Author Christopher Hitchens once remarked that, unlike the situation in most totalitarian regimes, the people of North Korea really seem to believe state propaganda. One of the reasons could be that they’re indoctrinated from such an early age. Misinformation seems to be part of their very education.
In schools throughout the country, children are subjected to anti-Western propaganda, obvious falsehoods about living conditions in their own country, and the relentless cult of personality surrounding North Korean leaders. We list 10 controversial examples of North Korean school posters.
10. “It is Exciting to Play Soldiers Beating and Seizing the Americans”
The culture of North Korea is highly xenophobic, and its propaganda is frequently directed against Western nations. In this disturbing poster, a group of school children are depicted attacking and destroying the head of an American soldier, beneath the caption, “It is exciting to play soldiers and seizing the Americans!”
The United States is commonly portrayed as the ultimate enemy of The Democratic People’s Republic. Propaganda posters often show American troops committing atrocities against North Korean civilians, including torturing and killing young children.
In many North Korean classrooms, the phrase “American bastards” is used to describe US soldiers. What’s more, a common playground game involves beating toy soldiers with sticks as a sign of hatred for the US.
9. Digital Technology
This poster shows North Korean school children using various forms of modern technology in front of a futuristic looking, space-themed background. Although this representation is doubtless an exaggeration, according to a report by consulting group InterMedia, computers and advanced technology are actually becoming increasingly common amongst the country’s elite.
State media claim that the country now produces three models of homegrown PC, two of which are intended for educational use and one for office use. Chosun Computer, a North Korean company, also recently claimed to have developed a tablet computer based on Google Android.
Still, computers in North Korea are unlikely to have full Internet access or any entertainment capabilities. The educational computer models allow students to view textbooks, edit documents, and learn foreign languages.
8. North Korean Classroom Poster, Pyongyang
This poster depicts an idealized image of a North Korean classroom. The bright colors and simplified drawings seem designed to be child-friendly and non-threatening.
In both the foreground and background, we can see serene looking children and teachers working together. This cooperative, passive attitude is, presumably, the kind of behavior that the state wants to encourage amongst its young people.
Education in North Korea is modeled mainly on the Soviet system, and for students it often involves heavy exposure to propaganda from an early age.
7. Kwangmyŏngsŏng Satellite Program
North Korea’s flagship technology project is the Kwangmyŏngsŏng satellite program, which prepared for its first launch in 1998. However, despite claims by state media that spacecraft have been launched successfully, according to outside observers, the country has so far failed to put a single satellite into orbit.
In spite of their failures, however, the Kwangmyŏngsŏng satellites hold an important place in North Korean popular culture, and Kwangmyŏngsŏng-1 is frequently featured in festivities and celebrations.
Here, the poster shows North Korean children happily celebrating the “successful” launch of the latest satellite-cum-missile. Propaganda like this seems designed to perpetuate the myth that North Korea’s technology is on par with that of the rest of the world – and that The Democratic People’s Republic is therefore a significant player on the global stage.
6. “We thank our Father Kim Jong-il!”
The quote that appears in this poster, “We thank our father Kim Jong-il,” is an indication of the personality cult that surrounds the late North Korean supreme leader. During his lifetime, Kim Jong-il was regarded with almost religious awe by North Koreans and was nicknamed “Dear Leader.”
By suggesting that Kim Jong-il was directly responsible for providing them with food, as well as other amenities such as education, this propaganda image was clearly intended to increase children’s loyalty to the regime.
The North Korean media often repeat outlandish myths about their former head of state. These include the notions that his birth caused the seasons to immediately change from winter to spring and created a magical double rainbow, that he invented a variation of the hamburger, and that he scored eleven holes-in-one at a golf course the first time he played the sport.
5. “Oh! Bean Curd…”
The caption here reads, “Oh! Soft tofu (bean curd),” while a group of healthy looking children are shown happily eating their bowls of food.
North Korea has frequently been affected by shortages of food over the past 20 years. In 1994, famine ravaged the country, killing between two and three million people from then until 1998. More recently, it has been reported that the poorer members of society are starving again and that individuals have been reduced to scouring the countryside for edible plants.
Most of North Korea’s food supply problems appear to have been caused by poor management of the state’s centrally planned economy, although the 1994 famine was also partly the result of decreased aid from the Soviet Union. Food shortages are acknowledged by the regime but are usually blamed on factors outside the government’s control, like the weather, or a “failure to implement Kim Jong-il’s teachings.”
4. “Hate Will Last”
This poster portrays victorious school children vanquishing soldiers from enemy nations. The racist and nationalistic elements of the poster are evident in the giant figures of the North Korean children, the red flag being thrust towards the hook-nosed American soldier, and the other enemy caricatures.
When they appear in propaganda, the Japanese are depicted as barbarian marauders, commonly with swords and uniforms dating back to WWII. Americans, meanwhile, are caricatured as brutal killers, often wearing helmets adorned with radiation signs to represent their country’s nuclear threat.
Author Christopher Hitchens noted that the regime also subscribes to a pure-blood ideology. Women in Pyongyang who become pregnant whilst visiting China are frequently forced to abort their babies. Hitchens also wrote that his North Korean guide regarded the South Koreans as being “mongrelized,” due to the fact that some of them had intermarried with American soldiers.
3. Kwangbok Primary School Poster
This poster seems to be an idealized depiction of everyday life in North Korea. However, the mother and child’s smart clothes, the plentiful fresh food, and the spotless environment are a far cry from conditions experienced by most citizens under the regime.
In contrast to the impression given by this poster, the majority of North Koreans have a very poor diet, with little meat, low-quality grain, and fresh fruit like apples very uncommon. According to a 2010 Amnesty International survey, half of all children under five suffer from malnutrition.
The country’s poverty has also been exacerbated by a currency revaluation that took place in 2009, which has severely affected the savings of those living there and left many unable to afford even basic necessities like food. State-provided amenities like electricity are also erratic; the country suffers from frequent power cuts, for example.
2. Kim Il Sung Visits A School
This next example of education propaganda depicts Kim Il-Sung in class with a typical group of North Korean children. It seems to be intended to persuade young children to accept the personality cult surrounding “The Great Leader” and to encourage them to appreciate school.
Kim Il-Sung was the first absolute ruler of North Korea and the father of the famous Kim Jong-il. Kim Il-Sung was North Korea’s head of state for 46 years and introduced the Jouche (isolationist) system to the country. Under his rule, the population was broken down into distinct social castes, with those with the greatest loyalty to the regime receiving the best treatment.
Even after his death, Kim Il-Sung has continued to be a dominating force in North Korea. He has become the center of a significant personality cult, and there are many official paintings and statues in his likeness. Indeed, Kim Il-Sung still officially holds the office of head of state.
1. Child Soldier
This last poster depicts a child battling Japanese soldiers in the background. Korea was dominated by the Imperial Japanese Empire during WWII, and over five million citizens were conscripted to work in factories and mines. In addition, 670,000 Koreans were shipped to mainland Japan to do manual labor.
There were, however, frequent outbreaks of resistance to Japanese rule. In fact, Kim Il-Sung, one of the country’s national heroes, earned much of his early reputation leading guerrilla battles against Japanese forces in the 1930s.
This propaganda piece is an example of the glorification of the military, which often appears in North Korean media. The state is heavily militarized, and this makes it advantageous to venerate the armed forces in order to encourage young people to become soldiers.
–By Chris Barker