PYONGYANG, North Korea — 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 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 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 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 United States, which fought against North Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War.
They are told that North Korea's defense against outside forces — particularly the United States, 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 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, 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.
"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.
The anti-American teachings 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.