A level History!


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Korean War—Civil War or Proxy War?


  • To explain clearly the origins of Korean War
  • To grasp the concepts of civil war and proxy war


  • Application of content
  • Conceptual understanding


  • Fill up the questions and tables with information from your course pack as well as from readings!
  • Have fun learning! J

Section A:

1. Using the numbers 1-9, write down the order in which the following events occurred, and explain the significance of the event.


Order of occurrence


McCarthyism explodes in the US—Red Scare


The Dean Acheson speech—Defense Perimeter


UN and Chinese forces are at a stalemate - ceasefire


Partition of the Korean peninsula by the Superpowers


This is significant because it showed that the superpowers were more willing to maintain peace between them in Korea than fight over who should control all of it.

The USA gets UN to pass resolution condemning NK and helping SK


UN forces push past Yalu River


USSR ambassador boycotts UN meeting


China enters the War


Section B:

2. Research and explain on the concepts of civil war and proxy war.

Civil War

Proxy War

3. Explain who is to be blamed for starting the Korean War.

North Koreans

South Koreans




4. Considering your answers in questions 2 and 3, as well an information in your course pack, write a complete essay outline (using the format in the previous tutorial) for the following question:

“The Korean War was nothing more than a civil war between Kim and Rhee” Discuss.


Interpretation of Question:


GA: The war had been localized by the leaders of North and South as they wanted unification more than being followers of respective ideology of Superpowers, US and USSR

ELA: Thus, the SP were more often than not drawn into the conflict by the heightened expectations and tension stirred up be the local leaders


  • Explain even though the superpowers divided Korea (38th parallel) and laid the foundation of the conflict, it was a localized war i.e. one side invaded another to unify the country but the Superpowers subsequently got involved, therefore added the Cold War dimension.
  • State that the US only got involved after the North invaded the South; the Soviets did not increase its level of involvement, they didn’t want to get directly involved in a conflict with the US so as to give it an excuse to invade USSR.
  • Explain that though the US justifies its actions to continue and expand its policy of containment, it was not simply a desire to counter contain Soviet but is rather directed at communism.
  • Comment that is why the US eventually withdrew because the objective was achieved i.e. able to prevent the North from invading the South.
  • China was drawn in for security means

GA: Even though the SP did get involved in the conflict, they were drawn in by the turns of events rather than deliberately seeking a proxy to impose their ideologies and Cold War rivalry.


The US involvement

· Topic Sentence (State US increasing involvement)

· Elaboration (Explain why Korea was initially not an area of concern e.g. Acheson’s Speech in 1950 that excluded Korea from US line of defence; how it became an area of concern only after North Korea invaded the South; although the war justified the continuation and expansion of containment but it was not directed against SU, but more so communism; how the continuation of the war involved the superpowers rather than a war that resulted because of superpower conflict. Provide evidence to support the explanation)

The SU involvement

· Topic Sentence (State SU increasing involvement)

· Elaboration (Explain why Stalin was initially reluctant to get directly involve in the war and even discouraged Kim from doing so; how SU limited its involvement by providing aid and arms, but left the fighting to China; show how SU was drawn into the war after it started due to its own global considerations and not because it got into a conflict with US. Provide evidence to support the explanation)

· Most of the regional conflicts were not mastermind or instigated by the superpowers.


· Localized conflicts:

o Explain that the conflicts began as localized conflicts; revolutions.

· Superpowers drawn in:

o Expand that their roles were indirect. In other words, they were drawn in by the opportunities available such as nationalist wars and local

· Superpowers’ role is damage control:

o Comment that they were unable to really control the conflict, which implies the secondary role that they play.


· Localized conflicts:

o Unification of Korea

· Superpowers drawn in: Expand


Analytical statement: (See IH Essay outline for Korea and Vietnam)

· Though the regional conflicts were caused by the superpowers, they played an active role in aggravating the conflict once it broke out and very often determined its outcome.


· Explain that the US was particularly active in aggravating the regional conflicts.

· Expand on how the US involvement was in response to the Soviet perceived threat.


Korea (US aggravate conflict)

· Initially not an area of US concern

o Local conflict but subsequently saw involvement of US; note that Korea was not an area of initial US concern (Dean Acheson’s Speech in 1950 to exclude South Korea from US line of defence)

o US heavy involvement after conflict started;

o State reasons – e.g. US policy of containing communist threat and not Soviet per se.

Challenge (2nd Half)

Korean War was not just a civil war between Rhee and Kim, rather its influence expand between the geographical location of Asia and had an impact on superpower rivalry

Analytical statement:

· The regional conflicts did at times affect Superpower Cold War rivalry.


· Expand that in certain instances, it did aggravate Cold War rivalry but one must consider other factors that contribute to this rivalry as well


Korean Conflict

· Conflict aggravated Superpower rivalry:

o Regional conflict in this case certainly aggravated Superpower Cold War rivalry

o Comment on how it led to the militarization of the Cold War (See lectures on Korean War)

à US building of defence pacts and military bases: ANZUS, SEATO, CENTO; sealing of

alliances: Japan and South Korea; increase aid to allies: e.g. Vietnam, Middle East

o Comment that the aggravation was in the context of the happenings in post war Europe

Regional conflicts were used by the superpowers to further their Cold War agendas. As such, the superpowers had control over the regional conflicts – the superpower supported/abandoned their Third World clients according to their self-interests

Ultimately, candidates must decide who played the more prominent and active role in causing and continuing the two conflicts: the superpowers or the local leaders? Through deeper evaluation, candidates are also expected to show awareness of the fact that while the superpowers were not in control at the start of the two conflicts (“became embroiled… unwittingly”), they did try to manouevre the ending of the conflicts and direct their outcome in the superpowers’ favour. (In the end, US and USSR replaced Korean national agenda with their own rivalry: Korea remained partitioned as a symbol of the ideological divide. US suppressed Castro’s agenda: Cuba was sterilised of nuclear missiles in exchange for the removal of Jupiter missiles from Turkey, while Kruschev suffered a loss in international stature for having “given in” to American pressure).



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