Cold War: The Korean War 1950-53 Return to the gallery menu
Worksheets Big Question  

What sources will you choose from the case study on the Korean War and Why?


The Background
It is easy for Europeans to forget that the Cold War was a world war. The USA and USSR both had a strong interest in Asia. When President Truman introduced the Truman Doctrine in 1947 he was not just trying to stop Communism spreading in Europe. He was worried about Communism in China and countries like Korea and Vietnam. Britain was worried that Communist activists in her empire territories like India and Malaya would also cause problems.

In 1949 Britain and the USA suffered a major blow as Chinese Communist leader Mao Tse Tung took control of China. The USA was so upset that it blocked Mao from taking his seat in the United Nations Organisation, arguing that Mao was not the rightful leader of China. Stalin was pleased to see China become Communist. He signed friendship and aid treaties with Mao and also withdrew from the UNO in protest at the US blocking of Mao's entry to the UNO.

War in Korea
When it seemed things could not get worse for the US and Britain, they did get worse. At the end of World War 2 Korea had been divided after the Japanese were driven out. The northern half was run by the USSR, and it became a Communist state. The South was run by the USA, which then set up a non-Communist state. The border between the two was the 38th parallel line of latitude. The North and South were bitter rivals and in 1950 this became open war. The North Koreans invaded the South and by September 1950 had taken most of the country.

Truman immediately got the UNO to condemn this action and put together a UNO force to repel the invaders. It was mainly American, but British and Commonwealth troops also took part. Under US General MacArthur the UN forces drove the North Koreans back to the North-South border. However, MacArthur then continued his advance, coming close to the Chinese border. Mao would not accept this and intervened, driving the UN forces back.

* Source 1 Source 2 Source 3 Source 4 Source 5 Source 6

By 1951 the war was becoming a bloody stalemate with each side dug in around the 38th parallel. Even so, it took another 2 years for the two sides to agree an armistice or ceasefire. There were numerous details about exchanging prisoners, but the main point of the agreement was that Korea was to remain divided at the 38th parallel.

The effects of the war were devastating. It is impossible to get accurate casualty figures. The estimates range from about 1.5 million to as high as 4 million. Certainly the highest price was paid by Korean civilians. At least 500 000 South Korean civilians were killed. At least 780 000 North Koreans were killed. There were also many cases of brutal treatment of prisoners of war.

In addition to the human cost, the division of Korea remains today. US and South Korean troops still face Communist troops either side of the dividing line. In recent times the situation in Korea has become more tense as increasing evidence emerged that North Korea was developing nuclear weapons. Korea was still a source of tension long after the Korean War (and even the Cold War) were over.

Your Task
Your task is to study the sources on the Korean War and decide what they tell historians about how the Cold War worked. You will also have to decide which sources you want to use in your exhibition.

The worksheet will help you to keep track of your work.


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