The Korean War


60 years after the start of the Korean War, join Active Minds for a look at the origins, key events, and the lasting legacy of this conflict. We will also examine the role played by the United States, China, and the Soviet Union as part of the broader Cold War.

Key Lecture Points

  • June 25, 2010 was the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War, the first US military clash in the Cold War. After three years of engagement, nearly 55,000 Americans had died in the fighting and over 4 million Koreans (mostly civilians) had died in the fighting.
  • The roots of the Korean War lie in the end game of WWII when the US was allied with the Soviet Union in the war against Hitler’s Germany, but not in the War in the Pacific against the Japanese. In an effort to gain Soviet support for an end to the war with Japan, the US was pressed by the Soviets for inroads into Asia, including the right to occupy the Korean peninsula in the name of defeating the Japanese. This set the stage for the split between North and South Korea at the 38th parallel.
  • The Korean War was a turning point in America’s current foreign policy of active intervention across the globe to stem the expansion of Soviet influence in the defense of US interests. The “Truman Doctrine” had been declared in 1947, but the Korean War marks the first point at which the US would use armed force to achieve it. In so doing it sets the stage for the expansion of US involvement in Vietnam.
  • The Korean War continues to influence relations between North and South Korea. Sixty years after the war, the peninsula remains divided and volatile. On March 26, 2010, a South Korean Navy ship, Cheonan, was sunk near the disputed maritime border between the two Korea, killing 46 sailors. International investigations have found that North Korea was responsible for torpedoing the ship. The ensuing war of words has demonstrated, yet again, the dangers that exist on the border between North and South Korea.

Exploration Questions

  • How did Korea’s geographic location impact its history?
  • What role did the Korean War play in the Cold War

Reflective Questions

  • Do you remember the MacArthur/Truman confrontation? Do you think Truman was right to relieve MacArthur of his command?
  • Did you serve in the Korean War? What do you remember the most about your experience? Have you ever visited the Korean War Memorial in Washington, DC? Do you think it conveys the essence of the war?

More to Explore

  • Summary of the military actions and maps of the Korean War offensives Click here
  • Korean news Click here

Books for Further Reading

  • Halberstam, David. The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War. Hyperion. 2007. 736 pages. Halberstam describes the history of the Korean War and America’s political decisions regarding this conflict.
    Click here to order
  • Michener, James A. Bridges of Toko-Ri. Fawcett. 1984. 128 pages. This novel portrays American fighter pilots during the Korean War.
    Click here to order