Two Weeks in Yerevan

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Republic Square at night, Yerevan, Armenia, 2008, www.carolineallen.com

I was sent recently to Yerevan in Armenia on a media development project for a nonprofit. My role on the project was to help several media outlets redesign their websites — TV, radio, online magazines. There is so much to blog about from the experience of visiting and working in the former Soviet country that I don’t know where to begin, so I am choosing an incident of interest perhaps to writers.

In Yerevan, I went to a dinner party held by an American Embassy official. I noticed on the official’s bookshelf Stephen King’s book, On Writing. I took it off the shelf and held it up and announced that it was one of the best books on the writing process that I’d ever read.

At the table were two young female peace corp workers, two young men in the army, other development workers like me, and other embassy officials.

One of the military guys took the book from me and said to his buddy: “Look, On Writing. It’s like On Killing.”

Many of us at the dinner party laughed. We thought he was making a joke. Turns out he wasn’t. There’s a book many soldiers read called On Killing, about the effects on one human being in war of killing another.

I apologized for laughing. I said: “Who’s the author. I want to read it.”

They seemed excited that someone like me would be interested. I felt I should read such a book. Who was I to live in a bubble when these young guys were putting their lives on the line. However against war I am, however against the herding of young men to their death by a crazy president I feel, I cannot help but understand that these two guys in their 20s sitting next to me deserved someone outside their units to listen to and understand what they were going through.

I’m back in Massachusetts now and am in the throes of reading On Killing by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. It is one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read, and I’m particularly grateful for being thrust outside my own paradigm, being put into the company of two young men I’d not normally meet.

The most fascinating aspect of the book: Research has shown that throughout recorded history in war only 15 to 20 percent of soldiers actually fire upon the enemy. The rest shoot above the heads, or to the side, or pretend to shoot. I realized that military personnel aren’t so completely different from me. We all generally abhor taking a human life. It refreshed my belief in the human spirit.

The book also discusses how atrocities like the Holocaust are perpetuated, where whole societies turn against one ethnicity or race.

I’d recommend it wholeheartedly.

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