PYONGYANG, North Korea – A poster on the wall of a kindergarten classroom shows bright-eyed children brandishing rifles and bayonets as they attack a hapless American soldier, his face bandaged and blood spurting from his mouth.
We love playing military games knocking down the American bastards, reads the slogan printed across the top. Another poster depicts an American with a noose around his neck. Let’s wipe out the U.S. imperialists, it instructs.
For North Koreans, the indoctrination of anti-Americanism starts as early as kindergarten and is as much a part of the curriculum as learning to count.
Toy pistols, rifles and tanks sit lined up in neat rows on shelves. The school principal pulls out a dummy of an American soldier with a beaked nose and straw-colored hair and explains that students beat him with batons or pelt him with stones, a favorite schoolyard game.
For a moment, she is sheepish as she takes three journalists from the Associated Press, including an American, past anti-U.S. posters. But the principal, Yun Song Sil, is not shy about the message.
Our children learn from an early age about the American bastards, she says, using a phrase so common that it is considered an acceptable way to refer to Americans.
2 main enemies
North Korean students learn their country has had two main enemies: the Japanese, who colonized Korea from 1910 to 1945, and the U.S., which fought against North Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War.
They are told that North Korea’s defense against outside forces – particularly the U.S., which has more than 28,000 soldiers stationed in South Korea – remains the backbone of the country’s foreign policy.
And they are bred to seek revenge, even as their government professes to want peace with the United States.
They tell their people there can be no reconciliation with the United States, says American scholar Brian Myers, who dissected North Korean propaganda in his 2010 book The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters. They make it very clear to the masses that this hate will last forever.
In recent years, state propaganda has shifted away from the virulent anti-American slogans of the past and has instead emphasized building up the economy. On the streets of Pyongyang, anti-American posters have largely given way to images of soldiers in helmets and workers in factories.
But the posters and curriculums at kindergartens across North Korea remain unchanged. Despite U.S.-North Korean diplomacy behind closed doors, 4-year-olds are still being taught that the Yankee imperialists are North Korea’s worst enemy.
At the Kaeson Kindergarten in Pyongyang, one of several schools visited by the AP, U.S. soldiers are depicted as ghoulish barbarians with big noses and fiendish eyes. Teeth bared, they brand prisoners with hot irons, set wild dogs on women and wrench out a girl’s teeth with pliers.
The American imperialists and Japanese militarism are the sworn enemies of the North Korean people, reads a quote from the late leader Kim Jong Il affixed to the top of one wall in a large room devoted to anti-U.S. education.
The Americans are also portrayed with nuclear symbols on their helmets and uniforms. That is a reference to North Korean insistence that the U.S. poses an atomic threat to the region.
An undated poster in French is dotted with places in South Korea where missiles and fighter jets supposedly were kept. The U.S. denies having nuclear weapons in Korea.
The North Korean hate campaign does not include South Koreans, portrayed as puppets of the U.S. However, in recent months, it has come to encompass South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, whose tough policies toward the North have enraged its leaders as well as the South’s conservative media.
At the Kaeson Kindergarten, the best of the children’s work is pinned up on a board: One used color pencils to draw a boy in a blue cap attacking a midget American soldier with a studded club. Another depicts North Korean fighter jets dropping bombs on U.S. soldiers trapped in flames.
In a third, a man wearing a helmet marked U.S. in English is on his knees begging for mercy as he is pummeled on the head with a stick.
The children run around beating up mock American soldiers and planes, Jon said. The worst schoolyard taunt is to call someone miguk nom – American bastard.
Still, like children everywhere, the littlest North Koreans show more fascination than fear when they encounter the rare American in Pyongyang, waving and calling out Hello! in English.
And spotted among the mourners after Kim Jong Il’s death in December was a boy who had no problem with a Yankee of a different kind. Perched on his head was a blue knit cap with the New York Yankees logo from a distinctly American sport: baseball.