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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. It is an account of the authors traveling across America five years after a limited nuclear attack in order to assess how the nation had changed after the war.[1] The novel takes the form of a research article and is written in first-person narrative form. It includes mock government documents and interviews with individuals regarding the events and aftermath of the war.

Plot summary[edit]

The novel opens with Strieber's account of a nuclear attack on New York City in October 1988. He is on a bus when he experiences the initial blast. Strieber also witnesses the flooding of the subway system due to a tsunami that was triggered by a nuclear detonation at sea. Strieber makes his way to his son's school, where he is reunited with his family and shelters there. During this period, Strieber survives an attack of 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. They travel through devastated southeastern and southwestern Texas, then the newly formed nation-state of Aztlan in the former American Southwest, and conduct interviews with the Aztlanian foreign minister and citizens. From Aztlan, they sneak into California which was largely unaffected by the attack and has become a self-governing, authoritarian, police state which treats Americans from other parts of the US harshly, as "illegal immigrants." In Los Angeles, they conduct interviews while trying to evade the omnipresent police. They go to San Francisco where they reunite with an old friend of Strieber's, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, but are ultimately captured, arrested, and sentenced to years of hard labour and imprisonment.

While en route to prison they escape, and flee California by train. By train, they travel and conduct interviews across the Midwest, taking refuge whenever highly radioactive dust storms—caused by dustbowl conditions as a result of the nuclear bombings of the Dakotas—happen. After visiting Chicago, they continue east into Pennsylvania and into what remains of New York City, where Strieber, overcome with emotion and at great personal risk to himself, visits what remains of a very dangerous Manhattan to visit his old apartment. The book ends with Strieber and Kunetka back in Texas facing an uncertain future.

The United States[edit]

An interview Strieber conducts with the former Undersecretary of Defense explains how the war happened. The United States was deploying an advanced anti-ballistic missile system known as Spiderweb. The system was to use an orbiting particle beam to destroy both land and submarine launched missiles coming from the Soviet Union. Panicked by the threat of Spiderweb making the United States potentially invulnerable to missile attack, the Soviets destroyed the Space Shuttle Enterprise, which was deploying the first component of Spiderweb, using a hunter-killer satellite. The USSR then detonated a set of six large nuclear warheads in space some 200 to 225 miles above the United States that caused 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, launched a counter-electromagnetic-pulse strike and a limited nuclear strike on the USSR to destroy Moscow, Leningrad, Sevastopol, and the administrative capitals of the Soviet Republics. Shortly after American missiles launch, 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 only 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 a total of 7,340,548 people. The subsequent firestorms and fallout from these attacks destroyed most of Brooklyn, Queens, Baltimore, and most of Southwest Texas. The Soviet Navy also launched nuclear attacks on the United States Navy, destroying the Third, Sixth, and Seventh fleets, killing tens of thousands of sailors and reducing the strength of the US Navy by 90%.

The limited attack excluded the rest of the country, but the nation suffers nevertheless. Manhattan and the remaining boroughs that were not destroyed in the initial attack are evacuated, cordoned off, and eventually allowed to fall into ruin, not due to radioactive fallout, but by lack of a working water, electrical, and transit system along with highly toxic runoff from damaged petrochemical industries, mostly in New Jersey. Philadelphia and Houston are also evacuated due to the heavy fallout from the DC and San Antonio bombings. The dusting of the Midwest and Central Plains by radioactive materials caused a famine that killed millions. Less than a year after the war, a new strain of influenza known as the Cincinnati Flu quickly reached epidemic levels, killing 21,600,000 throughout the United States and millions more worldwide. The danger of radiation poisoning remains even for those far away from the blasts, as well as Non-Specific Sclerosing Disease or NSD, a new, unknown, deadly, and incurable disease that ravages the surviving population. It is suggested through interviews that these diseases could have been the result of biological warfare.

A Canadian businessman tells Strieber and Kunetka that regional interests in their country have become stronger than national ones, that there is no longer a single United States but "five or six" separate ones; he also describes what Canada suffered on Warday. Individual states like California and Texas form de facto independent nations, with autonomous military forces and currency. The Federal Government was able to reestablish the capital and government in Los Angeles, but is too weak and powerless to be of any significance.


A prewar standard of living exists in California, with heavy Japanese and British investment and influence. Due to no direct attacks, no fallout, and having recovered from the EMP, California attracted millions of refugees from the rest of the United States. Fearful of these immigrants damaging its prosperity, the state shut its borders, suspended habeas corpus, and became an authoritarian police state that ruthlessly hunts down refugees. 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. Though it did not officially secede from the US, and indeed hosts the (effectively powerless) 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 and apparent ethnic cleansing of the White population of far western Texas and southeastern New Mexico. The Aztlanian government claims all of the area from West Texas to the California border up to Nevada. Aztlan's foreign minister claims that the nation is a Libertarian Socialist country that grants total autonomy to the Native American tribes living within its borders. The minister also tells the authors of Aztlan's goal of forming a Hispanic nation along the Mexican border that includes California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas west of the Pecos. Although Aztlan is not a part of Mexico, it does welcome Mexican immigrants. In reality, Aztlan becomes a vassal state of Japan; 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, since the non-Hispanic residents of the area were forced out of their homes by the new government.

Economy, culture, and society[edit]

Due to the EMP, virtually all bank accounts, 401ks, pension funds, financial records, the stock market, the credit system and other assets stored electronically, both in the United States and Canada, vanished. Money undergoes a rapid deflation and paper currency is no longer used, as the economy reverts to a Gold Dollar system. For example, the cost of a home is reduced to 800 gold dollars. The EMP also rendered electronic machinery and devices useless, as nearly all electronic machinery and equipment are imported. Oil has reportedly fallen to 12 cents a barrel, while many foreign nations 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 who seek to dismantle all civic authority and reliance on technology to return to a primitive lifestyle. Due to the EMP destroying communication systems the American people remain isolated, and the authors encounter many rumors and unsubstantiated reports of the state of the rest of the world such as believing that the USSR had won the war.

Many foreign companies and nations are present in the unaffected regions of the US and see America as a ripe market to sell electronics, machinery, and investments, while exploiting it for natural resources. Some interviewees see their presence as an attempt by foreign powers to reduce the United States to a Third World dependency.

Despite Warday, most Americans interviewed and surveyed by Strieber and Kunetka believe that the United States will recover and be restored. Over 60% of people they interview believe that the United States should be restored from coast to coast, and disapprove of the growing foreign presence within the country.

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 IGO called "British Relief", an aid organization that has 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 had its economy destroyed as a result. The country closed its borders to American refugees, expelling many people from North Dakota who sought shelter across the border in the days following the war. The Canadians blame 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 unhurt from the war, was occupied and divided among Western nations to stabilize food stocks directed to Europe and to prevent a similar fate as 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.[2]


During the book tour surrounding the release of Warday, both Strieber and Kunetka hinted that they were planning a sequel in which the two would venture overseas and reveal how Western Europe, Africa, China, Japan, and the remnants of the Soviet Union fared ten years after the limited exchange.[3] However, both writers instead released Nature's End, and then ceased writing together for reasons neither have explained. In the years since Nature's End was released, Strieber's switch in focus towards his Communion series, chronicling his own supposed experiences of alien contact, along with his collaborations with Art Bell, has resulted in the indefinite shelving of this project.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]