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It's The Only Way To Be Sure

Pi: There are so many possibilities... I'd have to requisition some ordnance, sir.
Tagon: You are not allowed to nuke Northport "just to be sure."
Pi: I'd have to nuke a lot more than just Northport to be really sure.
Schlock Mercenary, on defending Northport

The Virus, The Plague, or some similar infestation or contaminant has gotten out of containment and threatens to spread uncontrollably. If any conventional means have been deployed to control it, they were grossly inadequate. The danger is now severe enough that Plan B - maybe even Plan A - is sheer Overkill: a local armageddon which will destroy the facility, city, or entire region in one blast. It could be a nuke, it could be a thermobaric explosive, it could be Orbital Bombardment - but whatever it is, high civilian or friendly casualties are almost certain, and are chalked off as "acceptable losses".

Possibly justified in that if the situation is bad enough to warrant this level of action, anyone within the affected radius not heavily coated in Plot Armor is likely either dead or soon to die anyway, and if the plan works it can at least result in a Pyrrhic Victory. Often a Shoot the Dog moment, sometimes followed by a What the Hell, Hero? moment. Rarely it can be a Hell Yeah moment if collateral damage isn't an issue note  and it at least seems to work

Sometimes this strategy works, sometimes it doesn't, and sometimes it really doesn't work. See Feed It a Bomb for similar philosophy of pest-control on a smaller scale, Hurl It into the Sun when you bring the target to the cleansing fires instead of the other way around, and Fiery Coverup for when the bombardment is intended to cover up the evidence as much or more than it is to destroy the threat.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Blood+: The American government's primary method of dealing with chiropteran outbreaks is "Option D," in which the area in question is bombed until there's nothing left but a smoking crater.
  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion, the "nuke it to be sure" strategy is part of the standard response to an Angel attack. It never works. First the conventional forces attack, then they use something called an "N2 mine" which is described as the next step beyond thermonuclear explosives. When those fail, then they send out the Evas. This serves to send several frightening messages. First, that the Angels are so threatening that weapons beyond nuclear are a standard response; second, that they are so powerful that such weapons have no effect; and most subtle and chilling, that the Evas are so dangerous that the military is willing to try nukes before sending them out. This order of attack is the viewer's first clue just how scary Evas really are. It only gets worse from there.

    Comics 
  • In El Eternauta some world power(s) has(ve) been sending ICBMs towards the center of the invasion, luckily for our heroes the bad guys have machinery that renders the nukes void. Even after the heroes disable said machinery and the city is leveled, it doesn't help a bit because reinforcements shortly arrive and in the end we learn the Earth was promptly defeated.
  • In Marvel Zombies, a nuclear strike was considered to contain the superhero zombie infection. Then Quicksilver caught it, and "containment" was no longer an option.
  • In Jim Starlin's The Metamorphosis Odyssey (first appearance of Dreadstar ), the alien villains Zygoteans are bent on conquering the Milky Way; once they are done, they'll go to the next galaxy. Byronic Hero Aknaton understands he cannot save the Milky Way from this horrible fate. His plan is to obliterate the Milky Way before the Zygoteans are done with it, so he can at least save other galaxies. As Akenaton is very long-lived, he thinks in a very long term.
  • During Secret Wars II, Phoenix (Rachel Summers) from X-Men considered destroying the whole universe in an attempt to stop the Beyonder: He was too powerful to be affected by any "common" attack, but Ray theorized he may (only may) be unable to survive if the universe around him ceased existing. At that point in the plot the Beyonder, while clearly a Person of Mass Destruction , was only arguably a villain - Who's the Omnicidal Maniac now, Ray?
    • She decided to do this after the Beyonder had seemingly caused the New Mutants to be erased from existence, with only Kitty Pryde (due to her magical connection to one of their members) even remembering that they ever existed. But Rachel had also become somewhat obsessed with eliminating the Beyonder, and he went out of his way to provoke her to keep trying. When she backs down without destroying the universe, he says that he would've survived it anyway. And expresses disappointment that she didn't go through with it.

    Film 
  • In Aliens, the Trope Namer, this method is suggested for dealing with the alien infestation of Acheron, but is never executed for reasons beyond the Marines' control. The first climax of the film renders the point somewhat moot.
    • This was also intended in the first film. The Nostromo was self destructed by the crew in an attempt to ensure the alien would be destroyed along with it. Things didn't turn out that way.
  • In Alien vs. Predator, one Predator detonates an explosive device in the alien hive, destroying the entire pyramid.
    • In Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, the U.S. Army drops a nuclear bomb on the town of Gunnison, CO, to contain an infestation of Xenomorphs.
  • In Resident Evil: Apocalypse, the Umbrella Corporation fires a nuclear missile at Raccoon City to cover up an outbreak of the T-Virus, which is also what happened at the end of the third game of the series, though they've been rather vague about whether it was actually a nuke or not. They manage to cover up the outbreak, but as revealed in Resident Evil: Extinction, the virus survives and causes The End of the World as We Know It.
  • In The Crazies 2010 remake, the U.S. Army incinerates a small Iowa town to contain a leaked biological weapon.
    • In the original 1973 version of The Crazies, a nuclear strike was discussed, but not used.
  • In 28 Weeks Later, the Rage virus escapes containment. The US Army panics and napalms most of the Isle of Dogs. It doesn't help.
  • In Return of the Living Dead, the Army nukes Louisville, KY, to destroy a horde of zombies created by the chemical agent 2,4,5-Trioxin. This actually spreads the gas further.
  • In Outbreak, a fuel-air bomb was used in the beginning to purge an isolated outbreak of the Motaba virus. Later, an American town was saved from a similar fate when a cure was devised from the original host.
  • The option was suggested in Dawn of the Dead (1978) by the eyepatch-wearing Dr. Rausch in a television interview. He was not taken seriously.
  • In The Andromeda Strain, this trope was averted when the protagonists realized a nuke would actually spread the contagion much, much further.
  • The goofball Thai film SARS Wars: Bangkok Zombie Crisis shows the Thai government destroying an apartment complex to halt the spread of a strain of SARS virus which turns people into zombies.
  • In Cloverfield, the exact nature of the Hammerdown Protocol is never explained, but it clearly involves a Weapon of Mass Destruction or maybe several. The fact that the US Army was willing to do this on Manhattan Island is meant to indicate how desperate the situation had become.
  • In The Avengers, the World Security Council decides to simply nuke Manhattan to contain the invading Chitauri forces, despite the fact that the Avengers are still continuing their efforts to stop the Chitauri and that there's still civilians evacuating the area. SHIELD Director Nick Fury declares the idea a "stupid-ass" strategy for dealing with the invasion, and takes down the nuke carrying plane with a rocket launcher. It's a pity that someone on the WSC was Genre Savvy enough to launch a second plane.
  • In Pontypool, the Canadian government eventually bombs the hell out of the titular city.
  • The first few Kaiju in Pacific Rim had to be brought down by nuclear weapons, as all other attempts to destroy the creatures simply had no effect at all. However, the sheer level of collateral damage that ensued made this an increasingly non-viable option, leading to the development of the Jaegers.

    Literature 
  • Probably one of the oldest instances of this trope, the epilogue paragraphs of H.P. Lovecraft's "The Lurking Fear" have the main character hiring a team to dynamite the mansion the story centers on, a significant portion of the surrounding forest, and any caves or tunnels they can find- apparently this was. He still worries that it won't be enough.
  • The Dresden Files has one of the only effective ways a human can take down a certain Eldritch Abomination is to strand it in a nuclear test.
  • In Day By Day Armageddon, by J.L. Bourne, the government nukes several large cities to contain a zombie plague. This only leads to fast, twitchy, radioactive zombies.
  • In Contagious, by Scott Sigler, Detroit is nuked to contain the spread of an airborne plague which puts people under the mental control of a little girl.
  • In Jurassic Park, the Costa Rican government bombs Isla Nublar, but this didn't make it into the film.
  • Used word-for-word by Ciaphas Cain, when describing the correct way to deal with a Necron tomb under a refinery. Unfortunately for Cain, the nature of FTL travel in the Warp means the Navy is too slow, so he has to resort to a giant bomb augmented by several hundred thousand gallons of raw promethium.
    • Also used word-for-word by Lord General Zyvan regarding orbital bombardment of Tyranid swarms and their so-to-speak bases.
  • The Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child novel Mount Dragon employs this trope twice.
    • It is first described that the Soviets carpet-bombed a biological research facility and the neighboring village to stop an outbreak of a genetically modified organism in the 80s.
    • Later, the underground laboratory at the Mount Dragon complex itself is pumped full of superheated air from the sterilizing units on the surface, turning the whole facility into a canned inferno.
  • Averted in World War Z: nuclear weapons are never used against zombies; however, Pakistan and Iran engage in a brief nuclear war against one another, and the Chinese politburo are annihilated by a nuke from a rogue Chinese submarine.
    • In a non-nuclear example, the city of Yonkers is flattened by thermobaric weapons when a poorly-planned infantry engagement goes awry. They do take out tens of thousands of zombies, but that's not much when there's a million more behind them, and their affects on respiratory systems are nullified, greatly reducing their effective radius.
  • In Animorphs, the Andalite military attempts to do this to the entire Earth. Ax manages to force them to stop, though.
    • It's worse than that. Their plan isn't just to sterilize Earth to kill the Yeerks on it - their plan is to sabotage Earth's (thus far fairly damaging) resistance, lure more Yeerks in to infest the populace, and then sterilize it. It all comes crashing down when Ax contacts the Andalite military command and civilian media simultaneously, without telling either party, and gets the military to discuss the plan.
  • In Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry, a secret bunker uses its geothermal power supply as an emergency self-destruct mechanism.
  • In the Jonathan Maberry novel The King of Plagues, terrorists plotted to release a genetically engineered, airborne strain of Ebola from the Scotland-based laboratory which developed it. The nuclear option would have been employed had the protagonist failed to save the day.
  • In a different Jonathan Maberry novel, the government intends to firebomb the town of Stebbins, Pennsylvania, to contain (and cover up) a zombie outbreak. they change their minds when footage of the outbreak ends up on YouTube.
  • A small-scale example in Wraith Squadron: on Storinal, the Wraiths break into a disease-control center that houses small samples of various contagions for lab use. Their security includes a plasma bomb array, capable of leveling several city blocks, in case of leaks. Fortunately, Kell Tainer is able to defuse it (then hooks it back up before they leave, so that no one realizes they were there).
  • In Night of the Living Trekkies, the government decides on nuking the greater Houston metropolitan area as the best option for taking out the zombie plague that's broken out all over the city.
  • Non-plague example: In John Christopher's The Death of Grass (US title: No Blade of Grass) the British government decides to nuke cities to minimize the number of starving refugees that would otherwise roam across the countryside. (Though everything falls apart before they can actually execute the plan.)

     Live Action TV  

     Tabletop Games 
  • Occurs with depressing regularity in Warhammer 40,000, usually from the Imperial method of Exterminatus, either by Virus Bomb or Cyclonic Torpedo or good ol' fashioned "shoot the planet until it breaks apart" trick. Ironically, it's also always justified. (Would you rather a quick, relatively painless death or millenia of torment as your soul is flayed from you along with your skin inch by inch?)
    • For instance, one of the major reasons for Exterminatus is the fear of a planet imminently becoming a Daemon World (it can't be used on one that's already a Daemon World since they don't completely exist in normal reality any more). Or the discovery of a Necron presence on the world - although unless the Imperials are very lucky, they probably won't discover the tomb until the Necrons awaken and kill everything. Or perhaps its invasion by Tyranids, Orks, or Chaos cultists - there are many worse things in 40k than a quick death by lance cannon.
    • Almost always justified. 40k being the setting it is, there have been occasions where Exterminatus orders have been issued (and carried out) for reasons as petty as a communications specialist not being allowed to retire and return home. Poor, poor Stalinvast...
    • And of course, as per usual with 40K, sometimes The Only Way To Be Sure isn't 100% sure. The Imperium has stopped using Virus Bombs once they discovered that making an entire planet's population with viruses was strengthening Nurgle, the Chaos god of disease. As Ciaphas Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!) once put it, sometimes Exterminatus just gives them ideas.
  • A common policy among the more hardline Firewall members in Eclipse Phase is "sometimes, blasting the habitat into radioactive dust is the only way to...well, you know". Sometimes it works wonders; when applied by Earth's power blocs against the TITANs, during the Fall, it was about as effective as a rubber hammer.

     Video Games  
  • Quite a few Resident Evil games end with this:
    • The original had the mansion explode in a self-destruct sequence.
    • Resident Evil 2 and 3 had the government destroy Raccoon City with nuclear missiles to contain the infection.
    • Resident Evil: Dead Aim had the cruise liner that served as the setting for the game blown up by a Kill Sat by the Chinese government.
    • The Movie spin-off Resident Evil: Degeneration actually averts this scenario with the main outbreak at an airport, but the WilPharma pharmaceutical laboratory is destroyed in a spectacularly elaborate self-destruct sequence.
  • In Prototype, Manhattan is set to be destroyed by a nuclear bomb after the Blacklight and Redlight viruses have run amok. The player character Alex Mercer averts this by personally flying the bomb away from Manhattan, dumping it into the river and sacrificing himself in the process. He gets better. So does New York, despite seemingly the entire city being infected by the end of the game.
    • In Prototype 2, the government tries again, using thermobaric rockets fired from helicopters. They fail again.
  • Metroid: Fusion double subverts this. When the BSL Station is overrun by the X Parasite, Samus plans to activate the station's self-destruct to kill all of them aboard. However, her AI informs her that this doesn't guarantee she'll kill all the X Parasites, just the ones aboard the station, so it recommends causing the station to fall out of orbit so that its self-destruct field also destroys the planet, ensuring all the X die.
  • The Covenant in Halo doesn't stop at nukes when it comes to Flood outbreaks. They bombard the entire planet with plasma until rock and sand starts to melt and is transformed to volcanic glass. Earth gets spared this treatment due to the Arbiter advising Half-Jaw against it, though half of Africa is still glassed.
    • The Halos themselves are the Forerunners' execution of this trope, killing all non-Flood life in the galaxy to ensure the Flood has no food.
  • The plot of Final Fantasy XIII starts with an ancient being awakening in a tomb that was assumed to be empty, and immediately starting to force locals into its service. To contain the curse, the entire population is to be deported to the main planet their world is orbiting and which is the home of the ancient beings, but it soon becomes obvious that the people in charge don't really intend to let anyone remain alive.
  • One of the possible methods by which you defeat the Naughty Sorceress in Kingdom of Loathing. After you counter her first two attacks with the Wand of Nagamar, her final form attacks you with a HEARTBREAKING TOFU MOUSSE. You counter again with the same thing, and NUKE THE SAUSAGE FROM ORBIT. After all, it's the only way to be sure. Referencing the Trope Namer is a bit of a Running Gag in that game.
  • In Half-Life: Opposing Force Black Ops assassins trying to blow up alien-infested facility and cover up the whole Black Mesa incident use a fusion warhead they removed from a nearby missile. Shephard kills them and deactivates the device, but later the G-Man sets up its timer again.
    The G-Man: The biggest embarrassment has been Black Mesa facility, but I think that's finally taken care of itself... quite so.
  • In Dead Rising 2, the military plans to destroy Fortune City by firebombing when a team sent in to rescue the survivors is wiped out. It's never shown in the best ending.
    • Inverted in Dead Rising. Carlito (the villain) wants to blow up the mall to spread the virus rather than contain it, and you have to stop him.
  • In Dawn of War II: Retribution, the Inquisition executes the Exterminatus (explained in Tabletop section) to prevent a planet from being seized by an emerging Demon Prince. They are a bit too late and not so thorough.
  • In Starcraft, right before the first game, the Protoss incinerate a planet because it was overrun by the Zerg. The same thing happens another few times (off-screen) during the Terran campaign. The Protoss executor Tassadar abandons this tactic though, because he feels bad for all of the Terrans that die in the process.
    • In SC2 Wings of Liberty, Selendis wants to do this to an infested colony, albeit less drastically than the ones in the original. Instead of incinerating the entire planet, her method is vaporising the (potentially) infested parts.
    • And at the beginning of the game, Raynor states that it apparently didn't work - new dens are found out there all the time.
  • Mass Effect 1: The research facility on Noveria includes a safety mechanism in the so-called "hot labs" that initiates a neutron bomb explosion and sterilizes the labs, to contain outbreaks. There's also a more comprehensive system that shuts down environmental control throughout the facility and sinks it deeper into the ice shelf, letting the conditions kill off anything hazardous. Similarly, this approach is also taken with Saren's facility in Virmire with the Salarians converting their ship's drive core to a makeshift nuclear device.
    • In the sequel Mass Effect 2, everyone except the Illusive Man thinks blowing the Collector Base is the only practical solution to prevent the mind controlling effects of Reaper technology from creating new minions that serve them. Which turned out to be futile, since the Illusive Man already had implanted himself with reaper technology years before, but at least it significantly slowed him down.
    • Depending on what you make of the ending in Mass Effect 3, the "Destruction" option is just that. Even if the claims are true that it will also destroy all Mass Relays, erradicate the Geth, and kill EDI, it's the only chance to permanently putting an end to the threat.
  • In the backstory of Nier, the White Chlorination Syndrome epidemic (a disease caused by the magic from the Drakengard world, specifically the Eldritch Abomination, entering the modern world in Ending E of the first game) is slowly spreading across Japan. A huge wall —the wall of Jericho— is erected to contain the disease and the infected. When it starts creating horrible monsters called Legion, the US military drops a nuclear bomb on it... spreading the infection worldwide.
  • This is the standard, human way to deal with demonic invasion in Shin Megami Tensei.
    • The one that started it all: in Shin Megami Tensei I, the combination of a military coup and the appearance of wild demons in Tokyo (and the former weaponizing the latter) leads to the United States bombarding the city with nuclear weapons. It is revealed, however, that it was actually a plot by the Law-aligned Ambassador Thorman and the Council of Angels to wipe the slate clean in order to start building the Thousand-Year Kingdom of God, using the demon invasion as the perfect window of opportunity.
    • In Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor, the wards of Tokyo encircled by the Yamanote train line are sealed off to prevent escape of either the demons or the people in contact with them. If all attempts to save the city fail, everything inside it is fried.
    • In Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, when it seems the reconnaissance teams sent to explore the Schwarzwelt have vanished and failed, the assembled world governments acting under the Schwarzwelt Investigation Project actually DO this, by bombing the Hell Gate with nuclear weapons... and it fails. Nothing can stop the Schwarzwelt from expanding. However, the teams trapped inside it devise a plan to use their own nuclear weapons (strapped to Cosmic Keystones of world-creating or world-ending power) to nuke the portal from the inside.
  • Threatened in Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 3—but it's less a tactic to neutralize a threat and more to dispose of pesky witnesses and incriminating evidence (though there is some of the former, too).
  • F.E.A.R. has this happen at the end of the first game, in a desperate attempt to kill the now-freed Alma. To everyone's horror, it completely fails to affect her.
  • Dead Island averts this trope. Ryder White intends to call in a nuclear strike on the island of Banoi to burn out the infection. White fails to carry out his plan due to mutation and death.
  • In Bungie's Myth series, the forces of light tend to do this whenever they're able to defeat the current incarnation of The Leveller. Things done to its host include: Beheading him and throwing the head into a bottomless pit; Beheading and cremation; Having him drawn and quartered with the various parts scattered across the continent; Burning the body, mixing the ashes with salt, and then burying it all underneath a mountain.
  • In The Colony, this is your goal after rescuing the survivors of a transdimensional alien invasion.
  • In XCOM: Enemy Within, there is the Council Mission known as Site Recon. A village in Newfoundland is so badly overrun by Chrysallids that Central decides it best for your field team to mark the site for a saturated bombing run and then get out of there.

     Web Comics  

  • In Schlock Mercenary, Tagon quickly remembers that encouraging his Mad Bomber's eager paranoia is a bad idea when he asks for ways to defend Northport.
    Pi: There are so many possibilities... I'd have to requisition some ordnance, sir.
    Tagon: You are not allowed to nuke Northport "Just to be sure."
    Pi: I'd have to nuke a lot more than just Northport to be really sure.

     Web Originals  

  • The short-lived live-action web series Dead Patrol involved military teams tasked with delivering nuclear warheads to zombie-infested cities - by truck, for some reason.
  • The Alomal-137 Case Study by Lon Miller briefly describes nuclear annihilation of several east-coast cities in response to a pandemic.
  • The game Zombie 3 requires the player to bomb entire city blocks to stop a spreading zombie infestation. Depending on the player's skill, it may be easier to protect a small enclave of survivors and carpet-bomb the rest of the city as a precaution.
  • Several sites run by the SCP Foundation that house their more dangerous anomalies feature a tactical nuclear warhead or three as part of their structures. This is in case of a break-out, since "these things NOT running amok" is of a higher priority than "Contain, not destroy." In several instances, it's explicitly stated that the nukes wouldn't even destroy the objects, just slow them down enough that re-containment would be possible. Maybe.

     Western Animation 
  • In ReBoot the Guardian Collective takes this approach to dealing with web creatures. They don't even try conventional methods to get rid of them, opting to destroy the system as soon as one is found. Bob knows about this and is pissed when he sees Mouse tell the guardians about the web creature in Mainframe. Bob manages to stop this, but makes the situation worse.
  • In Clerks: The Animated Series, Leonardo Leonardo plans to takeover the town. Dante and Randal find a book detailing his master plan, which is full of counter-measures for every possibility. If things spiral completely out of control, the city is to be nuked from orbit. Randal even invokes the trope name.

     Real Life 
  • Declassified materials from the US Department of Defense seems to indicate this is an official position of last resort on many biological weapons. Apparently, this is one of the few cases where use of nuclear weapons on friendly (or home) soil is both planned for, and expected to be used should the conditions arise. A confirmed smallpox outbreak which can't be contained is one such scenario.
  • While not confirmed, most other nuclear powers are expected to have similar contingency plans, and many non-nuclear nations have either a conventional form of this, or agreements with nuclear powers to perform this action upon request.


Infernal RetaliationThis Index Is On FireKill It with Fire
It's Raining MenThis Index Is Not An ExampleJekyll & Hyde
Resident Evil: ApocalypseImageSource/Live-Action FilmsReturn of the Living Dead

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