The U.S. denies having nuclear weapons in Korea.
The North cites the presence of U.S. soldiers in South Korea, as well as the alleged nuclear threat, as key reasons behind its drive to build atomic weapons in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions designed to hobble its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
As disarmament discussions continue in fits and starts, the message in classrooms across the country remains the same: North Korea needs its rockets, bombs and missiles and is proud of its atomic arsenal.
Kaeson Kindergarten is a model school. In the mornings, the children line up for calisthenics and to sing patriotic songs, and at lunchtime they are fed rice, fish and tofu, according to the principal. They learn to sing, dance and ride unicycles, and at 4 p.m. they get a snack and soy milk.
History lessons include tales about Kim Jong Il's childhood, life under Japanese occupation and the Korean War.
"First, we start by teaching that the American imperialists started the war," said soft-spoken schoolteacher Jon Chun Yong, citing the North Korean version of how the war began.
"From that time on, the tragedy emerged by which our nation was divided in two," said Jon, who has taught at the kindergarten for 15 years. "Since then, our people had to endure the pain of living divided for a long half-century."
Outside North Korea, history books tell a different story. Western textbooks say that two years after North and South Korea declared themselves separate republics, North Korean troops marched into South Korean capital, Seoul, on the morning of June 25, 1950. U.S.-led United Nations and South Korean forces fought communist North Korean troops backed by Chinese soldiers in a three-year battle for control of the peninsula. The U.S. and North Korea finally called a truce in 1953, and Korea remains divided to this day.
At the Kaeson Kindergarten, children sit hunched over sheets of drawing paper clutching pastel crayons. One girl has drawn a school of bright blue fish; the boy next to her has covered his paper with tanks.
Another boy depicts a whole battlefield: a North Korean plane dropping bombs on dead, bloodied American soldiers, as well as grenades and tanks. In a final flourish, he adds the name of the South Korean president to the tableau, muttering the name under his breath as he labors over the letters.
The North Korean hate campaign generally does not include South Koreans, who are 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.
The best of the children's work is pinned up on a board: One kindergartner used color pencils to draw a boy in a blue cap attacking a midget American soldier with a studded club. Another drawing depicts North Korean fighter jets dropping bombs on American 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."
The games culminate every year on International Children's Day on June 1. Across the nation, students convene en masse, dressed in military uniforms and armed with toy rifles and bayonets. At one such celebration in Pyongyang this month, students took turns charging dummies of U.S. soldiers with their weapons.
Still, like children everywhere, the littlest North Koreans show more fascination than fear when they encounter the rare American in Pyongyang, invariably waving and calling out "Hello!" in English.
And spotted among the mourners following Kim Jong Il's death in December was a boy who clearly 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.
Follow AP Korea bureau chief Jean H. Lee on Twitter at http://twitter.com/newsjean.
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