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

These sources have been carefully selected from the Churchill Archive. Although they tell some aspects of the story of the Korean War, they can also be used to investigate the relationship between the US and the UK in the 1950s, especially when studied after the other investigations in this section on the ‘Special Relationship’. One way in to the sources might be to ask students to classify them – letters, official papers, telegrams, and so on – and then rank them for utility. Are all the sources as useful as each other in approaching this question? You might also consider ‘fact’ and ‘opinion’ as a way of establishing utility. It’s much better to use the whole collection of sources rather than split them – it’s essential that students get the ‘big picture’ to be able to answer the question; was Britain totally dependent on the US for its influence in the world, or was it just that Churchill placed so much emphasis on the ‘special relationship’ that this seems to be the case?

Activity 1:

In the investigation we set out some possible questions to investigate:

  • 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?

In small groups, get students to discuss which of these questions is most important and interesting, and also which questions are best supported by the available sources.

Activity 2:

Choose one of the questions and prepare a presentation to the class on it. You might find a table like this helpful in organising your research. This one has been set up for one of the questions.

Source Support the view that Britain was totally dependent on the US for its influence in the world Does not support the view that Britain was totally dependent on the US for its influence in the world + and -
1      
2      
3      
4      
5      
6      

Activity 3:

Our selection of sources covers the period 1950–53, starting when Churchill was Leader of the Opposition and carrying on until he was Prime Minister. Do Churchill’s beliefs stay the same over this period, or do they change? Does Britain’s influence in the world increase, or decrease, throughout this period? And just how pivotal is the Korean War in changing the ‘special relationship?’ In some of the sources, Churchill seems eager not to tread on the toes of the US, but to follow its lead.

Do the sources tell us enough to be able to answer the question that’s the focus of this investigation? What else do we need to know? A rich archive collection like the Churchill Archive still often raises more questions than it answers. If you’d been selecting materials from the Archive, would you have chosen these sources, or others that you’ve come across? And has our selection skewed your response to this enquiry? Do you think we could do with getting more source material which illustrates the US view of the relationship between Britain and the US? As ever, in history, there’s no one ‘correct’ answer – it all depends on which sources you use and your particular reading of that source.

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