UN Forces.
  • By mid September they were barely hanging onto the Pusan perimeter in the Southeast Corner of Korea.
  • On September 15a new force landed at Inchon synchronized with the breakout at Pusan and the blow made the North Koreans hurry back to North Korea.
  • On October 20 the UN Forces entered Pyongyang (the NK capital)
  • On October 26 they had reached Chosan on the Yalu River border with China.
  • MacArthur had predicted that it would be a total victory by Christmas.
  • On November 25 – 260,000 Chinese volunteers counteracted the UN with support of tanks and planes and turned the tables on the UN.
  • It had become an entirely new war.
  • MacArthur criticized the administration for allowing him to conduct a limited war.
  • He wanted 34 atomic weapons and wanted an air raid on China, a naval blockade and an invasion into the mainland of China through Taiwan.
  • He thought that if they went through Taiwan it would allow Chiang Kai Shek back into the mainland of China.   DM wanted to attack China from 2 different places and if his plan went accordingly they would be pushing back communism.
  • The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Omar Bradley and the other Joint Chief of Staff, in collaboration with President Truman, disagreed, because they said, “If we escalate the war in this way into a campaign against China, there’s every possibility that the other major Communist power, the Soviet Union will enter the war on the Chinese side, and that we’ll have is a terrible escalation, possibly up to nuclear exchanges, over the issues of Korea.  It’s too dangerous.”
  • Truman opposed a bloody war with China.
  • Bradley and Truman himself wanted to concentrate their Cold War energies primarily on Western Europe.
  • Although they favored maintaining a non-Communist zone in South Korea, they did not think that apocalyptic war in this place was adequate.
  • Bradley was quoted as saying. “Total war against China would be the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time and with the wrong enemy.  It would be too much of a diversion from the principal concerns, which have to be in Europe.”
  • On April 5 on the floor of the House, the Republican minority leader read a letter by MacArthur that criticized the president.
  • On April 11, 1951 Harry Truman removed the popular MacArthur from all of his command and replaced him with General Mathew B. Ridgeway.
  • By the time the time the truce was finally reached on July 27, 1953 – Truman had relinquished power to Dwight