The Children of North Korea

I spent 12 days inside the "sealed universe" of a country called the Hermit Nation -- North Korea.

It's a journey into a different way of thought -- and, in a way, into a time warp.

We stayed in Pyongyang, the model city, the capital.

Wide boulevards -- with barely a car in sight -- tall buildings. But so little electricity that there were no streetlights -- few lights in buildings.

Standing outside at night, it was almost pitch-black.

Our three translators were also our "minders" -- and there was much discussion over what we would be allowed to videotape.

We thought that one way to get an unfiltered view of the North Korean people was to meet the youngest members -- preschoolers. We were stunned.

In perfect Korean native dress, they performed flawless musical numbers, playing instruments, singing with hand gestures and wide smiles. We could only imagine an American 3-year-old as proficient.

Even in their earliest years, it seems, they begin ferocious training. They are not just being taught, they are being taught to be the very best.

You can see the result of that discipline in the classroom and when they're walking through the streets.

Sometimes the children in North Korea look like typical youngsters. Girls with ponytails and hula hoops in hand giggle as they huddle together.

But much of their time is spent at practice -- practice with an almost religious fervor. We were told at all times they are thinking that they must do it for their dear leader Kim Jong Il, their father who has given them uniforms and the tools of learning.

However impoverished the country, however few its materials, North Korea's children remain devoted to refining their skills by any means they can.

The group performances at mass games, which take place every few months on national holidays, are simply astonishing.

One hundred thousand North Koreans perform, with elaborate gymnastics and card stunts, like a giant halftime show with no Super Bowl.

We can't help but wonder if it's a government design, a kind of discipline, which will occupy and distract curious minds.

The seeming perfection of North Korea's children is startling to Westerners. It also raises questions.

What exactly is its purpose?

In a nuclear world, where do we begin building the bridges that make this a safer planet ?

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