Humanities hone analytic skills

In his Dec. 16 article, “Abe shows totalitarian bent,” Takamitsu Sawa makes a startling disclosure: “I cannot help thinking that the current Japan is drifting away from the modern Western European ideals based on liberalism, democracy and individualism.”

Professor Sawa then quotes from Martha C. Nussbaum’s “Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs Humanities”: “Cultivated capacities for critical thinking and reflection are crucial in keeping democracies alive and wide awake.”

The humanities are essential to democracy. Training in the humanities, contrary to popular stereotyping, can produce highly effective practitioners of the worldly arts of analysis and administration.

When I was a student at Oxford University, I was aware of many academics who had played important roles in the allied war effort. The provost of the college I was at, a former philosophy don, had a distinguished career during the war in the Ministry of Supply. His predecessor was a former history don, cricketer, mystery writer and legendary British intelligence officer.

In “The Double-Cross System,” J.C. Masterman recounted the story of how he ran the counter-espionage operation that identified Nazi spies in Britain and turned them into double agents.

At the time, the Warden of Rhodes House was E.T. Williams, who was an historian before he became the chief intelligence officer to Gen. Bernard Montgomery. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Williams’ “penetrating analysis contributed substantially to the allied victory at Alamein.”

Sawa reminds us that “history offers numerous examples of impetuous and intemperate excess leading to self-destruction.”

History’s lessons are many, varied and often hard learned. In perilous times, it’s vital to have leaders who understand those lessons and who can look at the world through objective, distortion-free lenses.

warren iwasa
honolulu

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.