During his recent stay in Peru, Vice President Nixon placed a United States flag at the foot of a statue of Jose de San Martin. A short time later, leftist students ripped the flag to shreds as the police watched. That same afternoon, Mr. Nixon ignored the advice of his aides and Peruvian diplomats and went on the now celebrated visit to the University of San Marcos--"I want to emphasize it was not a personal affront to me. For example, one of the demonstrators spat in my face. He was spitting on the good name of Peru...." This interpretation is certainly noble and at least partially correct.
The affront was not subjectively aimed at Mr. Nixon (although objectively speaking he got the worst of it) but at the government and people of the United States. Unfortunately, the hatred felt by many students in Peru and the hostility felt by most South Americans toward this nation is blamed on the South Americans, not the North Americans. Even Mr. Nixon, who should realize by now that this nation is not altogether beloved below the equator, seemed to place the blame for the San Marcos incident on the Peruvians: "This day will live in infamy in the history of San Marcos University, not because of what the students did, because few were involved, but because a violent, vocal minority denied the freedom of expression without which no institution of learning can deserve the name of great." Mr. Nixon does not seem to realize he was in Peru to defend the United States, as well as to defend "freedom of expression." He further obscured this major task and the basic issue when he declared that the riot had been inspired and directed by foreign agents.
Mr. Nixon seems to have forgotten that when he retreated from the University of San Marcos he went to the Catholic University and was there accorded a singularly frigid reception. Mr. Nixon, the State Department, and perhaps this nation as a whole seem to forget that behind the violent minority is a large and hostile majority. As the pro-American newspaper La Trinuna noted, opposition to the United States stems from the frustration and bitterness that United States attitudes have created among genuinely democratic groups friendly to the United States people...."
It is thus to be hoped that in the future President Eisenhower will spend less time improving Mr. Nixon's public relations with statements about "courage, patience, and calmness" and more time improving this nation's public relations in South America. This will not be done with debates, speeches, and slogans, but with an effective foreign aid program and import tariffs that do not cripple our would-be allies in South America.