American War Themes
by Omar El Akkad

Start Your Free Trial

Download American War Study Guide

Subscribe Now

American War Themes

Coming of Age in Wartime

When the war in America begins, Sarat Chestnut is six years old. Through Sarat's point of view, we understand that she lived a peaceful life in Mississippi before the outbreak of war. There, she was naive of the political climate in the country. Shortly after the novel begins, Sarat's father is killed at work in a suicide bombing, yet Sarat clings to the hope that he is still alive. Sarat and her family, along with other Northerners, travel to a refugee camp. At the camp, repeated violence culminating in a mass shooting kills members of Sarat's family. With her innocence destroyed, Sarat's heart hardens, and she trains to be a deadly assassin. As an adult, she kills multiple members of the Southern opposition. She eventually sacrifices herself for the Northern cause, instigating a biological attack that kills millions of people. Through the novel, Sarat changes in ways that mirror the turmoil around her.

Conflict Between Former Allies

The Second American Civil War is brought on by conflict over fossil fuels. A handful of Southern states, refusing to abide by federal laws prohibiting these fuels, secedes from the Union, which triggers the war. What was once the United States is no more. Where there was once a cooperation between regions, there is now an "us versus them" mentality. To Northerners, the Red territory is filled with ruffians, narrow-minded and dangerous individuals who refuse to adapt to the modern age. To Southerners, the Blue territory consists of an evil and violent opposition who seek to destroy their established way of life.

War, Displacement, and the Environment

In the novel, author Omar El Akkad demonstrates the harm linked to refusal to accept the realities of climate change. After decades of denying the environmental crisis, mass flooding has drastically altered the landscape of America. Huge expanses of coastal land are now underwater, leading to the displacement of millions into interior states. Displacement on this scale triggers civil conflict, as residents of the interior states view the homeless migrants as foreigners. These tensions eventually contribute to the civil war. This echoes the negative treatment of immigrants—many of whom are fleeing peril in their home countries—in our modern society.