Tom Le is Assistant Professor of Politics at Pomona College and has been a member of the AAS since 2015. A political scientist, Le’s work covers Japan and East Asia more broadly.
Why did you join AAS and why would you recommend AAS to your colleagues?
I joined AAS to engage with scholars outside of my discipline. I have learned the most at AAS conferences. The discussions and collaborations with non-political scientists have been incredibly rewarding. I would definitely recommend AAS to my colleagues because I think it will open new ways of solving puzzles.
How did you first become involved in the field of Asian Studies?
I believe I learned about the field after attending a Japan Foundation research workshop in Japan. It was the first time interacting with scholars working on Japan outside of international relations and political science. To be honest, I never even considered the possibility that I was in Asian Studies because our training in the United States is so bounded by discipline.
What do you enjoy most or what were your most rewarding experiences involving your work in Asian Studies?
I am more confident in how I approach my research because different lenses provide new data and flexible ways of engaging with the data. To address my central puzzle of how the use of force is justified in Japan and international relations, I no longer just look at interests and traditional security. Now I consider regional history, sociological forces, demographics, and a host of other variables that are commonplace in other disciplines.
Tell us about your current or past research.
I just recently completed my first book, titled Japan’s Aging Peace: Pacifism and Militarism in the Twenty-First Century. The book examines the interaction between material variables such as demographics and ideational variables such as peace culture to explain Japan’s unique militarism. There are a ton of other factors I examine, but that’s the central conceit. My main focus now is a project that seeks to develop a theory of reconciliation utilizing the cases of Reconstruction Era America and post-WWII Japan-South Korea. I am also working on a few articles on subjects such as Shin Godzilla, soft power, the value of null hypotheses, East Asia regional order, and American reactions to terrorism in the West and non-West.
What advice or recommendation do you have for students interested in a career in Asian Studies?
I would consider work outside of the academy that would greatly benefit from someone trained in the humanities and social sciences. So much of what is going on in Asia is cross-discipline and cross-sector. The government needs experts in history, the arts, and the humanities when addressing human insecurity. Moreover, the tech industry would benefit from individuals who understand the fastest growing region in the world. A lot of good can be done with the environment, immigration, and trade, among other transnational issues, if true regional experts had their finger on the scale.
Outside of Asian Studies, tell us some interesting facts about yourself (your interests, hobbies, skills, etc).
I am not a very interesting person, so I am unsure if any of these are interesting facts. I am Vietnamese-American and a first-gen college graduate trying to figure out the academy. I enjoy teaching, meeting new people, and drinking boba. I love basketball but can’t find time for it. I spend most of my non-working hours just goofing around with my wife and 4-year-old son. We have two cats, Shamu and Fuchsia. I’ve recently tried to be more interesting on Twitter, and you can see me fail doing so at @profTLe.