This page tells kids the story of the Korean War. It’s designed for adults to use with middle school students, but some elements may also be thought-provoking or interesting for teens. The lesson includes key facts about the Korean War for kids, including the causes of the Korean War for kids.
This is not a detailed history of the Korean War, but instead an understandable, accurate and brief summary of the Korean War for kids, a Korean War lesson plan and an interesting “story” for students curious about this chapter of American history.
Kids can also help their eligible veteran parents and grandparents get the free Korean Defense Service Medal (for service in Korea after the war) from the U.S. Government. See the easy steps to get this honor here.
Teachers may also be interested to know the Korean War has never officially ended: A truce but not an official peace treaty exists between North Korea and South Korea/the US and United Nations. From 1953 to today, thousands of American troops have been assigned to defend South Korea and many have been killed by North Korea, including from 1966-9 during the so-called Second Korean War or DMZ War (named for the Demilitarized Zone separating the Koreas). For more on this topic, visit our sister site www.dmzwar.com
Teachers should review this page first to identify which content is suitable for their students’ age and state of development.
The Korean War for Kids
Plus: What’s Happening to These Children?
Learn About It Here
The Korean Peninsula juts down from continental Asia toward Japan, about the same size in square miles as the state of Utah. Many times over history this peninsula — a sort of land bridge from the Asian mainland to Japanese islands — served as a meeting point and battlefield between the traditional adversaries of China and Japan. Despite this, the Korean people developed their own rich, unique culture and language.
Japan had occupied Korea before and during World War II and the Korean people hoped the end of the war would lead to a free and unified peninsula. Instead, a communist regime backed by the Soviet Union took charge in the North and a pro-American government in the South.
As the Cold War grew more frigid around the world, North Korea (officially called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) and South Korea (Republic of Korea) both claimed to be the rightful government of the peninsula. Military tensions increased. But in a move that some believe contributed to a war, in early 1950 the US Secretary of State did not include South Korea in a list of countries in America’s Cold War “defense perimeter.” At the same time, the North Koreans and Soviets were considering an attack on South Korea to unify the peninsula under communism.
The cause of the Korean War was mainly the Cold War battle between the United States and Soviet Union to determine the winner of the Cold War. It was the first major proxy war of the period. The Soviets and their communist North Korean allies believed it would be possible to seize South Korea. If successful, the Soviets hoped it would be the first of many victories in the Cold War. But America was not about to let that happen.
The attack came on June 25, 1950, as North Korean troops swarmed across the border into the South.
With the South Koreans being forced back, the US and soon United Nations pledged support.
American troops rushed from Japan, but they were initially no match for the North Koreans. Their weapons proved ineffective against North Korea’s modern Soviet-made tanks and the GIs (American solders) were not adequately trained.
As more American and UN forces rushed to Korea, it seemed possible that North Korea might drive the US and South Korean armies into the sea.
This was a “do or die” mission, and somehow the US and South Korean troops were able to stop the North Koreas along a perimeter far down the Korean Peninsula.
Meantime, more US and UN toops and supplies reached South Korea. In September 1950, the US launched a daring amphibious operation, the “Inchon Landing,” behind enemy lines. It succeeded and the North Koreans were now on the run, retreating north to avoid punishing allied ground and air attacks.
It seemed the Korean War might soon be over. Some people were even saying the GIs might be “home by Christmas.”
Korean War for Kids Video: US forces liberate Seoul, the South Korean capital, in fierce house-to-house fighting after the Inchon Landing. A note to explain terms: The communists are called “Reds” in this movie, a common expression during the Cold War.
But as US forces marched up the Korean Peninsula, new faces began to appear on the battlefield: Soldiers from the People’s Republic of China, North Korea’s other communist ally.
American analysts debated whether China might enter the war in a large-scale attack. Top US generals thought that would not happen. They were wrong.
In November 1950, a massive Chinese force attacked, driving America and its allies south amid horrible casualties. Another enemy — terrible cold weather — added to the misery.
Once again, the outcome of the war seemed in grave doubt.
The Chinese soon occupied Seoul, the capital of South Korea, which had only recently been liberated from the North Korean invaders. In the coming months, the two sides would trade offensives, pushing forward and back across the Korean Peninsula.
Many towns and cities, including Seoul, changed hands repeatedly. The toll was high, both among troops and civilians. Many families were split up and children left orphaned.
Korean War Video for Kids: Watch a US fighter jet mission and dogfight with Soviet jets in the skies of Korea. The video covers a mission from planning to aerial combat and return to base. It highlights the role of Korea as the first jet fighter war and depicts direct US/Soviet combat.