Many questions remain about the bloody conflict that consumed the Korean Peninsula from 1950 to 1953. Students of history will find no shortage of research topics about the causes of the Korean War, the role of different nations and individuals in the conflict, and its effects today as hostilities persist along the 38th Parallel between North Korea and South Korea.

Geopolitical Causes

The Korean War pitted the resources of North Korea’s communist backers, China and the Soviet Union, against the resources of South Korean allies, chiefly the United States, along the 38th Parallel boundary that had been established after World War II. In a 2011 article for “The Asia-Pacific Journal,” Korean history professor Mark E. Caprio breaks down the political dynamics preceding the war, including North Korea’s ability to play its allies off each other to gain support. Research students can focus on how Soviet and Chinese involvement reflected each country’s national goals in the region. By the same measure, students can explore how American involvement reflected U.S. Cold War policy at the time.

The Chinese Relationship

China’s relationship with North Korea was, and still is, complex. Chinese forces entered the war in the fall of 1950, and eventually were able to push American and South Korean forces back below the 38th Parallel. Caprio argues that the Chinese were less interested in helping their communist ally and more interested in protecting their own sovereignty, fearing “the United States might act on its pledge to rollback communism beyond North Korean territory.” Research students can trace how the Korean War shaped China’s present-day relationship with North Korea and with the greater international community that has tried to regulate the repressive hermit state.

The Role of MacArthur

Scholars still debate the role U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur played in the Korean War. The famous general, who led successful offensives in World War II and oversaw reconstruction of Japan, suffered defeat in Korea at the hands of the Chinese military. MacArthur was eventually relieved of command after criticizing President Harry Truman’s strategy in the region as not being aggressive enough. One research topic provided by the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library explores whether MacArthur unnecessarily prolonged the conflict. Students can investigate this question themselves, using research to decide if MacArthur or the Chinese were to blame for the length of the war.

Casualties and Missing Soldiers

There are a variety of research topics pertaining to casualties and missing-in-action statistics of the Korean War. According to Korean War Educator, a not-for-profit website, America suffered more than 36,000 casualties in the conflict. Students can research specific battles in terms of casualties, or how American casualties compare to estimates for North Korean and Chinese forces. They can also assess the overall impact of the Korean War in terms of human lives. According to the same website, 8,215 Americans are still missing in action from the Korean conflict. Students can research how families have coped with the unknown fate of their loved ones, or how DNA testing has helped recovery efforts.