The Consequences of the Iraq War through Psychological Lenses

By Katherine Parkinson

Back From Iraq
By Hanna Saadah
Almualif Publishing, 2010

The disastrous consequences wrought by the last eight years of war in Iraq are most often examined through a political lens.  Considerably less attention is paid to the emotionally corrosive effects this deadly conflict has had on its soldiers, who return with wounds not easily detectable or treatable.  Hanna Saadah’s recent novel “Back From Iraq” is a valiant effort to address this gap in our understanding.  It is the harrowing tale of combat soldier Scott Thornton’s return from deployment and his subsequent struggle with the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Syndrome as well as with the process of readjusting to civilian and family life, which had drastically changed during his absence. 

The novel is effectively arranged for the purpose of exploring the impact of fear on the human psyche.  Each of the main characters suffers from some sort of traumatic experience that leaves each consumed and paralyzed by fear.  Beginning with Scott Thornton, the reader is gradually introduced to the chilling memories of war trauma.  This is followed by introducing the frightening traumatic experiences of Scott Thornton’s daughter, Sarah, then his wife’s, Nancy, and finally, Debbie Hunt’s, who represents the fleeing fragments of Scott’s soul as he represents the fleeing fragments of hers.  The goal of overcoming the impacts of their frightening pasts is the thread that unites all characters as the novel un-scrolls; they all struggle to rid their inhibited lives of dread and to infuse them with uninhibited joy and meaning.

Debbie Hunt is a psychologist who is propelled by her own traumatic experiences to conduct her own fear research.  As a student, Hunt found the terminology and studies on fear to be inadequate and she set out to conduct her own research, motivated by the belief that “fear was the most pernicious force within the human psyche.”  She began her work with war veterans at a VA hospital, and later worked with Iraqi women, whom she trained to look after Baghdad’s orphaned and war-shocked children.  She subsequently plays a major part in facilitating the recovery of the Thornton family, which was nearly destroyed by its traumatic experiences.  In the process of unraveling the Thornton case, Debbie Hunt also succeeds in confronting and jettisoning her own past fears.  Hunt’s medical credentials lend an authoritative tone to the novel’s exposition and dramatization of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Syndrome.

This book is recommended for anyone who wishes to gain insight into the workings of human nature as it confronts fear and battles against it.  It is also useful for anyone who has abandoned hope in favor of despair because it explores the powers of love, faith, courage, patriotism, heroism, and the indomitable tenacity of the human spirit when challenged with potential self destruction.


This review appears in Al Jadid, Vol. 16, no. 63

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