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At a school for orphans in North Korea, the wall decor is all about tanks and ICBMs

At a school for orphans in North Korea, the wall decor is all about tanks and ICBMs
At the Orphan Primary School in Pyongyang, this mural with tanks and missiles is displayed. (Jonathan Kaiman / Los Angeles Times)

Not far from Pyongyang's massive Communist monuments, government offices, and propaganda murals — most depicting the country's two deceased leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il — lies the Orphan Primary School, a pristine, state-run institution that provides some insight into how the country exists the way it is.

The school on its surface is impressive. On a government-led tour on Thursday, a few dozen healthy-looking children were playing soccer, singing songs, and reciting lessons in perfect unity. The school had a well-tuned piano, a well-stocked pantry, even a taxidermy room for animal science lessons. Yet, the school raised red flags for two reasons: one, that most North Koreans cannot afford such luxuries, and the government was clearly only showing us what it wanted us to see. And two, it was a propaganda machine.

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One wall poster illustrated a patriotic fable about a humble porcupine overcoming a fearsome tiger — a not-so-subtle allegory for North Korea's view of its relationship with the U.S. Another showed a cartoon of joyous-looking children next to an inter-continental ballistic missile launch. In the kitchen, a cook told us that Kim Jong Un, the country's current top leader, once visited the school.

"He encouraged us to care a lot for the children, and asked us to look after the children," she said.

What that must sound like through the ears of a child. Kim would naturally be worthy of worship. If not for him, would anybody be encouraged to care?

For more news from Asia, follow @JRKaiman on Twitter

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