PYONGYANG: To celebrate Korean Children’s Union Day on Tuesday, the pupils of Pyongyang Number Four Primary School threw mock grenades at targets, crawled under a frame and threw themselves over a fence – all with an imitation AK47 over their shoulders.
After completing the obstacle course, Myong Hyon-Jong, whose favorite subject is mathematics, said she wanted to join the army when she grows up, to “safeguard the respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un with military power.”
“We have to prepare ourselves to defend our country,” she added.
Hyon-Jong is 10 years old.
Her teacher Ri Su-Ryon explained the race was intended “to give the children the spirit to defend our country when they are grown up, and to prepare them physically and mentally to beat down any enemies while upholding the Songun [military-first] revolutionary leadership of the respected marshal” – a reference to leader Kim Jong-Un.
Nuclear-armed North Korea is technically still in a state of conflict after the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.
It considers itself at risk of invasion by the US – its justification for the atomic and missile programs that have seen it subjected to multiple rounds of United Nations Security Council sanctions. The latest expansion came only last week.
Since the beginning of 2016 Kim has overseen two nuclear tests and scores of missile launches as Pyongyang seeks to develop a missile that can deliver a warhead to the continental United States – something which President Donald Trump has vowed “won’t happen.”
Tensions soared earlier this year as his administration said that military options were being considered.
Teacher Ri, 24, took part in the obstacle race herself and told Agence France-Presse: “I threw the hand grenade with the mind that I would beat down all the enemies who even try to infiltrate our country.”
Ordinary North Koreans normally only express officially-approved views when speaking to foreign media.
‘Nothing to envy’
All North Korean children are automatically members of the Korean Children’s Union, whose uniform includes the red neckerchiefs of the Young Pioneers of other communist states.
It is one of the mechanisms through which loyalty to the authorities is inculcated from an early age, and the anniversary of its foundation in 1946 is a public holiday, marked by sports days at schools across the country.
“On this occasion, all the people in the country are recalling with deep emotion the immortal feats performed by peerlessly great men,” the official Korean Central News Agency reported, referring to the North’s founder Kim Il-Sung and his successor Kim Jong-Il, the grandfather and father of the current leader.
Under Kim Jong-Un, it said, schoolchildren “are being brought up to be pillars supporting Juche Korea” – a reference to its guiding “self-reliance” philosophy.
At the Number Four primary school, spectators encouraged the competitors with cries of “Fighting!” – a standard chant in Korea, equivalent to the English “Go on!”
Once the contests were over the children danced in formation to songs including “We have nothing to envy in the world,” “Revolutionary Army Games” and “Our Thankworthy Sun,” which lauds the current leader.
“You should not forget the warm love and care of the great marshal Kim Jong-Un,” the school’s headmistress told the pupils and their watching parents. “Study hard to become great men in the future.”