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The Korean War 101: Causes, Course, and Conclusion of the Conflict

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North Korea attacked South Korea on June 25, 1950, igniting the Korean War. Cold War assumptions governed the immediate reaction of US leaders, who instantly concluded that Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin had ordered the invasion as the first step in his plan for world conquest. “Communism,” President Harry S. Truman argued later in his memoirs, “was acting in Korea just as [Adolf] Hitler, [Benito] Mussolini, and the Japanese had acted ten, fifteen, and twenty years earlier.” If North Korea’s aggression went “unchallenged, the world was certain to be plunged into another world war.” This 1930s history lesson prevented Truman from recognizing that the origins of this conflict dated to at least the start of World War II, when Korea was a colony of Japan. Liberation in August 1945 led to division and a predictable war because the US and the Soviet Union would not allow the Korean people to decide their own future.


Kaufman, Burton I. The Korean Conflict. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1999.

“Korea: Lessons of the Forgotten War.” YouTube video, 2:20, posted by KRT Productions Inc., 2000.

Lee, Steven Hugh. The Korean War. New York: Longman, 2001.

Matray, James I. “Korea’s War at Sixty: A Survey of the Literature.” Cold War History 11, no. 1 (February 2011): 99–129.

US Department of Defense. Korea 1950–1953, accessed July 9, 2012,

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