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N. Korean kindergartners taught to hate U.S.

A framed 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 b s," 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 systematic 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 the students beat him with batons or pelt him with stones -- a favorite schoolyard game, she says.

For a moment, she is sheepish as she takes three journalists from the Associated Press, including an American, past the anti-U.S. posters. But Yun Song Sil is not shy about the message.

"Our children learn from an early age about the American b s," 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 United States, which fought against North Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War.

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 curricula at kindergartens across North Korea remain unchanged. One glimpse inside a school, and it's clear that 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 central Pyongyang, one of several schools visited by the AP, U.S. 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 an American 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-U.S. education.

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."

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 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.