The Children of North Korea


Dec. 4, 2006 — -- I spent 12 days inside the "sealed universe" of a country called the HermitNation -- 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 modelcity, the capital.

Wide boulevards -- with barely a car in sight -- tallbuildings. 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 muchdiscussion over what we would be allowed to videotape.

We thought thatone way to get an unfiltered view of the North Korean people was to meetthe 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. Wecould only imagine an American 3-year-old as proficient.

Even in theirearliest years, it seems, they begin ferocious training. They are notjust being taught, they are being taught to be the very best.

You can see the result of that discipline in the classroom and whenthey'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 huddletogether.

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

However impoverished the country, however few its materials, NorthKorea's children remain devoted to refining their skills by any meansthey 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 elaborategymnastics and card stunts, like a giant halftime show with noSuper Bowl.

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

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

What exactly is its purpose?

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

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