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Cold War Conflict in Korea: 'The Powerful and Powerless United Nations'

Cold War Conflict in Korea: "The Powerful and Powerless United Nations"

Ohio Content Standards: Grade 10, History 8; Grade 12, History 2; Grade 12, Government 1; Grade 12, People in Societies 4

Duration of Lesson: Two classes / 100 minutes; up to 60 minutes of additional research / reading

Learning Objectives:

  • Students will collaboratively analyze and compare editorial cartoons focusing on the role of the United Nations in the Korean War.
  • Students will determine the capabilities and limitations of the United Nations as an effective agent of peace.
  • Students will determine the roles played by the USSR and PRC in the Korean War.
  • Students will compare the positions of various cartoonists with the historical record to determine the validity of their interpretations.


  • Students will be divided into groups of three or four and asked to analyze an editorial cartoon relating to the roles played by the USSR, PRC, and United Nations in the Korean War.
  • Students are expected to judge the validity of the editorial perspectives of the artists in comparison with the historical record.
  • Students are expected to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the United Nations system as an effective agent of peace.
  • Students will work together in small groups to focus on a single cartoon and its significance. They will document their interpretations in the "Korean War" cartoon worksheet. They will affirm their discoveries by comparing them against the historical record.
  • During the second phase of the lesson, students will brief their discoveries to the whole class and a whole class discussion will lead to conclusions of comparison, contrast, and lessons learned.


  • A series of six editorial cartoons related to the United Nations, USSR, and PRC (Include publication information), printed for student use and stored to presentation media format for teacher use
  • "Korean War" cartoon worksheet
  • Textbook and various references on the Korean War
  • Pencils, pens and paper for taking notes
  • Butcher paper or similar for graphing team and class main points of discovery (Or other mass presentation resource such as White Board, PowerPoint, etc.)
  • Post-assessment essay guide / rubric

Pre-Assessment: Teachers should use these questions to facilitate a pre-lesson discussion, and may need to assign pre-reading / research prior to this lesson:

  • When did the Korean War take place?
  • Who were the belligerents?
  • What were some causes of the Korean War?
  • What is the United Nations and how does its charter relate to conflict between sovereign nations?

Instructional Steps:

  • Tell the students about the assignment
  • Complete pre-assessment discussion questions
  • Divide class into groups of no more than four students and distribute Korean War cartoon packets
  • Distribute the "Korean War" worksheet
  • Guide groups to successful analysis and worksheet completion
  • Review team effort and suggest follow-up research assignments for the next session
  • Distribute butcher paper and markers
  • Direct team leaders to discuss, finalize and record main points
  • Direct teams to brief their main points
  • Critique teams after each briefing
  • Lead whole-class discussion of findings: compare and contrast
  • Solicit questions
  • Brief post-assessment requirements
  • Pass out Essay guide / rubric


  • In an individual essay of about 300 words, summarize the lessons learned from the exercise, answering the following:
    • Did the presence of the USSR and PRC in the Security Council promote or hinder efforts to resolve the Korean conflict? Explain.
    • What was the United Nations able to accomplish during the Korean War?
    • What institutional weaknesses did the United Nations display during the Korean War?
    • Was the United Nations able to resolve the Korean conflict? Explain.
    • How is today's world shaped by the Korean War?

Extension Activities:

  • Examine the effectiveness of various United Nations peace-keeping programs since the Korean War.
  • Examine the effectiveness of various U.N. organs such as the World Health Organization.

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