BY MICHAEL HIRSHMANLast month, I attended a lecture sponsored by the University of Cantabria, one of Spain´s leading public universities. As a UCSD study abroad student, I was attracted by the topic of the lecture: a comparison of the Roman Empire and the United States. The speaker was a noted filologist from another Spanish campus, the Universidad Complutense of Madrid.
The speech began with the usual drawn out thank yous and confessions about the difficulty of the subject matter at hand. Then the professor delved into his analysis. He had little to say about Rome and much to say about the United States.
His assessment was vitriolically critical. He cited an eclectic range of sources, from postings on the blogosphere to the writings of UCSD professor emeriti Chalmers Johnson. As the speaker warmed up, his vitriol seemed to augment. In a serious scholarly tone, he likened the American military today to the armies of Nazi Germany.
Unfortunately, this was not the first university lecture I attended this year in which America was likened to the Nazis. Despite the historical ignorance, such rhetoric illustrates the wider anti-American sentiment on Spanish and European campuses. Many of my fellow students consider the United States a greater threat to world security than North Korea. A significant percentage think more highly of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than George W. Bush.
At UCSD, of course, such matters elicit a wide range of opinions and responses. What alarms me over here is that few of my Spanish peers have an informed, much less a positive, view of America. While studying abroad, I have learned that one is more than just a student - one is an ambassador of America as well.
La Jollan Michael Hirshman is a UCSD graduate who is studying in Spain. He’ll return home for a visit this summer before heading off to work at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague, Czech Republic.