A framed poster on the wall of a kindergarten classroom shows bright-eyed children brandishing rifles and bayonets as they attack a hapless US 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 depicting an American with a noose around his neck reads: “Let’s wipe out the US imperialists.”
For North Koreans, the systematic indoctrination of anti-US sentiment 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, Yun Song-sil, pulls out a dummy of a US soldier with a beaked nose and straw-colored hair and explains that the students beat him with batons or pelt him with stones — a favorite schoolyard game, she says.
For a moment, Yun is sheepish as she takes three journalists from The Associated Press, including an American, past the anti-US posters, but she is not shy about the message.
“Our children learn from an early age about the American bastards,” she says, tossing off a phrase so common here that it is considered an acceptable way to refer to Americans.
North Korean students learn that their country has had two main enemies: the Japanese, who colonized Korea from 1910 to 1945, and the US, which fought against North Korea during the 1950 to 1953 Korean War.
They are told that North Korea’s defense against outside forces — particularly the US, 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 US.
“They tell their people there can be no reconciliation with the United States,” says US academic 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,” he says.
In recent years, state propaganda has shifted away from the virulent anti-US slogans of the past and has instead emphasized building up the economy. On the streets of Pyongyang, anti-US posters have largely given way to images of soldiers in helmets and workers in factories.
However, the posters and curricula at kindergartens across North Korea remain unchanged. One glimpse inside a school, and it is clear that despite US-North Korean diplomacy behind closed doors, four-year-olds are still being taught that the “Yankee imperialists” are North Korea’s worst enemy.
At the Kaeson Kindergarten in central Pyongyang, one of several schools visited by the AP, US soldiers are depicted as cruel, 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. One drawing shows a US soldier crushing a girl with his boot, blood pouring from her mouth, her eyes wild with fear and pain.
“The American imperialists and Japanese militarism are the sworn enemies of the North Korean people,” reads a quote from late leader Kim Jong-il affixed to the top of one wall in a large room devoted to anti-US education.
“The main theme of anti-American propaganda is not ‘We must be ready for an attack,’ but ‘We must be ready for revenge,’” Myers says. “People are being whipped up to hate the United States on the basis of past actions.”