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Teaching Guide

Teaching The Korean War

Shmoop history with the best of 'em.


The Korean War was no picnic, but teaching it doesn't have to be a drag.

In this guide you will find

  • activities analyzing quotes, documents, and sassy political cartoons of the Korean War era.
  • historical resources, like lessons on the Causes of the Cold War and Politics in the 1950s.
  • discussion questions exploring the events leading up to war.

And much more.

You don't need to send Dennis Rodman to North Korea to get all the facts. We've got you covered.

What's Inside Shmoop's History Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring history to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 3-5 Common Core-aligned activities (including quotation, image, and document analysis) to complete in class with your students, with detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes to be sure students are looking at the material through various lenses.
  • Resources to help make the topic feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the topic and how you can overcome the hurdles.

Instructions for You

The Truman-MacArthur controversy was partially about military strategy, but more about the constitutionally defined relationship between the military and the president. In this exercise your students will examine some of MacArthur's writings and consider whether they reflect a problematic attitude toward civilian control of the military.

1. Direct your students to this site (http://www.learner.org/workshops/primarysources/coldwar/docs/maca.html) where they can read some of MacArthur's writings on the Korean conflict. The March 1951 letter was made public; the others writings were released later. Then process the following questions with your students.

  • Why is the war in Korea so critical?
    • Why does MacArthur believe that the fate of the western world hangs in the balance?
    • Does MacArthur believe that the war can be won?
  • What does MacArthur think of Truman?
    • How does he compare Truman to Roosevelt?
    • What, according to MacArthur, is intimidating Truman?

What do you think MacArthur hoped to accomplish at the Wake Island meeting?
Did he succeed?

What mistake are the diplomats making?

What do you think of MacArthur's positions?
Was he right?

What do you think of his attitude toward the president?

Is any of this unsettling?
Do any of his views make you nervous?
Do these represent nothing more than frank observations of a field commander?
Or do they reflect a dangerous attitude toward civilian control of the military?

Instructions for Your Students

In the middle of the Korean War, President Truman fired General Douglas MacArthur, the hugely popular commander of American forces in Asia. He did so partly because they disagreed over strategy, but also because he felt that MacArthur threatened one of the fundamental principles laid out in the constitution—that the military was subordinate to civilian authorities. Was he right? Did MacArthur pose a threat to this constitutional principle?

You will be examining some documents relevant to this episode. You might prepare for this exercise by reviewing the conflict between Truman and MacArthur discussed here (http://www.shmoop.com/korean-war/politics.html).


Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary & Analysis    Timeline    People    Facts    Photos    Best of the Web    Citations    
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