IS420-The Korean War 2014 International Summer Session in Korean and East Asian Studies (iss)

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IS420-The Korean War

2014 International Summer Session in Korean and East Asian Studies (ISS)

Instructor: Antonio Fiori, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Asian Politics

University of Bologna, Italy


The “Forgotten War”, as it is often defined, was fought between 1950 and 1953, representing a crucial watershed not only for the Korean peninsula and its inhabitants, but also for the whole Northeast Asian region and for external powers that were involved in it. Despite being limited in geographical scope to the peninsula, the conflict witnessed the participation of more than twenty combatants. A significant episode in early Cold War history, the Korean conflict failed to solve the political division to which the peninsula was condemned to, and exacerbated inter-Korean relations. The Korean War is technically an enduring process: in 1953 only an armistice was signed among parties, while a peace treaty is still awaited, and the two countries are divided by a strip of land embodying one of the most militarized zones in the world.

This course aims at analyzing the historical and political situation of the Korean peninsula before the outbreak of the conflict, inscribing it into a wider framework: the international nature of the conflict needs to be examined in detail (US-USSR polarization; the Chinese situation; the general rise of communism and its spread to East Asia). Beyond reconstructing the development of the conflict, we will investigate policies and strategies of all the actors involved in it and their interactions. In addition, we will try to explore the social history of the conflict, by looking at the consequences it had on people’s daily life, and the role of the press in “selling” the Korean war abroad, especially in the USA.

Documentaries, clips, possible interviews to veterans, and a visit to the Korean War Memorial Museum will constitute an integral part of this course.

Course Requirements: As class participation is an important part of the final course grade, students are expected to attend each class period unless unusual circumstances preclude it. Students will be expected to participate actively in class discussions, and to take a final test.
Grades: Grades will be based on active participation (50%) and on the final test (50%).
Reading Assignments will consist of journal articles, substantial scholarly opinion columns as well as excerpts from books. All of these reading materials will be in English as will the lectures. Among others, the following two books represent a very good approach to the course topics:

  • B. Cumings, The Korean War: A History, New York: Modern Library, 2010.

  • P. Lowe, The Origins of the Korean War, Longman, 1986.

Tentative Course Agenda
First week:

  • Introduction; political and social situation in pre and post-liberation Korea; world order in the period 1945-50.

Second week:

  • War breaks out: military and strategic confrontation; Allies and Chinese in the conflict.

Third week:

  • the stalemate and the issue of the prisoners of war.

Fourth week:

Fifth week:

  • armistice and consequences; historical memory of the conflict

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