Academia to Afghanistan

Academia to Afghanistan
English Professor Liam Corley

English Professor Liam Corley has had a most unusual sabbatical. As a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve, he has spent the 2008-09 academic year in Afghanistan, serving on a NATO base with the International Security Assistance Force. He routinely puts in 14-hour days and shares a 7-by-15-foot “metal box” with two other soldiers — but you won't hear Corley complain about the work, his colleagues or his purpose. Here, drawn from his writings about military life, are some of his observations:

On why he enlisted:

“How could I, an educated person committed to justice, diversity, and peace, lend my abilities to the engines of war? My short answer is that we all are equally culpablefor military actions from which we equally benefit. There are no innocent bystanders, especially in America, where the ballot box and the Internal Revenue Service are only the most overt signs that our social and political system and our economy operate with citizens' continual and tacit assent. … My visceral responses to the terrorism of September 11, 2001, and the abuses of Abu Ghraib were similar: Something must be done to make our world a better, safer place, where hatred, cruelty, and violence are forever extinguished.”

— “An Officer and a Professor,”

The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 24, 2006

On writing:

“If I wrote as much in the States as I do here, I would probably already be

tenured. Scratch that–I'd be an academic superstar. Even more ironic for a professional writer, the papers I produce here, despite the inevitable sequestration due to classification levels, circulate more broadly and are read more closely than anything I've ever published in public forums as an academic.”

–“An Academic in Afghanistan,”

The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 29, 2009

On young people:

“My faith in the ability of 18- to 22-year-olds has been most delightfully

refreshed and strengthened by working closely with junior enlisted members of the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines. All-nighters are nothing to these kids, and they aren't working hard for an A. What they are working for is as varied as the individual choices that brought them all into the military to begin with, yet I am more impressed by their discipline and bonhomie in miserable circumstances than their largely unspoken values and motivations. This too is often the case in our classrooms. What explains the hardworking student who works two jobs and still outperforms the querulous complainer who finds every grade unfair and every deadline unreasonable?”

— “War as Sabbatical,”

an essay dedicated to the memory of Emory Elliott — April 18, 2009

To read more of Corley's writings or watch a video of him discussing the role of literature in democracy and welcoming veterans to Cal Poly Pomona, visit