What does the Korean War reveal about the ‘special relationship’?

A bombed city during the civil war in Korea. (Getty Images; Joseph Scherschel)

In 1950, war broke out between North and South Korea. During the Second World War, Korea had been ruled by the Japanese. When the Japanese were defeated in 1945 the northern half of Korea became Communist, closely linked to the USSR and later, to Communist China. The southern half was democratic and closely linked to the US. Relations between the two were always tense and in 1950 North Korean forces invaded South Korea, making major advances.

The issue was brought before the United Nations Organisation, part of whose role was to sort out issues like this. The UNO authorised a large force, mostly American, to support South Korea. This was only possible because at the time the USSR was boycotting the UNO. Otherwise it would have blocked this decision.

In this investigation we’ve collected documents from the Churchill Archive about the Korean War. But we don’t want you to answer questions about that war ... Historians often find that documents which are produced about one issue often shed light on other issues. In this investigation, you’re going to use the documents we’ve selected to see whether the points and issues discussed about the Korean War reveal important things about the relationship between Britain and the US at this time. For example:

  • Are Britain and the US equally important on the world stage?
  • Was Britain totally dependent on the US by the 1950s for any influence in world affairs?
  • Do they always agree about world affairs?
  • What happens if or when they disagree?
  • Are there differing views within Britain or the US at particular times?

Historians try to answer questions like these by making inferences from documents. Even when the documents they’re using are meant to be about one topic, they often reveal valuable information about other topics, too.

A US or UN soldier prepares to fire a missile launcher across a burnt-out field during the Korean War

(Getty Images/Harold M, Lambert)

Your challenge

We have a box of sources from the Churchill Archive for you to investigate.

  • Your challenge is to study the sources in the Source Box and use them to explore what they reveal about the relationship between Britain and the US at the time of the Korean War.
  • Your teacher will be able to help you with a recording framework and suggestions on how to present your work.