Overview of the War

Though more than 36,000 U.S. troops died in the Korean War, most Americans know very little about it. Nearly 3 million civilians and soldiers died in theconflict that is often characterized as a “police action.” The Korean conflict, like the Vietnam War, was undeclared by Congress. Korea marked the first time that the United States fought a major conflict against a Communist enemy. The war, which lasted more than three years, began on June 25, 1950 when the North Korean Army crossed the 38th Parallel to engage the South Koreans. U.S. President Harry Truman immediately sent U.S. armed forces to defend South Korea. The United Nations Security Council, acting on the heels of the U.S., asked member countries to do the same. Twenty nations responded, 15 committing troops and five offering medical assistance. This was the United Nations first joint-force. The U.N. asked for the United States, which accounted for the largest number of foreign troops, to provide a commander for the multi-national effort. General Douglas MacArthur was appointed to head the United Nations Command.

The North Korean army, organized and aided by the Soviet Union, was able to push the South Korean army to the far southeast corner of the peninsula during the initial phase of the war. It was here that the Pusan perimeter was established, and a series of crucial battles fought. An ambitious amphibious landing at Inchon managed to recapture the Seoul, the South Korean capita. However, by the end of 1950, large number of Chinese forces intervened in the war, and pushed U.N. troops south of Seoul. It took several months for the U.N. forces to regroup, but by March of 1951 they managed to advance back to the 38th Parallel. Undaunted, the Chinese waged another series of offenses in the following months aimed at completely driving U.N. troops from the peninsula. Their efforts were stopped and the Chinese lost a staggering number of troops.

For two more years, the opposing sides fought ruthlessly, at extreme cost of life. On July 27, 1953, the Military Armistice Agreement was signed. While the agreement ended overt armed conflict between the two Koreas, it initiated the beginning of a much longer period of military confrontation across the demilitarized zone (DMZ). Of the agreement, President Eisenhower observed, “We have won an armistice on a single battleground, not peace in the world.” 


Research and Further Investigation: The Background and Results of the Korean War

  1. Investigate the history of Korea leading up to the Korean War. Show how Korea was under rule by the Japanese and report on what occurred in the country after the Japanese were forced to leave after the end of the Second World War.
  2. Report on the division of Korea into North and South and show how the United States and Soviet Union were involved.
  3. Report on why China was anxious for there not being a war in Korea. What was the thinking of the leader of China, Mao Zedong?
  4. Investigate why President Truman decided against asking Congress for a declaration of war for the Korean conflict. What criticism has been waged against him for his action?
  5. Manchuria, now referred to as Northeast China, was attacked by Japan in 1931. Research and present the reasons for the invasion, and indicate what position the League of Nations took in response to the attack. Why did Manchuria seem like a good solution to the problems that the Japanese government was facing during this time period?
  6. The Korean War has been called a “proxy” war. Explain what a proxy war is, and present how it is different than a “regular” war. What are the elements which make a war, a proxy war? Report on proxy wars that occurred in the latter part of the 20th century.
  7. Report on which countries’ troops participated in the Korean War. Present how each country contributed to the United Nations’ war effort and what were the end results.
  8. Investigate why the Chinese entered the Korean War. In your report show how the United States decision to enter the war helped the Republic of China (Taiwan) under Chiang Kai-Shek.
  9. Investigate how Japanese economic ventures were launched as a result of the Korean War. Report on how Mitsui, Mitsubishi, and Sumitomo were corporations that grew during this time period and how U.S. industrial consultants, including W. Edwards Deming helped advance Japanese industry.
  10. Report on the significance of the General Treaty for the Renunciation of War signed in Paris in 1928. Show how this document, and the subsequent agreements of the United Nations were put in place after the Second World War to prevent the declaration of future wars. How did the General Treaty for the Renunciation of War and the U.N. agreements affect the Korean War?