War. War never changes.Ron Perlman

The Great War was a global thermonuclear war caused by the Sino-American War. It resulted in the destruction of all participating nations and abroad, global disruption of climate and billions of casualties as a result of nuclear blasts, exposure to radiation and subsequent collapse of social and government structures. Mankind was set back several hundred years in the span of just two hours.[1]


Main article: Sino-American War
The end of the world occurred pretty much as we had predicted. Too many humans, not enough space or resources to go around. The details are trivial and pointless, the reasons, as always, purely human ones.Fallout 2 intro

The nuclear holocaust was a direct result of the Sino-American War, a decade-long conflict that left both the United States and China exhausted. By 2077, a combination of attrition, loss of supply routes and offensives conducted by the United States across the front, left Chinese units in Alaska stranded and cut off from reinforcements. The liberation of Anchorage spearheaded by winterized T-51 power armor units under the command of General Constantine Chase marked the end of the Anchorage Reclamation, after a decade of war.[2][3][4][5] General Jingwei, commander of the Alaskan theater, was killed in action.[6]

The campaign in mainland China, which began with the amphibious landings at Shantou in 2074, was reinvigorated by gaining ground in Alaska and the deployment of T-51 units. However, as American soldiers pushed deeper into the mainland, Chinese resistance increased. By October, the situation transitioned from a rout into a stalemate.[7] Despite a decade of war, there was no end in sight. Billions of dollars and thousands of casualties were spent in vain, despite taxes and various wartime revenues ensuring the federal government was able to fund a standing army the likes of which the United States had never seen before.[8] In a desperate attempt to bolster the offensive and break the stalemate, bases across the United States were sealed and troops redeployed to provide more men for the meat grinder.[9]

The situation was made worse by the fact that the oligarchs ruling the United States retreated to remote locations around the globe, expecting a last-ditch nuclear strike from China at any moment. The oil rig off the Californian coast was claimed by the president and key members of the junta, becoming the foundation of the future Enclave.[10] The United States was leaderless, continuing on simply due to inertia. Roger Maxson's rebellion went unnoticed, despite a declaration of secession and open rebellion[11][12] Nuclear war was inevitable, a fact determined by Robert House back in 2065, who arrived at the conclusion that a nuclear war was inevitable by 2080, at most.[13]


Fo4 Art T-minus 60 years! October 23, 2017

Morning of October 23.

Pressed against the wall with nothing to lose, the Chinese finally launched a nuclear first strike on October 23, 2077, in a last-ditch effort to knock America out of the game. The first Chinese subs were identified by the United States Pacific Fleet at 00:03 EST off the coast of California, moving into position. At 03:37 EST, a squadron of high-altitude bombers was sighted off the Bering Strait.[14] At least one Chinese stealth submarine, the Yangtze, moved close to the American East Coast, launching all warheads, save for one malfunction.[15]

Six hours later, at 09:13 EST, the Integrated Operational Nuclear Detection System detected the first four missile launches and the United States went to DEFCON 2. Four minutes later, NORAD confirmation sealed the fate of the world. At 09:26 EST, the President ordered a retaliatory strike according to scenario MX-CN91. As American weapons were launched, the first Chinese nukes hit in Pennsylvania and New York at 09:42 EST. By 09:47 EST, most American facilities went offline.[14] [16] [17] [18] [19]

The nuclear exchange continued for two hours, until silence fell across the land.[1] Both China and the United States were destroyed.[20] The standard nuclear warhead used in the Great War was that of a strategic nuclear warhead ranging from 200-750 kilotons in explosive yield, with the occasional megaton yield warhead (such as the C-23 Megaton) being the outliers. However, the type of warhead mattered little for the Chinese, as most submarines were still armed with high-yield ICBMs.[21] This was actually far worse for the Earth, as the lower yield warheads deposited more soil and debris into the lower atmosphere, resulting in a much more concentrated fallout that eventually enveloped the environment.[22] The entire world was blanketed with multiple nuclear strikes, most cities being hit multiple times, and the world and its entire ecosystem were irrevocably changed for centuries to come.


The results of the nuclear war were devastating, as they combined with biological and chemical weapons that saw widespread use during the Sino-American War.[23] The most significant result was a global climate shift, manifesting as extensive desertification, particularly in New California. What was once the richest and important agricultural region saw many aquifers dry up and vast stretches of arable land turning to deserts. The Central Valley, the largest and most fertile valley in California, became a barren wasteland in the wake of the climate change.[24]

The changes in climate led to widespread alterations of the ecosystem. The new climate meant that many plants could no longer grow or be cultivated, ranging from common vegetables to specialized crops, such as coca plants or opium poppies.[25] Due to necessity, crop variants mutated by radiation were adopted by survivors, including mutated cabbage and maize. These cultivars thrived in the warm weather of the Southwest, with similar mutations proliferating across the colder climates of the northern reaches of the continent.[26][27]

Animals were also adversely affected. The combination of radioactive fallout and various local mutagens, particularly the Forced Evolutionary Virus in New California, led to widespread mutation. By 2080, new species were created almost overnight, replacing animals that died out or were out-competed. The most notable mutated species to emerge from this melting pot of genotypes is the brahmin, a mutated Indian Brahman cattle variant.[28] Once the mutation stabilized, the brahmin turned out to be well suited for the harsh conditions of the wasteland, requiring little water and relatively small grazing areas, while providing plenty in return, including milk, meat, leather, bone, transportation et cetera. As such, it rapidly became the most widespread livestock animal in New California and the backbone of many a wasteland economy.[29][30]


Main articles: Human, Vault, Ghoul

The impact on humanity and civilization was severe and traumatic. Although emergency response units and elements of the National Guard were mobilized in the evening of October 22,[31] their ability to provide aid to victims and refugees was hampered by the lack of centralized command and control resulting from electromagnetic pulses disabling most communications equipment.[32] Despite efforts by the military to bolster relief efforts,[33] the shock of the nuclear attack resulted in their morale crumbling and many deserting their posts.[34] By the time radiation sickness began to set in among victims of the attack, the situation was hopeless[35] as they were not receiving any supplies to aid the victims.[36] Whiskey and painkillers were the only care available to most patients.[37]

Those who lived outside of major cities or managed to escape them in the narrow window given by the sirens faced a much better chance of survival. However, one exception of Las Vegas was spared a direct nuclear strike thanks to Robert House, who disabled or destroyed 68 out of 77 warheads heading for the city.[38] Although suffering from the sudden loss of access to water, food and medical care, these survivors went on to found new communities across the newly born wasteland, becoming the founding fathers of a new civilization struggling to rise from the ashes. These include Darkwater, the founder of Junktown, Angus of the Hub, the founders of Megaton and Diamond City, and so on and so forth.[39] Some of the less fortunate survivors on the surface turned into ghouls, a result of their exposure to radioactive fallout and/or thermal radiation from the blasts, with their horrifying appearance leading to prejudice among other human survivors.[40]

A relative few were able to reach safety in underground vaults constructed by the Vault-Tec Corporation at the behest of the federal government,[1] often trading suffering on the surface for suffering in confinement, due to the social experiments initiated by the forebears of the Enclave.[41] Some refused to go into their assigned Vaults, believing it was just another drill and not realizing the truth until it was too late.[42][43] Vaults that did not fail as a result of their experiment frequently became another source of civilization across the wastelands, such as Vault 15, whose inhabitants founded Shady Sands (and the raider tribes of Khans, Vipers and Jackals), the Los Angeles Vault, which led to the establishment of Adytum, and Vault 8, which led to Vault City.[39]


  • There was a debate on what time the Great War occurred and whether it happened in the morning or at night due to several inconsistencies being created throughout the Fallout games.
    • All clocks on the East Coast are stuck at 9:47.
    • In the Fallout: New Vegas add-on Honest Hearts, clocks found in the debris of Three Marys are also stopped at 9:47. This is despite the fact that Three Marys would be several time zones away from the East Coast, and so simultaneous bombings would not result in the same time stuck on the different clock faces.
      • Though as Fallout: New Vegas borrows some textures and models from Fallout 3, it could be a lack of texture change.
    • According to the Fallout: New Vegas add-on Dead Money, the bombs were launched during the night of the Gala Event, suggesting that the nuclear holocaust happened when people were sleeping on the East Coast and getting home from work on the West Coast. This also supports the idea that people simply did not heed the air raid sirens or didn't have enough time to get to safety.
      • The opening narration of the Fallout: New Vegas add-on Old World Blues also explicitly states the bombs fell during the night; "On the night of October 23, 2077..."
      • 9:47 AM Eastern would be 6:47 AM Pacific time, about half an hour before sunrise.
    • According to Carrie Delaney's holotapes, the school was packing up to leave Little Lamplight after a field trip. This could place the East Coast bombs in the 2–3 PM time range unless they had stayed overnight prior.
    • Mr. House, meanwhile, says that the platinum chip was to be delivered in the afternoon of October 23, "but by then, the world had ended."
    • The beginning of Fallout 4 starts out in pre-War Boston in the morning, only moments before the bombs fall, showing that the Great War occurred at 9:47 am Eastern time, rather than at night. New York and Pennsylvania were hit at 9:42 am,[44] with Boston and Washington, D.C. being hit at 9:47 am, five minutes after.[45]
      • This would mean the West Coast was hit around 6:30-6:40 AM, due to the differing time zones and travel time for the missiles. This is before sunrise in October, so it would technically still be night.
  • The war is sometimes referred to as World War III by fans and on the Fallout Trilogy PC cover. In the Fallout intro, the narrator states that "the storm of world war had come again." However, none of the in-game characters in the series have ever referred it as such.
    • In real life, however, a nuclear holocaust is usually associated with the hypothetical World War III.

Behind the scenes

FilmThe following is based on the canceled Fallout movie and has not been confirmed by canon sources.

According to the script of the Fallout movie, neither China, India nor North Korea launched the first bomb. It was in fact Vault-Tec Industries' executive of the vaults. He launched the first bomb to fulfill his own prophecy of nuclear annihilation. This has not been established as canon.

FilmEnd of information based on the canceled Fallout movie.



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Fallout intro
  2. Fallout Bible 0: "2077 January 10 Alaska is reclaimed, and the Anchorage Front Line is again held by the Americans."
  3. Capitol Post terminal entries; Capital Post Top Stories -- January 11, 2077, Commies Crushed - Alaska Liberated!
  4. Capitol Post newspaper Monday, January 11, 2077.
  5. Fallout 3 Official Game Guide Game of the Year Edition p.43: "Chinese Army (Simulated)
    U.S. Army (Simulated)
    With conditions deteriorating between the United States and China, a military presence in Alaska was established to prevent a possible invasion across the Bering Strait. With increasingly scarce oil reserves, a last deep-sea deposit below the Pacific Ocean was claimed by China before allegedly being sabotaged by American special operatives. Strained relationships spiraled downwards into escalated conflict, as China marched on Alaska, and the Sino-American War of 2066—2077 erupted. Under the command of General Jingwei, the Chinese Army usurped control of Alaska's oil pipeline and reserves. In response, the Americans had begun what came to be called "The Alaskan Reclamation Operation" (2067—2077).
    Under the leadership of General Constantine Chase, the U.S. Army battled fiercely to the front lines of the conflict before General Chase deployed specialized power armor units that began pushing the Chinese back. Future power armor suits were further refined as the conflict dragged on, and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline was reclaimed. With resources flowing through Canada, strained diplomatic tensions between Canada and the United States becoming problematic, and as the Canadian forces attacked the pipeline, the country was annexed.
    A combination of inclement weather, constant American bombardment and trench warfare, and U.S. powered armor unit attacks sweeping through mainline China, the Chinese supply lines weakened and finally broke down completely. By the beginning of 2077, the city of Anchorage was finally liberated, the Chinese invaders eradicated, and the operation had been deemed a success. A commemorative memorial was erected in Washington, D.C., in honor of the soldiers who fought and perished for the greater American good. Violence between America and pockets of Canadian freedom fighters continued throughout 2077, until the Great War obliterated almost all infrastructure, commerce, and human life."
    (Fallout 3 Official Game Guide faction profiles)
  6. His death is the end of the Anchorage Reclamation simulation; furthermore, his shocksword is a weapon obtainable in the sealed armory once the simulation has been completed in Operation: Anchorage.
  7. Newscaster: "And now, our exclusive coverage of the continuing volatile situation with Communist China. Chinese forces may have finally been driven from Anchorage, but the conflict has transitioned into a frighteningly tense stalemate. With diplomacy all but suspended, and conventional warfare taking a historic toll on both sides, many have wondered if the good old U-S-of-A hasn't finally entered into a fight it just can't win."
    (Newscaster's dialogue)
  8. Boston Bugle building terminals; Boston Bugle article terminal, article 2
  9. Sierra mission statement
  10. Fallout Bible 0: "2077 March Prepared for a nuclear or biological attack from China, the president and the Enclave retreats to remote sections around the globe and make contingency plans for continuing the war."
  11. Captain Maxson's diary
  12. Fallout Bible 0: "2077 October Captain Roger Maxson and his men discover that the scientists at Mariposa have been using "military volunteers" (military prisoners who didn't have their brains scooped for use in Brain Bots) as test subjects in their experiments. Morale in the base breaks down, and Maxson executes Anderson, the chief scientist. Not long after this (and in light of the breakdown of the mental breakdown of Colonel Spindel stationed at the base), Maxson's men turn to him for leadership. He shrugs and says "we should quit.""
  13. The Courier: "You say that you saved Las Vegas. How?"
    Robert House: "By 2065 I deemed it a mathematical certainty that an atomic war would devastate the Earth within 15 years. Every projection I ran confirmed it. I knew I couldn't "save the world," nor did I care to. But I could save Vegas, and in the process, perhaps, save mankind. I set to work immediately. I thought I had plenty of time to prepare. As it turned out, I was 20 hours short."
    (Robert House's dialogue)
  14. 14.0 14.1 The Switchboard terminal entries; central terminal, DEFCON status - 2077
  15. The Yangtze in Boston.
  16. An intercontinental ballistic missile remains unused in its silo at Fort Constantine as of October, 2277.
  17. Black Mountain terminal entries; terminal, log 672
  18. Black Mountain terminal entries; terminal, log 674
  19. Black Mountain terminal entries; terminal, log 675
  20. The Chosen One: "{184}{}{You can tell me just what's going on here.}"
    Dick Richardson: "{176}{prs20a}{You really don't know, do you? Let me tell you about mankind's salvation. A little history first...}"
    The Chosen One: "{178}{}{Go on, Mr. President….}"
    Dick Richardson: "{197}{prs24}{There was a great war long before we were born. Our gallant soldiers fought from the Yukon to the Yangtze.}"
    The Chosen One: "{198}{}{Yeah, I knew about that part. Go on.}"
    Dick Richardson: "{216}{prs32}{We were winning, too. And then those damn Reds launched everything they had. We barely got our birds up.}"
    The Chosen One: "{217}{}{Doesn't seem as though it helped us much.}"
    Dick Richardson: "{218}{prs33}{Well, no it didn't. But at least it knocked the damn Red menace back into the stone age.}"
    The Chosen One: "{219}{}{And us with it.}"
    Dick Richardson: "{220}{prs34}{Well, no. No... not quite. You see, we had planned ahead. We were ready. }"
  21. Zao: "Ah... Now that is the right question to ask. 200 years ago, I launched all of Yangtze's high-yield nuclear missiles. As ordered."
    (Zao's dialogue)
  22. Vault Dweller's Survival Guide: The megaton class weapons have been largely retired, being replaced with much smaller yield warheads. The yield of a modern strategic warhead is, with few exceptions, now typically in the range of 200-750 kT. Recent work with sophisticated climate models has shown that this reduction in yield results in a much larger proportion of the fallout being deposited in the lower atmosphere, and a much faster and more intense deposition of fallout than had been assumed in studies made during the sixties and seventies. The reduction in aggregate strategic arsenal yield that occurred when high yield weapons were retired in favor of more numerous lower yield weapons has actually increased the fallout risk.
    (Page 11. section 1-7)
  23. The Vault Dweller: "{123}{}{What's causing all the mutations?}"
    Vree: "{139}{Vree27}{Between the nuclear and biogenetic weapons used in the War, it's surprising we don't have more mutations. However, if we can hold out, everything will be ok.}"
  24. The Vault Dweller: "{108}{}{What are you doing?}"
    Curtis: "{112}{}{I am a farmer. We irrigated the desert many years ago. Although the wasteland is harsh, it is possible to grow things with patience and time.}"
  25. Myron: "{726}{myn113b}{Problem is, in the new climate, we can't grow most of the veggies needed for the best drugs.}"
    "{740}{myn114a}{Couldn't grow coca plants, opium poppies -- and man did we try -- so we figured our best bet was shrooms. }"
  26. Fallout scenery description: "{36600}{}{Plant}"
    "{36601}{}{It looks like a mutated cabbage to you. It seems to be thriving in the warm weather.}"
    (PRO SCEN.MSG (Fallout))
  27. Fallout scenery description: "{36900}{}{Plant}"
    "{36901}{}{A mutated cornstalk. It seems to be thriving under these conditions.}"
    (PRO SCEN.MSG (Fallout))
  28. Fallout Bible 9: "Brahmin are mutated brahmin cattle with two heads. If you just said, "hell, I thought brahmin were something from India," well, you'd be right. A bunch of brahmin made their way to the states long ago for crossbreeding purposes. When the bombs fell, brahmin grew two heads. They are quite hardy. They are also a delicious toasty brown, as you'll notice in the picture to the left. They attack by head-butting or trying to gore someone with their horns, so brahmin-tippers beware. For some reason, only the left-most brahmin head has horns, which raises some curious gender identity issues."
  29. The Vault Dweller: "{114}{}{What's a brahmin?}"
    Billy: "{115}{}{What's a brahmin? You must be joking. Why they're one of the major food sources and forms of transportation around here. They haul the caravans. Dan says this is a really important job, but it's the Bone.}"
  30. Fallout Bible 9: "Brahmin serve a vital environmental niche in Fallout - they form the foundation of survival for many species in Fallout, most notably, humans. They also form the backbone of the NCR economy. They also form the backbone of the New Reno 'NCR brahmin rustling' economy."
  31. Germantown logs; National Catastrophe Relief Auxiliary - Response Unit MD-478, log 1
  32. Cambridge Polymer Labs terminal entries; director's terminal, it was a warning
  33. Germantown logs; National Catastrophe Relief Auxiliary - Response Unit MD-478, log 3
  34. Germantown logs; National Catastrophe Relief Auxiliary - Response Unit MD-478, log 4
  35. Germantown logs; National Catastrophe Relief Auxiliary - Response Unit MD-478, log 5
  36. Germantown logs; National Catastrophe Relief Auxiliary - Response Unit MD-478, log 6
  37. Germantown logs; National Catastrophe Relief Auxiliary - Response Unit MD-478, log 7
  38. The Courier: "What preparations did you make to save Las Vegas?"
    Robert House: "On the day of the Great War, 77 atomic warheads targeted Las Vegas and its surrounding areas. My networked mainframes were able to predict and force-transmit disarm code subsets to 59 warheads, neutralizing them before impact. Laser cannons mounted on the roof of the Lucky 38 destroyed another 9 warheads. The rest got through, though none hit the city itself. A sub-optimal performance, admittedly. If only the Platinum Chip had arrived a day sooner..."
    (Robert House's dialogue)
  39. 39.0 39.1 See their respective articles for references.
  40. The Chosen One: "{115}{}{Tell me about this place.}"
    Wooz: "{160}{}{Not much to tell, really. Just a bunch of ghouls clinging tenaciously to the ass-end of life.}"
    The Chosen One: "{161}{}{No, I meant tell me about this bar.}"
    Wooz: "{440}{}{Well, the Harp’s named after a favorite hangout that I used to have before the war. I guess it’s just a reminder of times past. Sort of a joke on the only way we’re going to get a better deal, too.}"
    The Chosen One: "{441}{}{Before the war? But that was a long time ago.}"
    Wooz: "{460}{}{It sure was a long time ago. How do you think ghouls are made? You think some of us just got up one fine day and said to ourselves: "Gee, I wonder what it’d be like to have my flesh rotting off my fucking body?"}"
    The Chosen One: "{461}{}{Well, no, I didn’t. Say, how do you make a ghoul?}"
    Wooz: "490}{}{With silver-bells and cockleshells and… Boy, you are dumb, aren’t you? Severe radiation. That’s how. How do you think? You know, many bombs go boom, flash of light and heat, flesh burns off, but you don’t-quite-die-type severe radiation?}"
    The Chosen One: "{491}{}{Uh well, I mean…}"
    Wooz: "{500}{}{Well, I didn’t think so. Fuck you very much for bringing back all those intensely painful memories. Asshole. We’re a town of fucking leftovers -— slightly overcooked leftovers.}"
    The Chosen One: "{501}{}{I prefer medium-rare myself. Hey, let me ask you something else.}"
  41. See Vault for references.
  42. Fallout Bible 0: "2069 March Vault 13 is finally completed - it is the last of the Vaults, and drills begin. Due to its late completion, the "cry wolf" effect that hurt the other Vaults is not as pronounced."
  43. Fallout Bible 0: "2077 October 23 Great War: Bombs are launched; who struck first is unknown... and it is not even known if the bombs came from China or America. Air raid sirens sound, but very few people go into vaults, thinking it is a false alarm. The Vaults are sealed."
  44. The Switchboard terminal entries
  45. War Never Changes
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