And that training starts early -- overall, Mr. Lee says about 30 percent of his education was useless because it only pertained to the Kim family. There were classes when he was younger on the lives of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung, but when he got older, the teacher would spend 10 minutes talking about the Kim of the day and his accomplishments and then sprinkle more stories during other classes. Imagine if your algebra teacher had to link every lesson back to George Washington, and also George Washington was a living, ridiculous-looking little man.
North Korean schools treat world history as an afterthought, the way American schools treat art classes. He learned about World War I and II and the Allied and Axis powers, but not the Italian Renaissance. He's aware of things like Sputnik, but he wasn't aware that an American was the first man on the moon (he was aware that someone landed on the moon, but they never specified whether it was an American or a Russian). You're also forced to participate in mass games, from middle school on. You've seen demonstrations like this:
It's like a television with shitty resolution, but made of people.
Well, ever wonder how those kids get so precise with their movements? It's because they start training for it at a young age (including on weekends), and North Korean teachers don't hesitate to use corporal punishment.
And the parents know to do their part. Another of our sources, who lived in North Korea for several years as the grandson of an ambassador, relayed this story:
"All over Pyongyang are pictures of the Great Leader surrounded by flowers, and regular flocks of adoring citizenry ... they would go to these little kiosks to buy flowers, and then set those flowers out at the shrines. Later in the day people with push carts come, pick up the flowers, and bring them back to the kiosks to resell to more people."
Geovien so / Flickr / Getty
And the great circle of foliage goes on.
"One time I saw this little girl, maybe 4 or 5, she trundled up with a pretty big bouquet -- almost as big as her, but she carried it to the shrine one-handed. Her parents rushed in, screaming at her. Dad slapped her full on the face. The crime? Not using two hands to lay down those flowers. So they bought her a bigger bouquet, this one was even bigger than the little girl, and she laid that down with both hands."
Ed Jones / AFP / Getty
"FLOWERS FOR THE FLOWER GOD!"