The highest grossing Chinese movie of all time is The Battle at Lake Changjin (2021), a three-hour film depicting the 17-day battle of Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War. It was financed as part of the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda campaign leading up to the 100th anniversary of the Party’s founding.

While Chinese leaders still celebrate Mao Zedong’s decision to send “volunteers” to fight in Korea, in America—despite 40,000 killed and 100,000 wounded—the Korean War remains the “Forgotten War.” To understand why this war matters and why America’s foremost adversary thinks it matters, we will focus on T. R. Fehrenbach’s This Kind of War: The Classic Korean War History. Fehrenbach, a World War II and Korean War veteran, originally published his work in 1963 with the subtitle “A Study in Unpreparedness.” It remains a perennial part of general officer reading lists and war college curricula.

We forget the Korean War at our own peril. As an early test of America’s ability to resist communist expansion in the old Cold War, and the last time American and Chinese troops met on the battlefield, the Korean War offers lessons for how we win the new Cold War (and ensure it stays cold). As an undeclared and unresolved war, a “police action” paused since 1953 by an armistice agreement, the Korean War should shed light on the growth of executive authority when it comes to Constitutional war powers and America’s often reluctant leadership of the Free World.

With Fehrenbach’s This Kind of War as our guide, we will use the early Cold War to better understand our present-day confrontation with China.

Photo by Corporal Peter McDonald, USMC

Rep. Gallagher Outlines Vision to Deter CCP Invasion of Taiwan


Mike Gallagher

Mike Gallagher served for four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives as Wisconsin’s 8th Congressional District representative. Previously, he served seven years on active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps, including two deployments to Iraq. 

Aaron MacLean

Aaron MacLean is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Previously, he was senior foreign policy advisor and legislative director to Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. Aaron served on active duty as a U.S. Marine for seven years, deploying to Afghanistan as an infantry officer in 2009–2010.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session



Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the main elements of the grand strategy laid out in NSC-68, and what attitude does this document take to the use of military force?
  2. What are the main elements of America’s policy in Asia at the start of 1950, and in Korea?
  3. What are Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean interests with regard to an invasion of South Korea?
  4. How, only 8.5 years after Pearl Harbor, is America surprised by North Korea in June 1950?
  5. Why does the Truman Administration decide to intervene, and how does it explain its intervention?



Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the principal factors in the failures of the 24th Infantry Division in the summer of 1950, beginning with Task Force Smith?
  2. Is there a difference between how U.S. Army and U.S. Marine infantrymen perform that summer? What is the reason for the difference?
  3. What is the “American Way of War” in Fehrenbach’s view, and how does it manifest itself (or not) in Korea?
  4. How do North Korean tactics differ from American tactics? What are the strengths and weaknesses of Communist forces?



Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do U.N. forces cross the 38th Parallel? What are the benefits and risks of this action?
  2. How, only five months after the strategic surprise of the summer, is America again surprised by Chinese intervention? How are American troops again dealt tactical and operational defeats?
  3. What are the main elements of the dispute between MacArthur and Truman? Is Truman right to fire MacArthur? Questions of authority aside, who has the better arguments regarding policy?
  4. How is the Chinese intervention ultimately checked?



Discussion Questions:

  1. How and why do the combatants commence armistice talks in the summer of 1951? How does each side conceptualize the nature of such talks? What are each side’s objectives?
  2. What have the Chinese lost and gained through their intervention?
  3. What do the Communist powers lose and gain during the new phase of the war that the talks initiate? How does the character of the fighting change?
  4. How do the two sides conceive of the treatment of POWs? What role does this issue play in the armistice talks? What does the Communist approach to the POW issue, in particular, tell us about their broader conception of political warfare?
  5. How does the ongoing war affect the election of 1952? How does the change in administrations affect the conduct of the war? How is a ceasefire secured?

Other Courses You Might Be Interested In

Chinese Grand Strategy

Explore the implications of China’s global rise for U.S. primacy and the liberal international order.

China at War: Past, Present, & Future

Examine China’s past and current use of force in the context of its strategic culture and traditions.

A Return to Rivalry: U.S.-Russia Relations

Study the trajectory of U.S. policy towards Russia from the Soviet collapse to the invasion of Ukraine.

Nixon in China: Did We Get China Wrong?

Study Nixon’s strategic opening to Beijing in 1972 and how it shaped U.S.-China relations today.

Debating U.S.-China Strategic Competition

Explore contemporary views on U.S.-China strategic competition alongside a variety of prominent instructors.