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Warday Hardback Cover.jpg
1984 hardback edition
Author Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka
Country United States
Language English
Genre Nuclear war, Novel
Publisher Holt, Rinehart and Winston
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 374 pp
ISBN 0-03-070731-5
OCLC 10046613
813/.54 19
LC Class PS3569.T6955 W3 1984

Warday is a novel by Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka, first published in 1984.[1] It is fictional account of the authors travels across America five years after a limited nuclear attack in order to assess how the nation had changed after the war.[2] The novel takes the form of a research article and is written in first-person narrative form.[3] It includes mock government documents and interviews with individuals regarding the events and aftermath of the war.[4]

Plot summary[edit]

The novel opens with Strieber's account of a nuclear attack on New York City in October 1988. He experiences the initial blast while riding a bus, and witnesses the flooding of the subway system when a tsunami is triggered by a nuclear detonation at sea. Strieber is reunited with his family at his son's school and shelters there, but experiences radiation sickness. Upon his recovery, he and his family leave New York for San Antonio which they soon discover was destroyed as well. They eventually settle in Dallas, where he becomes a news reporter for the Dallas Times Herald.

Five years later, Strieber and Kunetka decide to document the effects of Warday on the United States;[5] they travel first through devastated southeastern and southwestern Texas. The visit newly formed nation-state of Aztlan in the former American Southwest, and conduct interviews with its foreign minister and citizens. They then conduct interviews while trying to evade the omnipresent police in Los Angeles; California, which was physically unaffected by the attack, has become a self-governing, authoritarian, police state which treats outsiders as "illegal immigrants." In San Francisco they reunite with an old friend of Strieber's, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, but then are captured, arrested, and sentenced to years of hard labor and imprisonment.

En route to prison they escape by train, and conduct interviews across the Midwest, taking refuge periodically from highly radioactive dust storms caused by dustbowl conditions as a result of the nuclear bombings of the Dakotas. After visiting Chicago, they continue east into Pennsylvania and into what remains of New York City, where Strieber, overcome with emotion, returns to his old apartment in the very dangerous ruins of Manhattan. The book ends with Strieber and Kunetka back in Texas facing an uncertain future.

The war[edit]

The former Undersecretary of Defense tells Strieber that the United States was deploying Spiderweb, an advanced anti-ballistic missile system which could use an orbiting particle beam to destroy both land and submarine launched missiles. To prevent its deployment, the Soviets destroyed the Space Shuttle Enterprise with a hunter-killer satellite. The USSR then detonated a set of six large nuclear warheads in space above the United States, causing a massive electromagnetic pulse that crippled electronics across the country. The Soviets then launched a limited first strike using satellites to deploy their warheads. In response, the U.S. President, aboard NEACP, authorized a counterattack, destroying Moscow, Leningrad, Sevastopol, and the capitals of the Soviet Republics. Shortly afterwards, the NEACP, crippled by the electromagnetic pulse, crash-landed in North Carolina, killing the President but leaving other survivors including the Under Secretary.

The "limited attack" by the USSR destroyed Washington, D.C., San Antonio, and most of Long Island, and ICBM missile fields and major air bases in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming, killing about 7 million people. The subsequent firestorms and fallout destroyed most of Brooklyn, Queens, Baltimore, and most of Southwest Texas. The Soviet Navy also launched nuclear attacks which destroyed about 90% of the United States Navy.

Post-war United States[edit]

Manhattan and the remaining undamaged boroughs are evacuated, cordoned off, and eventually fall into ruin, without water, electrical, or transit systems. Water in New Jersey is contaminated by runoff from damaged petrochemical industries. Philadelphia and Houston are evacuated because of heavy fallout from the DC and San Antonio bombings. Radioactive dusting of the Midwest and Central Plains causes a famine that kills millions. Less than a year after the war, a new strain of influenza known as the Cincinnati Flu quickly reachs epidemic levels, killing 21 million throughout the United States and millions more worldwide.[6] The remaining US citizens remain in danger from radiation poisoning and from a new incurable disease of unknown origin, Non-Specific Sclerosing Disease.

Soon there is no longer a single United States; California and Texas form de facto independent nations, with autonomous military forces and currency. The now weak and powerless Federal Government was reestablish in Los Angeles.

West coast[edit]

Having suffered no direct attacks or fallout, California recovered from the EMP to a prewar standard of living, with heavy Japanese and British investment and influence. Fearful that the millions of refugees from the rest of the United States would damage its prosperity, the state shut its borders, suspended habeas corpus, and became an authoritarian police state. Suspected illegal immigrants are immediately imprisoned and/or deported, or even executed. Other states, such as the Pacific Northwest and the Deep South that also escaped the worst of Warday, adopted measures similar to California's but less draconian. While hosting the President and remnants of the Federal Government, California in practice acts as a sovereign state, hosting de facto embassies of the world's surviving powers in Sacramento.


A new Hispanic/Native American nation named Aztlan emerges through secession; its government claims all of the area from West Texas to the California border up to Nevada, forces white residents from their homes and sets up a Libertarian Socialist country that grants total autonomy to the Native American tribes within its borders. It welcomes Mexican immigrants, and announces plans to form a Hispanic nation along the Mexican border that includes California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas west of the Pecos. The Japanese help develop Aztlan in exchange for exploitation of natural resources such as soy and uranium. Aztlan is recognized by most nations in Africa and Latin America, but the Governor of Texas plans to retake Aztlan by force.

Economy, culture, and society[edit]

The EMP has destroyed most bank accounts, 401ks, pension funds, financial records, the stock market, the credit system and other electronically stores assets in the United States and Canada. Money undergoes a rapid deflation and the economy reverts to a Gold Dollar system. Most electronic machinery and devices are also irretrievably damaged. Oil falls to 12 cents a barrel, while many foreign nations have called in loans and debts owed by the United States.

The Catholic and Episcopal churches reunite, and assisted suicide in the face of painful terminal illness is accepted and sanctioned by religious leaders including the Holy See. Wicca, "alternative" medicine, and organic medicine become common. Many Americans become Destructuralists, anarchists, and luddites, rejecting civic authority and returning to a primitive lifestyle. Damaged communication systems mean that the American people remain isolated, and many believe that the USSR had won the war.

Foreign companies move into the unaffected regions of the US to sell electronics, machinery, and investments, while exploiting it for natural resources, leading to fears that the United States will be reduced to Third World dependency. In spite of this, most Americans believe that the United States will recover its status as a strong nation.

The USSR[edit]

Through interviews, Strieber and Kunetka hear many reports and rumors about the state of the Soviet Union. It is certain that the USSR collapsed, as reportedly nearly half of its population was killed immediately on Warday or had died by the time the authors wrote the book five years later, but whether the Soviet Premier and the Politburo survived is unknown. Some former Soviet republics (the "kingdom of Azerbaijan" and a White Russian enclave are mentioned) have declared themselves independent states. It has been reported, though unconfirmed, that mysterious "purple bombs" destroyed Ukraine's wheat fields. Although the Soviet Army units stationed in the Warsaw Pact nations disbanded due to the lack of orders or direction from Moscow, rogue USSR submarines actively hunted by the Royal Navy still roam the Arctic, sacking Alaskan and Canadian communities for supplies with missiles still targeted at the US.

The rest of the world[edit]

As the conflict escalated between the US and USSR, the United Kingdom, France, and West Germany signed a secret "Treaty of Coventry", that declared themselves neutral to the USSR while they seized American military facilities located in their countries. In exchange, the Soviets spared Europe from nuclear attack.

In the absence of the USSR and the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan have become superpowers. The United States is dependent on Britain and Japan for aid and support, and many Americans hope to emigrate to the United Kingdom. An Intergovernmental aid organization called "British Relief", with backing from British military units stationed in the United States, has a large role in governing the country and occupies some areas—in effect, a restoration of the British Empire, including in areas which had never been under British rule before 1775. A large Japanese military presence also exists, especially in the Aztlan region around El Paso. Important technological resources, such as the Los Alamos National Laboratory, have been seized by the Japanese, with scientists being shipped to Japan in a similar manner to Operation Paperclip in World War II. Many interviewees mention the potential of a future Cold War between the UK and Japan.

Mexico, while escaping destruction, without American aid and trade, quickly collapsed into anarchy with revolutions reported in Mexico City, mass death from famine, and outbreaks of the Cincinnati Flu. Canada, despite escaping direct hits from nuclear weapons, was affected by the electromagnetic pulse attack on the United States and its economy was destroyed as a result. Regional interests become stronger than national ones. The country closed its borders to American refugees, expelling many people from North Dakota who had sought shelter in the days following the war. The Canadians blamed the United States for having entered the war without thinking of the consequences to neighboring countries. The United States sold Alaska to the Canadians, with the oil of Prudhoe Bay being diverted to Vancouver.

Argentina and most of Latin America, though undamaged, was occupied and divided among Western nations to stabilize food stocks allocated to Europe and to prevent a fate similar to Mexico's. What remains of the USSR lost control of its former satellite states, and Poland invaded the Ukraine to retake territory ceded to the Soviet Union during World War II, South Africa is at war with Zimbabwe, while the Israeli–Palestinian conflict continues. The developing world, particularly the Indian sub-continent, Latin America, Asia, and Africa, experienced severe population declines due to famine.


A radio drama based closely on the book, with some exceptions was broadcast on National Public Radio soon after the book was published. It was released in segments weekly.[citation needed]

A film version was planned but never produced.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Books and Bookmen. Hansom Books. 1984. pp. 4–5. 
  2. ^ " Book Review: Warday by Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka". Amazing Stories, Matt Mitrovich, October 29, 2013
  3. ^ Patrick Mannix (1992). The Rhetoric of Antinuclear Fiction: Persuasive Strategies in Novels and Films. Bucknell University Press. pp. 41–. ISBN 978-0-8387-5218-0. 
  4. ^ David Seed (31 October 2013). American Science Fiction and the Cold War: Literature and Film. Taylor & Francis. pp. 175–. ISBN 978-1-135-95389-8. 
  5. ^ Bertha E. Mahony Miller (1984). The Horn Book Magazine. Horn Book, Incorporated. p. 505. 
  6. ^ "Two Authors Plot a Nuclear Nightmare to Wake Up Americans". People magazine. April 30, 1984. Retrieved 2011-11-16. 

External links[edit]