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The Korean WarThe-Korean-War

  • Subject: U.S. History
  • |
  • Grade(s): 9-12
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. Veterans of the Korean War deserve recognition for their service.
2. First-person accounts of the Korean War make the long-ago and almost forgotten war come alive.


For this lesson, you will need:
Access to the Internet
Art materials for students who choose to paint, draw, and so on rather than write their responses


1. Inform or remind students that the Korean War was often called the Forgotten War. Go on to specify that it was not until 1995 that a national monument to Americans who served in the war was erected on the Mall in Washington, D.C. It is called the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Tell students that they will have the opportunity to interact with one or more veterans and then create in various media their own memorials to the dead.
2. Explaining that many of the veterans who survived the war are now in their seventies, posit that it is still possible for students to interview Korean War veterans but that the opportunity will soon fade—although students may be able to learn a lot by interviewing sons and daughters of veterans. Discuss with students whether you and they can locate one or more Korean War veterans in the local area to interview in person (in the classroom or off campus). Another option is for you and them to search for veterans who are available for interviews by phone, mail, or e-mail. An Internet site with veterans' stories and current addresses or means of contact for some of the vets can be found
3. When you feel that students have acquired substantial facts and intellectual and emotional understanding of the issues surrounding the Korean War, prepare them for requesting and carrying out one or more interviews. The first step is discussing with students the basics of in-person interviewing, as follows:
  • By phone, by mail, or in person request an interview, and set it up at a time that is convenient for the interviewee.
  • Based on your research into available sources (printed or online), make up a list of questions to ask. Make a point of asking questions that require more than a yes or no response: the interviewer should get the interviewee to comment in detail.
  • Arrive on time for the interview.
  • Throughout, act patiently and politely. Do not argue with anything your interviewee says.
  • Ask the interviewee if you can take notes or record the interview.
  • Follow your prepared questions, but be willing to go off in other directions if something the interviewee says intrigues you. That is, listen carefully, and ask follow-up questions that occur to you on the spot.
  • As soon as the interview is over, review your notes to see if they make sense. Then summarize them in writing. If you have further questions about what someone said, get back in touch quickly and politely.
  • Make a phone call or send a note thanking the interviewee for his or her time and insights. Offer a copy of your finished report to the interviewee.
The preceding advice can be adjusted for carrying out interviews by phone, mail, or e-mail.
4. Brainstorm with students the kinds of questions appropriate to ask veterans of the Korean War. Questions might touch, for example, on the following topics:
  • How the veteran got involved in the war
  • What the veteran's job was
  • If the veteran saw action
  • How the experience of war compares to one's expectations of war
  • Good memories and bad memories of the war
  • With hindsight, what the veteran wishes he or she had done differently in the Korean War
5. Depending on whether (a) one or more vets will be coming to the school, (b) students will be going out to meet with vets, or (c) students will conduct interviews by phone, mail, or e-mail, determine how many students will pose the questions and the follow-up questions—all the students or a representative sample of students?—and how many will write up summaries of interviews. If not everyone has participated in the interviewing and summary writing, make sure that each student gets a chance to read the summaries and to ask the interviewers questions about the interview.
6. Remind students that conducting the interviews and reporting on them is only the first part of this project. Now students will have a chance to respond emotionally to what they've read, heard, and learned. Brainstorm with students the various ways in which they can share their feelings about the Korean War with one another. You may come up with the following options and others:
  • Writing a poem, song, or short story
  • Writing a letter to a descendant of a Korean War veteran
  • Creating a picture in paint or another medium
  • Generating an artwork
  • Setting up a display
  • Choreographing a dance
7. Set up one or more forums for students to share their products with other classes or other individuals or groups.

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Instead of sending students off to do field research, collect for them from the Internet letters and comments by veterans of the Korean War. Read these to students, or make them available for students to read themselves. Then proceed to have students prepare their creative responses to the facts they have learned and the personal accounts they have heard or read.

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Discussion Questions

1. Compare and contrast the state of U.S. military forces during World War II and the Korean War.
2. Why did war break out in Korea in 1950? Who decided to divide Korea at the 38th parallel? In your opinion, what is the importance of the Korean peninsula's geographic location?
3. Consider MacArthur's leadership style and his actions in Korea. Debate whether or not he was a good leader.
4. Compare and contrast the Chinese and U.S. military forces in terms of their leaders, numbers of troops, equipment, winter supplies, tactics, training, and casualties.
5. Discuss the relationship between Truman and MacArthur. How did their views on the war in Korea differ? Debate whether or not Truman's decision to fire MacArthur was a good one.
6. Explain how the Korean War ended. What is the relationship between North and South Korea today? Describe the current relationship between the United States and these two countries.

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Since students will be producing works in different media, discuss with the class what overall criteria you can apply to individual pieces (e.g., originality, effort, perseverance, revision) and whether you should rate each piece, according to those criteria, as pass/fail or as unacceptable/acceptable/good/excellent.

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Truman vs. MacArthur
Ask your students to find out more about President Truman and General MacArthur and their relationship. Students might research the men's views on the war, the men's leadership styles, their meetings with each other, their supporters, and their political leanings and ambitions. Then ask your students to imagine they lived during the Korean War and just heard that Truman had fired MacArthur. Have students write an op-ed piece on whether Truman's decision was the right one and why. An alternative is to have students videotape what they've written, making, in effect, editorials for a televised news program.

Korea: Then and Now
Ask your students to research what happened after the first year of the Korean War. (If you are not using the documentary, extend students' research to include the first year as well.) Divide students into groups, and assign each group a topic such as fighting during the two years of peace talks; peace negotiations; the truce and the establishment of the DMZ; South Korea in the 1990s; North Korea in the 1990s; and the overture in early 2000 that the two nations hold talks. Have each group present their findings to the class.

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Suggested Readings

Korea: The First War We Lost
Bevin Alexander. Hippocrene Books, 1998.
This revised edition of the 1977 original work on the topic by a U.S. Army historian covers both the domestic and international politics as well as the military strategizing at the top levels down to detailed descriptions of combat scenes, replete with good maps. One reviewer stated, "Most positively, he [Alexander]indicates clearly the enormous costs of misreading one's enemy."

Harry S. Truman
Barbara Silberdick Feinberg. Watts, 1994.
The political scientist who authored this biography of the 33rd president, which is targeted directly at seventh- to twelfth-graders, used the bulk of the work to offer detailed explanations of the events of Truman's two terms in the White House, including the decisions to drop the bomb and to fire MacArthur. In addition to the commentary on Truman's impact on foreign policy, the book includes photographs and a glossary of terms.

In the Time of the Americans: FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Marshall, MacArthur—the Generation that Changed America's Role in the Wor
David Fromkin. Knopf, 1995.
The transformation of the posture of 20th-century U.S. foreign relations from isolationism to world preeminence is documented through the thoughts and actions of a small set of stellar American leaders. Could be used as a classroom/library biographical reference source for the important American World War II/Cold War leaders.

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The Korean War Project
An extensive web-based resource on the war.

American Forces Network Korea
Maintained by the U.S. Armed Forces, this site discusses Korea today.

50th Anniversary of the Korean War
This site is dedicated to all those who served their country during the Korean War.

Korean War FAQ
A discussion on the war from the Chinese perspective.

Korean War Historical Documents
Links to historical documents related to the Korean War.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    puppet regime
Definition: A government whose affairs are directed by an outside authority.
Context: Soviet premier Joseph Stalin installed a puppet regime led by dictator Kim Il Sung.

speaker    juggernaut
Definition: A massive inexorable force, campaign, movement, or object that crushes whatever is in its path.
Context: In August 1950 U.N. forces and the South Korean army seemed powerless against the North Korean juggernaut.

speaker    amphibious landing
Definition: Executed by coordinated action of land, sea, and air forces organized for invasion.
Context: MacArthur staged a massive amphibious landing behind enemy lines at the port city of Inchon.

speaker    artillery
Definition: Large bore crew-served mounted firearms (as guns, howitzers, and rockets).
Context: The Chinese lacked the firepower of the allies—they had little artillery and no attack aircraft in Korea.

speaker    armistice
Definition: Temporary suspension of hostilities by agreement between the opponents.
Context: Two years passed while peace talks were conducted before there was an armistice.

speaker    demilitarized zone
Definition: An area of land established by the July 27, 1953 Armistice Agreement along the approximate line of ground contact between the opposing forces at the time the truce ended the Korean War.
Context: At the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea, the Cold War lives on.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: U.S. history
Understands how the Cold War and conflicts in Korea and Vietnam influenced domestic and international politics.
Understands U.S. foreign policy from the Truman administration to the Johnson administration (e.g., American policies toward independence movements in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East; U.S. policy regarding the British mandate over Palestine and the establishment of the state of Israel; Kennedy's response to the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile crises; how the Korean War affected the premises of U.S. foreign policy; the Kennedy-Johnson response to anticolonial movements in Africa).

Understands factors that contributed to the development of the Cold War (e.g., the mutual suspicions and divisions fragmenting the Grand Alliance at the end of World War II, U.S. support for "self-determination" and the U.S.S.R.'s desire for security in Eastern Europe, the practice of "atomic diplomacy").

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: world history
Understands how post-World War II reconstruction occurred, new international power relations took shape, and colonial empires broke up.
Understands the impact of relations between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War (e.g., the effects of United States and Soviet competition for influence or dominance upon such countries as Egypt, Iran, the Congo, Vietnam, Chile, and Guatemala; the impact of the Cold War on art, literature, and popular culture around the world).

Understands factors that influenced political conditions in China after World War II (e.g., how much of the communist success in the Chinese civil war was the result of Mao Ze-dong's leadership or Jiang Jieshi's lack of leadership, why rifts developed in the relationships between the U.S.S.R. and China in spite of the common bond of communist-led government).

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Lara Maupin, world history teacher and globetrotter, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Virginia.

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