The Korean War is often referred to as “The Forgotten War” because reporting on the conflict was heavily censored throughout the 1950s and it was overshadowed in popular memory by the US involvement in Vietnam. Nevertheless, The Korean War remains highly significant for the following reasons.
The Korean War marked the first large-scale military enforcement of the policy of Containment. After the end of World War II, the United States adopted a global foreign policy designed to prevent the spread of communism at any cost. The US had invested heavily in South Korea at the end of the war in an attempt to prevent a fall to communism so, when North Korea invaded in 1950, the Americans and their allies responded quickly with military force. The Korean War marked the first large proxy war, a pattern that emerged throughout the decades of the Cold War between the USSR and the United States.
The Korean War was also significant for the diverse participants fighting in the conflict. Soldiers from afar afield as Canada, Britain, France, Australia, Colombia, Turkey, Greece, Norway, Ethiopia, and many others fought against communist North Korea and their Chinese allies. This global dimension to the conflict clarified the role of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and solidified the alliance as a powerful player in global politics.
Finally, The Korean War has never definitively ended. Although fighting between North Korea and South Korea has stopped, they are still technically at war. Today, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is still tense. Occasional skirmishes and outbreaks in hostilities occur every few years. For example, in 2010, North Korea sank the South Korean corvette ROKS Cheonan, killing 46 sailors. North Korean nuclear tests continue to be a source of tension on the peninsula. The lack of peace on the Korean Peninsula is a sad reminder of the significance of the Korean War.
There are, obviously, dozens of other reasons why The Korean War is significant and worth studying. These are just a few to get you started!