The Korean War Facts for Kids

  • The Korean War is a war that was fought between two countries, North Korea and South Korea.
  • It all started in 1950 when 75,000 soldiers from the North Korean People’s Army poured across the 38th parallel which divides Korea into North Korea (communist) and South Korea (democratic).
  • American troops soon entered as well to help south Korea.
  • This war lasted for 3 years with back and forth battles.

The Korean peninsula is where the US and the USSR fought a war that lasted from 1951 to 1953. Two people in the State Department were given the choice about what they would do with Korea after Japan lost it in World War II. 

They agreed and divided it into two parts: North and South Korea. The Russians got the north and the Americans got the south.

Two new states formed in the south and north of Korea. Syngman Rhee was anti-communist, and Kim Il Sung was communist. The Americans let Syngman Rhee rule in the south, but they let Kim Il Sung rule in the north.

Both dictators wanted to be on the other side of the 38th parallel. They fought a lot and thousands died. They still did not want to stop fighting because they were trying to get more land.

Causes Of The Korean War

The war began when Japan took over Korea. They were in charge for a long time.

But then World War II ended and the Allied powers had to take over Japan’s empire. When they did, the US and the Soviet Union had to work out what to do with Korea. They made a deal about it.

When the allies got together again in 1948, they made two separate countries. One was led by Kim Il-sung and the other by Syngman Rhee. The former allies didn’t trust each other, so they made these two separate countries so that no one could hurt anyone else.

North Korea invaded its neighbor in 1950. North Korea attacked the South that year, and it started the war between communist countries. It was the first time a war had happened in the Cold War.

The Korean War In The Middle Of The Cold War

Korean girl with her brother on her back during the Korean War.
With her brother on her back, a war weary Korean girl tiredly trudges by a stalled M-26 tank, at Haengju, Korea. 6/9/1951, Library of Congress

The North Korean invasion was a  surprise to the American government. Yet they knew that it was more than just a border dispute between two dictatorships. They thought it was the first step in a communist campaign to take over the world.

Some top officials did not see intervention as an option. They thought that the US military should be used to stop communist expansionism anywhere it seemed to be happening, even if the land was not strategic or valuable.

Harry Truman was the US president. He said that if he let Korea down, the Soviets would keep on going and take over other places.

The Korean War was a symbol of what happened in the Cold War between East and West. The North Korean army went into South Korea’s capital, Seoul. The US got ready to fight communism itself because they did not want it taking over other places like Korea.

At first, the war was to get communists out of South Korea. It was hard for Allies. The North Korean army had trained soldiers and well-equipped guns. On the other hand, the forces in the South Korean army were not very well prepared.

At the beginning of the war, armies would move forward and then back. The North Koreans attacked and drove United Nations Command forces to a narrow perimeter around Pusan.

After this, General MacArthur surprised the North Koreans in September 1950 with an amphibious landing at Inchon. The North Koreans had to retreat behind the 38th parallel.

Read more about The Cold War

New Strategies

On top of that, the weather that year was very hot and dry. American soldiers had to drink water from rice paddies that were fertilized with human waste. That made them very sick because they were thirsty.

So President Truman and General Douglas MacArthur decided on a new set of war aims. The Korean War was offensive: it was a war to “liberate” the North from the communists.

The United States’ new strategy was successful at first. The Inch’on Landing at Inch’on pushed the North Koreans out of Seoul and back to their side of the 38th parallel.

President Truman said that he was considering using atomic bombs in Korea. He made this comment at a press conference. This caused some people to panic.

The British Prime Minister came to Washington because of what Truman had said. But then Truman reassured him that the US would not use atomic weapons in Korea unless a major disaster or war problem was happening there between the North and South Koreans.

China Answers Back

When American troops crossed the boundary and headed north toward the Yalu River, China started to worry about protecting themselves from “armed aggression” against Chinese territory. Mao Zedong, the Chinese leader, wanted to help North Korea.

Mao Zedong warned the United States to keep away from the Yalu boundary unless it wanted full-scale war. He planned to use the Chinese People’s Volunteers Army (CPVA) to save North Korea. He sent in 250,000 troops in November 1950.

They began a counterattack and continued with two offensives in 1950 and 1951. These unexpected attacks drove the United Nations forces south of Seoul and the Han River Valley.

Truman vs MacArthur

President Truman and his advisers did not want a war with the USSR. They were sure that such a war would lead to Soviet aggression in Europe, the deployment of atomic bombs, and many deaths. General MacArthur disagreed and wanted to start a wider war because he felt like this was necessary.

President Truman wanted to keep peace with the Chinese. General MacArthur, however, tried to make war happen.

Finally, in 1951 General MacArthur sent a letter to someone in Congress who liked fighting with China and was very opinionated about it. President Truman did not like this so he fired him for insubordination.


US soldiers pass fleeing refugees in the Nakdong River region, in what is now South Korea, during the Korean War.

In July 1951, President Truman and his military commanders started peace talks at Panmunjom. The fighting continued along the 38th parallel as negotiations stalled.

Both sides wanted a ceasefire that kept the 38th parallel boundary. Yet they could not agree if prisoners of war should be turned back. China and North Korea agreed, but the US did not.

Fighting in Korea ended in July 1951 and the two sides started talking about an armistice. The talks took a long time because Stalin, the USSR leader, died in March 1953.

But when new leaders came, they were more likely to agree so they signed the armistice on July 27, 1953.

It made a new boundary that allowed South Korea to have more territory (around 1,500 square miles). It also created a 2-mile-wide “demilitarized zone” that is still there today.

Consequences of the Korean War

The Korean War was bloody. Half of the people who died were civilians. That is 10% of Korea’s population before the war started. Estimates of the number of people who died during this time vary. But we think that more than two million civilians died in North Korea.

The border between North Korea and South Korea remained in the same place as it was before North Korea invaded.

The Armistice finished the war in Korea and put armed forces to peace. But no peace treaty was made to re-establish relations between North and South Korea. A demilitarized zone, DMZ, was made. Both sides maintain a military presence there but only one side is allowed to be armed.

The countries have had periods where they are friendly and other periods when they are angry with each other. Some family members live in one country and work in another country, but their families are not together. North Korea has been making threats about nuclear programs which have led the United States to keep troops there.

The “Forgotten War”

The Korean War was called the “forgotten war” because it received less attention than other wars. The legacy of this war is still important today. Not only does it still shape geopolitics, but the US also started permitted US presidents to become involved in wars without Congress’s approval.

The Korean War did not get much attention in the US. The most famous representation of the war in popular culture is the television series “M*A*S*H.” It was set in a field hospital in South Korea. That show ran from 1972 until 1983, and its final episode was the most-watched TV episode ever.

Many US Korean War Veterans are remembered every day at the Korean War Veterans Memorial near Washington D.C., with statues of servicemen that represent them all.

Many soldiers were not accounted for at the end of the war. About 80,000 South Korean soldiers were caught in North Korea when the war ended. The North denies they took them prisoner- but defectors and South Korean officials say that these soldiers were put to work as forced laborers. Most of these prisoners will never be found because their remains are gone.


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