The Evil Hours PDF

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Carter Malkasian is the author of “War Comes to Garmser” and spent several years in Iraq and Afghanistan, often as an advisor to U.S. generals.
About The Evil Hours pdf
THE EVIL HOURS
A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
By David J. Morris
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
338 pp. $27
‘We are born in debt, owing the world a death,” David J. Morris writes. “This is the shadow that darkens every cradle. Trauma is what happens when you catch a surprise glimpse of that darkness.” This passage captures the sadness, pain and profound weight of “The Evil Hours,” Morris’s exploration of post-traumatic stress disorder. Morris weaves together an autobiography of his own experience with PTSD , a history of research into the disorder and a critique of modern treatment. The book is timely, coming out when hundreds of thousands of veterans are back home from Iraq and Afghanistan and the Department of Veterans Affairs is under siege for mismanagement.
From 2004 to 2007, Morris was a war correspondent in Iraq for Salon, the Virginia Quarterly Review and NPR. Before becoming a journalist, he was a Marine officer in the 1990s, which was one reason he volunteered for Iraq. He embedded with Marines and soldiers in Fallujah, Ramadi and Baghdad, and witnessed his fair share of death and violence. His description of a direct IED strike on his Humvee is perhaps the most vivid in the entire literature: “The force of the blast rocked past Reaper’s right ear. . . . I looked at him, his head wreathed in smoke. . . . In the air behind my head there was no sound, just an underwater rush, like if I were swimming inside the explosion, holding my breath and waiting to come to the other side.” Morris returned from Iraq traumatized. Flashbacks, nightmares and sleeplessness haunted him. Eventually diagnosed with PTSD, he went through therapy and saw the Department of Veterans Affairs up close. Moved by his experience and those of others, he ventured to write about PTSD.
’The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder’ by David J. Morris (Eamon Dolan/HMH)
In parallel with his own story, Morris tells the history of PTSD from the ancient Greeks to the present. The Civil War and World War I are key periods. The latter, with its mass industrial warfare, 8 million deaths and “shell shock,” was the first conflict in which trauma was officially diagnosed and treated. Fittingly, Morris took “The Evil Hours” for his title from World War I poet Siegfried Sassoon’s description of the agony of post-combat stress.
For Americans, Vietnam is the turning point. The war brought PTSD to the attention of the general public and led to its official recognition in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, meaning Veterans Affairs could treat it. Heightened scientific research followed.
That research, in Morris’s view, has fallen woefully short. He argues that it focuses too much on large-scale studies based on quantitative data and disregards “the highly subjective experiences of survivors,” which he sees as central to understanding PTSD. Personal experience in three different studies leads him to question data-based treatments preferred by VA. His foremost example is “prolonged exposure” therapy, which requires the patient to recount the worst moments of trauma over and over again in an attempt to dampen the emotion. Morris describes how the therapy has actually done harm, sometimes causing certain patients’ symptoms to worsen. He shows that such cases can elude the statistics because, in some studies, patients who want to stop the treatment are dubbed “noncompliant” and thrown out of research samples. Study results can end up looking far prettier than the reality.
Morris stops short of recommending treatments that touch on veterans’ personal experiences, but he is interested in options such as travel, physical exercise and yoga. He rejects the idea that there is one treatment for everyone. The book’s sad tone lifts when he describes the triumphs of a few who have taken their own path and overcome PTSD.
The critique of science ties into a deeper philosophy about trauma and society. For Morris, PTSD is more than simply an illness that haunts combat veterans. It is a manifestation of society’s worst ills: “More often than not, it is the powerless and the disenfranchised who are traumatized. . . . Any honest attempt to deal with the problem of PTSD must begin with a commitment to reduce the sources of trauma that are under human control: war, genocide, torture, and rape.” Morris contends that PTSD is a moral force that draws attention to these ills. Veterans and victims stand up and become critics of government, atrocities and injustice. He points to Vietnam Veterans Against the War, a group whose members spoke out against that war and its atrocities. He worries that science will mute this moral outrage if it disregards the subjective experiences of survivors. “Trauma is symbolic,” Morris writes. “Trauma is history made manifest in the flesh. Trauma, when heard by society, is a form of testimony.”
There is no denying that Morris has followed in the footsteps of Sassoon, Vietnam Veterans Against the War and others in raising PTSD from a hidden affliction to an issue of universal moral significance. Yet not everyone will agree with what Morris writes. His argument that treatment should be based on more than the scientific process is bound to be controversial. Doctors, scientists and researchers will challenge his critiques, evidence and assertions. That is helpful. Debate will improve the future of America’s veterans and point the Department of Veterans Affairs toward possible reforms. A worse outcome would be for “The Evil Hours” to pass unnoticed.

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