Teaching With Documents:
The United States Enters the Korean Conflict
This lesson correlates to the National History Standards.
- Era 9-Postwar United States (1945 - Early 1970s)
- Standard 2A-Examine the US response to the Chinese Revolution and its impact on the Cold War; Analyze the causes of the Korean War and how a divided Korea remained a source of international tension.
This lesson correlates to the National Standards for Civics and Government.
- Standard IV.B.2.-Evaluate, take, and defend positions about how United States foreign policy is made and the means by which it is carried out.
Share this exercise with your history and government colleagues.
Analyzing the Document
- Direct students to locate the Korea Penninsula on a world map. Provide them
with information from the background essay about Korea's 20th-century history
and ask them to locate Japan, the former U.S.S.R, the United States, China, and
the 38th parallel.
- Provide each student with a copy of the featured
document. Ask them to read the document, then lead a class discussion using
the following questions: What type of document is it? When was it written? What
was its purpose?
- Divide students into two groups. Ask the first group to make a list of reasons
why the United States entered the Korean conflict using the information provided
in the document. Ask the second group to make a list of reasons why the United
States entered the Korean conflict using the information provided in their textbooks.
Lead a class discussion comparing the two lists.
- Ask students to look closely at the language of Truman's statement of June
27. Ask them what Truman meant by "Communism has passed beyond the use of
subversion to conquer independent nations." Ask them what "subversion"
means and what it meant to people during the Cold War. Ask them to list other
examples of fear of subversion in the 1950s.
- Ask students to draft their own public statements announcing the entry of
the United States into the Korean conflict in June 1950.
- Tell students that in response to Truman's statement of June 27th, the Soviet
newspaper Pravda blamed the Korean conflict on a "provocative attack
by the troops of the puppet government of South Korea." Write the following
excerpt from the Pravda editorial on an overlay and show it to the students:
"Truman's statement and actions, unprecedented in the international relations of the post-war period, are just one more indication that the American ruling circles no longer limit themselves to preparation for aggression, but have gone over to direct acts of aggression As is known, neither the United Nations nor any other international organ empowered the government of the USA to take those actions related to Korea and China that Truman announced yesterday. Undertaking their open aggressive act, the American government apparently intended to present the United Nations with a fait accompli."
Ask your students to write a paragraph comparing the language and argument of Pravda's editorial with that of Truman's statement.
- Korea is still divided near the 38th parallel into two countries. Ask students to locate a recent news article (print or online) about tensions between North and South Korea, and use these articles as a starting point to talk about the origins of this division.
The document featured in this article comes from the Papers of George M. Elsey at the Harry S. Truman Library. It is available, with hundreds of others related to the Korean War, through Project Whistlestop. Project Whistlestop enables educators to work with the original source material of the Truman Library; to use technology and primary sources in project-based learning experiences in the classroom; and to develop an online resource of original Truman Library documents, photographs, records, cartoons, and other archival material for student research projects.