When a Country is Torn Apart: North vs. South

– Explain the economic, social, and political causes of the American Civil War
– Analyze aspects of the American Civil War
– Analyze aspects of post-WWII foreign policy (Korean War)

– Compare the American Civil War to the Korean War and examine what can happen to a nation when it is torn apart by war.
– Compare/contrast the causes of both civil wars and the major events throughout the wars.
– Analyze similarities and differences between the two civil wars and the effects on the government, the people and the culture of the nation.

Anticipatory Set:
Ask students to think about how a civil war is different from other types of wars. Discuss the types of wars students are familiar with and the similarities between them.

Activity 1:
Students will need to understand both the causes and effects of both the American Civil War and the Korean War. Provide students with the link to the websites or display on screen. Print out copies of the Venn diagram for each student prior to the lesson.

Review the causes of the Civil War on this website: https://www.pbs.org/opb/historydetectives/feature/causes-of-the-civil-war/
Discuss the major issues that the Northern states and Southern states disagreed on in the mid 1800s leading up to the Civil War. Discuss any other background information such as history of political disagreements between Democrats and Republicans and the aftermath of the Mexican-American War.

Review the causes of the Korean War on this website: https://history.state.gov/milestones/1945-1952/korean-war-2
Discuss the major events that led up to the outbreak of the Korean War including background information such as the Chinese Revolution and the early Cold War.

After reviewing the causes of both wars, have students complete the Venn Diagram handout to compare and contrast the causes of these wars.

Hold a class discussion about the similarities and differences they found between the two civil wars. (Some points may include political party conflicts, political ideology differences, aftermath of other wars/conflicts, North vs South, etc.)

Activity 2:
Ask students to think about what happens when a country is divided by war; What can happen to families? What can happen to the government? What can happen to the economy? etc. Write these topics on the board or on posters around the room and allow students to brainstorm and write ideas under each category. Discuss some of the ideas students have written. (Ideas may include families torn apart, brother against brother, disagreements over government leaders, financial issues, etc.)

After the brainstorm, review the similarities and differences between the Civil War and the Korean War.
Discuss the history of political views and debates over the years in both countries (democrat vs. republican and democracy vs. communism)
Discuss examples of families divided during the Civil War and the families who have been separated in Korea (brother against brother)
Discuss the financial hardships faced in the South and North Korea as a result of the Civil War and the aid received from other countries (China and UN, Britain)

Activity 3:
Discuss the differences between the outcomes of both the American Civil War and the Korean War. Talk about the bitterness afterward (Reconstruction and harsh feelings in Korea to this day). Discuss the changes in culture that have developed between the North and South in both countries. Discuss some long-term effects of civil war in both countries (US: Controversy over confederate flag recently, distinction between the “South” and the rest of the country, in Korea some still want unification while others do not).

Ask the students to think about what might have happened if the outcomes had been different or reversed.
What if the South had won the Civil War or if it had ended in a stalemate like in Korea?
What if the North or the South had won the Korean War like the American Civil War?

Have students get into small groups and decide on one alternative outcome of either war. Have the students work together to brainstorm all of the possible outcomes they can think of. After a few minutes of brainstorming, have the groups choose their best answer and have each group share with the class.

Ask students to summarize the similarities and differences between the American Civil War and the Korean War. Ask them to name one thing that can happen when a country is torn apart that was discussed in the lesson. They can write this closure on an exit ticket and turn in as they leave.

Assign students a specific topic to further investigate and write a research paper comparing/contrasting the topic in both the American Civil War and the Korean War.

  • Regina Chamberlin
  • Andrada Polytechnic High School
Related History Institute
Grade Level
  • High School: 11
Time Frame
  • 1-2 class periods

If you have any questions about this lesson plan, or if you wish to contact the author, please email us at [email protected]