Growing up in North Korea

Welcome to the world of North Korean childhood. Today’s Asia Times carries an article on the strident nationalism in state education in North Korea: “In this world, cartoons such as ‘Pencil artillery shells’, by Cha Kye-ok, call on children to study well. Unlike in South Korea, where the same imperative is justified by intellectual fun and social success of the students, the North Korean educational paradigm suggests another lucrative objective: good students are better prepared for the defence of their country against invaders.

“In the constantly emphasized potential war, North Korean children are summoned to prepare for the worst.imgres-1 Verses of their songs widely employ idioms such as kyolsaongwi (desperate readiness to die [for the leader, the country, the party]) orch’ ongp’ at ‘anadulttal, (sons and daughters of guns and bombs/living guns and bombs). See, for example, a typical children’s poem by Kim Ch’angmu, They Envy Us, They Are Afraid of Us:

“The whole world envies us
The whole world is afraid of us
We are the nation of the sun
The nation which shines under the slogan of juche[self-reliance]
We are the sons and daughters of guns and bombs.

Kunsanori, or military games, constitute an essential part of physical activity of young North Korean children. Traditionally, the target of such games has been a dummy of a US soldier, with the archetypal reference of “American bastard”, which North Korean kindergardeners are taught to shoot or beat.

“Recently, the list of targets has been expanded. For example, the back cover of a magazine that informs us about the exploits of Ri Kwang-ch’un (Kkotbonori, May-June 2012) depicts a group of North Korean kindergarteners, including a girl in a pretty yellow dress, pounding dummies of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Jeong Sung-Jo with wooden clubs. The expressive image carries the title ‘Let us crush the clique of Lee Myung-bak’. This bacchanalia of militarist imagination in North Korean kindergarteners reflects a general North Korean passion for arms, which some observers tend to link with the official announcement of songun, or “military first” era. Songun made its nationwide debut in 1996-1998. However, as North Korean history demonstrates, prioritization of the military in all aspects of life in the North has factually existed since the very inception of the “Guerrilla State”. Militarism was an integral part of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s founding mythology.”

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