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It's the Only Way to Be Sure

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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

It appears that The Virus, The Plague, or some similar infestation has gotten out of containment and threatens to spread uncontrollably. If any conventional means have been deployed to try and control it, they were grossly inadequate. The danger is now severe enough that Plan B — or possibly even Plan A — is sheer Overkill: a localized Armageddon which will destroy the facility, city, or entire region in one blast, ensuring that not a single trace will remain to kick off the epidemic all over again. 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. Will often be 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 issuenote  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 Cover-Up for when the bombardment is intended to cover up the evidence as much or more than it is to destroy the threat. Compare Godzilla Threshold.


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    Anime & 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 Fafner in the Azure: Dead Aggressor, the Neo United Nations' last resort when a battle against the Festum goes pear-shaped is to nuke the entire battlefield, human soldiers and civilians included. Why do they do this? Because Festum are a Hivemind species that learns by assimilating other creatures, but they can't assimilate corpses. By killing their wounded or cornered comrades before the Festum get a chance to assimilate them, humans prevent the aliens from learning more about Humanity in general (e.g. if they don't know people need food to survive, they won't bother damaging crops or cattle) and about the weapons and tactics they plan to use against the Festum in particular.
  • In One Piece, the Buster Call is the Marine answer to a threat deemed so dangerous that no trace of it can be allowed to escape. Ten incredibly powerful warships are summoned and bombard the targeted island until it is completely wiped clean of life. Any ships in the vicinity are destroyed without hesitation as they may harbor the targeted criminals. If one of the warships is boarded by a possible target, it will be destroyed by the other warships to ensure there is no chance of escape. In addition, a Buster Call cannot be cancelled once ordered.

    Comic Books 
  • Dreadstar: In The Metamorphosis Odyssey, 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.
  • 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.
  • Judge Dredd: During the Zombie Apocalypse in the "Judgment Day" arc, five Mega-Cities, including Mega-City Two (U.S. west coast), are already hopelessly overrun by zombies by the time the world's governments can coordinate their efforts. They agree that they have no other option but to write off the survivors and launch their nuclear arsenals at the cities to deny Sabbat another two billion soldiers for his undead army.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic, Zayne warns the Mandalorians that their base on Jebble has been overrun by rakghouls, thinking that they'll quarantine the planet. Cassus Fett opts to sterilize the site with a massive nuclear strike instead.
  • 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.
  • X-Men:
    • During Secret Wars II, Phoenix (Rachel Summers) considers destroying the whole universe in an attempt to stop the Beyonder: He is too powerful to be affected by any "common" attack, but Ray theorizes 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.
    • Her first attempt to kill the Beyonder involved something resembling an actual nuclear attack. It caused absolutely no damage either to him or the surroundings. Because he wouldn't let it cause any damage.

    Fan Works 
  • Mike's New Ghostly Family: As Mike Schmidt and his ghost children snuck into CBEAR to burn down the last traces of Remnant, a substance that can trap a human's soul inside, they realize that the Scooper might not be the only place where William Afton could've hidden the Remnant. To completely ensure that no traces of Remnant would be left in the world, Mike Schmidt decides that the best course of action would be to burn down the entire facility. Eventually, the building was set ablaze and was destroyed in a huge explosion, permanently destroying the last remains of Remnant in the world.
  • In Order in Chaos a Centauri patrol reacts with lethal force when an Orieni scout flotilla admits the ships are infested with Na'kaleen Feeders, and only spare some people to find out how many ships the flotilla lost to hunt those down too. Considering that Feeders are extremely silent predators, feed on sentients' intelligence, and any survivor of an attack may actually be infected and sprout another Feeder at any time, they probably saved the galaxy that way.
  • The Assurance faction from A Peccatis, which has arisen in the decade since the end of the Second Wizarding War. According to Draco, they want to see everyone who was associated with Voldemort — along with their families — killed. They feel it's the only way to stamp out the lineage of Dark Wizards for good.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows: The Newtralizer declares that New York is infested with Krang and his minions, and the only way to be sure they completely destroy them is to level the entire city. Hisako, who initially sided with him and supported his more active, brutal approach to dealing with Krang, balks at going that far.
  • In The Weaver Option, during the War in Heaven the Old Gods created Project Oblivion, also known as the Tyranids, only for it to go out of control and turn on the beings it was supposed to protect. The C'Tan decided the best approach was to simultaneously detonate several hundred stars in supernovas to wipe out the bulk of Oblivion, with both sides of the war hunting the remnants.
  • In Wilhuff Tarkin, Hero of the Rebellion the Republic, and later the Empire, have a number of options to deal with the most horrific events:
    • Base Delta Zero, the orbital bombardment to annihilate an entire planet's surface, is supposed to be used only if the situation on the ground is that bad - and Tarkin mentions that one occasion the Republic ordered it was when a planet was being overrun by a horde of Kaiju born out of mutated biscuits, and it was called off at the last moment when an alternative solution. Tarkin himself orders one, and carries it out, when he finds out about the planet D'vouran - after all, a people-eating planet is considered harsh enough an emergency for it.
    • General Order 1 states "1) In case of a sudden outbreak of deadly disease, command of the interested area and an exclusion zone will pass to the highest ranking medical officer in the area until the crisis is over and the disease controlled. 2) The commanding medical officer will have full authority to take any necessary measure, up to including complete sterilization of the area and exclusion zone." The order is invoked when a flesh-eating bacteria is accidentally released in a city on Falleen, and the commanding medical officer orders the immediate sterilization of the exclusion zone via Orbital Bombardment fully knowing he'll be killed as well and being glad that weather condition prevented the spread of the bacteria to a much larger area. Darth Vader carries out the order when the local governor tries to stop it.
      • Enforcement of the exclusion zone is detailed, and includes Imperial Army troops setting up road blocks enforced with repeating blasters and even artillery.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • Alien:
    • Aliens is the Trope Namer: this method is suggested by Ripley for dealing with the alien infestation of Acheron, but is never executed for reasons beyond the Marines' control. "I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure."
      • After Ripley's suggestion is dismissed by Burke, she points out that it's not up to him since this is a military operation, and since Hicks is the highest ranking soldier still alive/conscious, he is the one with authority, to which Hicks begrudgingly concurs. Ultimately, despite Burke's insistence that it's not a decision he's equipped to make, Hicks calls for the dropship and drily repeats Ripley's sentiment, while making eye contact with her.
    • This was also intended in the first Alien. 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 AVP: Alien vs. Predator, one Predator detonates an explosive device in the alien hive, destroying the entire pyramid. Flashbacks reveal that this is pretty much their standard way of dealing with alien infestations.
    • In Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, the U.S. Army drops a nuclear bomb on the town of Gunnison, CO, to contain an infestation of Xenomorphs.
    • Continued in Aliens: Dark Descent, where Weyland-Yutani has made this official protocol for an outbreak of xenomorphs. Unfortunately, our heroes are on the wrong side of the bombardment and have to get out.
  • In The Andromeda Strain, this trope was averted when the protagonists realized a nuke would actually spread the contagion much, much further.
  • 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. S.H.I.E.L.D. 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 smart enough to launch a second plane. Thankfully, Iron Man is smarter, redirecting the nuke through a portal to space, making it hit the Chitauri's mother-ship without affecting Manhattan.
  • 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 Crazies (2010) remake, the U.S. Army incinerates a small Iowa town to contain a leaked biological weapon.
  • In the original version of The Crazies (1973), a nuclear strike was discussed, but not used.
  • Captain Miller's plan once he sees what the Event Horizon has done to its crew is to not only get his crew the hell off the ship but take the Lewis and Clark to a safe distance before bombarding the Event Horizon with enough TAC missiles to vaporize it. Unfortunately, both Weir and the ship itself have other plans.
  • 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 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. Subverted in that McLintock orders the firebombing in both cases not to destroy the virus but so he can use the virus as a biological weapon, and the firebombing would cover his tracks.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.

  • Subverted in The Andromeda Strain. The facility in which the titular virus (sort of) is being studied has a built-in nuclear self-destruct in case something breaks containment. It's only after the self-destruct is triggered that the protagonists realize the nuke will actually fuel the contagion's bizarre mutations, allowing it to turn into God-knows-what and spread across a massive region. Fortunately for the world, they manage to stop the self-destruct in time.
  • In Animorphs, the Andalite military plans not only to sterilize Earth to kill the Yeerks on it, but to sabotage Earth's own resistance to lure in more Yeerks before they sterilize it. The plan comes crashing down thanks to an Engineered Public Confession.
  • Ciaphas Cain:
    • 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.
  • 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 Dead of Night, by Jonathan Maberry, 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. In the sequel, Fall of Night, the outbreak spreads beyond Stebbins. The President orders the afflicted area sterilized by thermobaric bombs, never mind the civilians still in the area. This causes a cloud of airborne infectious particulates to drift all over the region, allowing it to reach airports and spread worldwide.
  • 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. However, everything falls apart before they can actually execute the plan.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • One of the only effective strategies a human has ever come up with to take down a Naagloshii Eldritch Abomination was to lure it onto ground zero of a nuclear test.
    • The Demonreach Genius Loci has a failsafe that it would discharge if necessary to prevent the myriad Eldritch Abominations imprisoned beneath it from escaping: a "Banefire" spell that would annihilate it and its surroundings — which is to say, most of the American midwest.
  • Fragment:
    • When the sheer ferocity and potential danger that the organisms of Hender's Island could potentially unleash upon the world should they somehow get to the mainland is realized (the most conservative computer simulations suggest at the extinction of all other life on five continents within sixty years), the personnel involved (up to and including the President of the United States) decides the sterilize the island with a nuclear bomb to prevent any chance that anyone could use them as a WMD. A few of the characters grimly note that had they not discovered the island in the first place, this wouldn't have been necessary, as the organisms had survived in isolation for more than seven hundred million years up to this point.
    • Later in the sequel, it turns out this still wasn't enough to wipe them out, and a handful of Hender's lifeforms end up a small island north of Japan after drifting for several months on an inflatable raft. When one of the characters with personal experience in them hears that the Japanese government firebombed the area and flooded it with poison gas to kill them, he's still not completely convinced that it was enough. But then the person telling him this says they had to do it three times until it worked.
  • Infected: In the second book, Contagious, Detroit is nuked to contain the spread of an airborne plague that puts people under the mental control of a little girl.
  • Joe Ledger:
    • In Patient Zero, a secret bunker uses its geothermal power supply as an emergency self-destruct mechanism.
    • In The King of Plagues, terrorists plot 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 Ledger failed to save the day.
  • In Jurassic Park, the Costa Rican government bombs Isla Nublar — this didn't make it into the film.
  • The Last Hero has a Shout-Out to the Aliens example when Leonard de Quirm describes a possible threat to the spaceship he just made. His illustration of the Imaginary Hull Borer ("if such a creature invades the ship, vital crew split up in order to search for it") includes the Latatian "Nucleus situm ex orbita, unus certis maximus". In other words, "Nuke the entire site from orbit, it's the only way to be sure."
  • Possibly the Ur-Example of this trope, the epilogue paragraphs of "The Lurking Fear" have the main character hiring a team to dynamite the Martense mansion, a significant portion of the surrounding forest, and any caves or tunnels they can find. He still worries that it won't be enough.
  • 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.
  • Newsflesh: This is the CDC's go-to method for dealing with a Kellis-Amberlee outbreak.
  • 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.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • 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). Kell points out that this is actually a reasonable precaution, given that some of the contagions studied in the lab are both horrific and highly contagious. It's also noted that the residents of the city are probably completely unaware of both types of threats that the lab contains, and wouldn't be very happy to find out.
    • The consequences of not having said plasma bomb array are mentioned in Shadows of the Empire: Darth Vader had established a bacteriological research outpost in a city on Falleen, and when a flesh-eating bacteria got out, the lack of a plasma bomb array allowed for the city to be quickly infected. Projections showed that without intervention, contagion would have spread to the entire planet and possibly off-world, leading Bolvan, commander of Vader's Star Destroyer Devastator, to suggest the use of ammunition from Project X271 to incinerate the plague. Vader, considering the use of a weapon that would wipe out all life of the planet to be excessive, instead ordered the Devastator to incinerate the area within 40 km of the outpost with turbolaser fire from orbit. The death toll was of 200,000 people (including the entire family of Prince Xizor), but the plague was indeed stopped.
  • World War Z:
    • Averted: 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 effects on respiratory systems are nullified, greatly reducing their effective radius.
    • The Ukranian military resorted to using chemical weapons when a massive group of refugees tried to storm past a checkpoint in a desperate attempt at reaching safety. Without the proper resources or manpower to actually screen the refugees for zombie bites, their only remaining option was mass murder. About one in ten got back up again as undead, revealing just how many were hiding their infection.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Andromeda Strain: Both the government and team Wilfire agree to nuke the town of Piedmont as a way to kill Andromeda. But this is ultimately Averted as Wildfire ends up discovering at the last moment that a nuke would actually spread the contagion much, much further. They manage to contact the military in time to abort it but Andromeda ends up taking control of the plane and fire off the nuke in order to spread itself further.
  • Angel: In "Damage", Dana the Vampire Slayer subscribes to this trope and refers to it by name: "Heart...and head. Don't be scared, stab the heart, cut off the head, keep cutting until dust."
  • An episode of The Champions (1968) involved an island where evil scientists were making a lethal gas for chemical warfare or terrorist attacks. At the end of the episode, the Army has a nuke dropped on it.
  • The Doctor Who episode "Nightmare in Silver" has a scene when it's mentioned that previously the Cybermen were only defeated by blowing up an entire galaxy resulting in the death of trillions. In the story itself, the standard procedure upon encountering any survivors is to implode the entire planet immediately before any damage is done.
  • The Last of Us (2023): Ratna recommends bombing Jakarta in order to stop the Zombie Apocalypse. FEDRA ends up actually doing so on a lot of cities.
  • In Nikita, in the episode "Self Destruct", Birkhoff quotes this trope as they contemplate destroying the Division facility.
  • In Stargate SG-1, the main team drops a massive nuclear weapon to blow up the gate through which the Ori intend to come to the Milky Way galaxy. It fails spectacularly, as all the energy of the warhead is only used by the Ori to collapse a planet into a black hole to power a nearby supergate. But before they realised that, they billed it as the "only way to be sure".
  • Applied by the Borg Queen in Star Trek: Voyager, in the episode "Unimatrix Zero," in which she blows up entire cubes to destroy only a handful of rogue Borg.
  • The Walking Dead:
    • The Season One finale has Rick and the other survivors seeking shelter in the CDC in Atlanta, only to find it completely abandoned except for Dr. Jenner, who reveals that the facility will be destroyed by a thermonuclear device once the fuel for the generators runs out, to prevent the virus samples stored inside from reaching the outside world.
    • Later on, in the second season, we are treated to a flashback of military helicopters trying to contain the zombie outbreak by dropping napalm in the streets of Atlanta. Judging by the fact that the rest of the series exists, it probably didn't work.
    • Fear the Walking Dead shows all of this unfolding in it's first few episodes, revealing that the army first attempted Quarantine with Extreme Prejudice in a futile effort at curing or stopping the Zombie Apocalypse. When this failed, they enacted "Operation Cobalt", which involved "humanely" terminating all uninfected civilians in the safe zones, before pulling out and firebombing Los Angeles, along with every other major city on the West Coast. It barely put a dent in the zombie hordes.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • In The Bible, God does this after finding that except for Lot's family, there aren't even ten people in Sodom and Gomorrah who are innocent. We're not told exactly what God did, but even looking at the destruction of these cities from a distance was fatal.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Battletech: It's happened at least twice in the lore:
    • During the FedCom Civil War, fighting on Galedon accidentally released a deadly bioweapon dating from the Star League. In the end, everyone involved realized that the plague leaving the planet was an unacceptable risk, and so both Clan Snow Raven and the Draconis Combine subjected the entirety of the planet to a two-weeks-long orbital thermonuclear bombardment that essentially killed every single living thing on the planet from microbes up.
    • After the Word of Blake Jihad opened the Pandora's box on use of nuclear weapons (later in the conflict, the Word of Blake became quite nuke-happy and everyone else retaliated in return), the Principality of Regulus tracked The Master from Gibson to Circinus. Every. Single. Planet. In Regulus' flight plan was thoroughly nuked to cinders to try and kill The Master. They finally cornered him on Circinus, and the planet was bombed (including using dirty bombs laced with cobalt — Regulus was through screwing around) not just to the Stone Age, but all the way to the Hadean era, essentially sterilizing the planet making it a rock that would never support life again. But they got The Master.
  • 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.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Occurs with depressing regularity, 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 millennia of torment as your soul is flayed from you along with your skin inch by inch?) note 
    • 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 anymore). 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.
    • 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.

    Video Games 
  • Age of Wonders: Planetfall: The Promethean Division was created to stop Xenoplague infection. Any planet they were deployed to was essentially written off as a loss by the Star Union, and the Prometheans' only objective was to prevent plague from getting off-world and spreading further. They stopped the infection by setting the planet's atmosphere on fire using PyrX and essentially burning it down to the crust before having the planet terraformed and re-settled from the ashes.
  • In Alien vs. Predator (Capcom), Linn Kurosawa reprograms a nuclear-powered warship to crash into San Dread, California. Sure the town is completely destroyed, but the ship and town were full of Xenomorphs, anyway.
  • In The Colony, this is your goal after rescuing the survivors of a trans-dimensional alien invasion.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Dead Rising:
    • Inverted in the first game: Carlito (the villain) wants to blow up the mall to spread the virus rather than contain it, and you have to stop him.
    • 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.
  • In Dying Light, there comes a point where the powers that be decide zombie-infested Harran is too dangerous to keep quarantined indefinitely and ought to be destroyed completely. Kyle Crane, the player, manages first to stall them and then to back off more or less for good. It's implied that, if they ever get what they want out of Crane's possession, the city is toast.
    • The DLC forces Crane to decide if Harran can still be saved, or if it has to be nuked off the map to prevent the spread; Crane found the cure, but it just turns zombies into sentient were-super-zombies. It's in the same bunker as a primed nuclear warhead.
  • EXTRAPOWER: Attack of Darkforce: At some point a meteor has crashed into Germany, bringing with it the Bem - a parasitic space parasite that has already reduced several towns into ghost towns. The heroes help SPICA mercenaries combat the Bem in one town, but it is too late: according to the team empath's readings, by that point, no human remains who is free from infestation. Soon after, missiles are dropped on the town to eradicate the remaining Bems, though this fails to destroy the infestation.
  • 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.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • 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.
    • In Final Fantasy X, upon fleeing their home on a Cool Airship, the Al Bhed feel that the best way prevent the enemy occupiers from getting their hands on their technology is to blow the entire facility up with nuclear missiles.
  • In Half-Life: Opposing Force Black Ops assassins trying to blow up an 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.
  • Halo:
    • The Covenant doesn't stop at nukes when it comes to Flood outbreaks. They bombard the entire planet with plasma until rock and sand start to melt and are transformed into volcanic glass. Earth gets spared this treatment in Halo 3 due to the Arbiter advising Half-Jaw against it... so Half-Jaw only glasses half of Africa instead.
    • The Halo Arrays themselves are the Forerunners' execution of this trope, killing all sentient life in the galaxy to ensure the Flood has no potential hosts.
    • Even after Cortana acquires Halo Installation 04's Activation Index in Halo: Combat Evolved, she and Master Chief still destroy Halo's phase pulse generators and ultimately the Halo itself just to be sure it won't be activated. It also serves as reassurance that the Flood aboard won't manage to leave the ring.
  • 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.
  • It is mentioned several times in The Last of Us that the military killed as many people as they could to prevent the Cordyceps infectees from spreading the disease, and that includes people who weren't infected because corpses can't catch it. The downtown area of Boston, for example, is a giant wasteland after they bombed the hell out of it hoping to kill as many infected as possible.
  • Mass Effect:
    • Mass Effect: 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 up the Collector Base is the only practical solution to prevent the mind-controlling effects of Reaper technology from creating new minions that serve them, as well as the heinous nature of the technology within. Which turned out to be futile, since the Illusive Man already had implanted himself with reaper technology years before (putting the remains of the Human Reaper directly behind his office didn't help), but at least it significantly slowed the Reapers down.
    • Depending on what you make of the ending in Mass Effect 3, the "Destroy" option is just that. Even though it will also destroy all AI such as the Geth and EDI, it's the only chance to permanently put an end to the Reaper threat. Depending on your actions in the previous game and your EMS rating, this gets even worse and destroys almost all sentient life in the galaxy, not just the Reapers!
    • In addition to the above, this method is suggested in Mass Effect 3 by Joker after completing a mission that is one big reference to Aliens, the Trope Namer. He even says the name of the trope word for word!
    • Javik's Back Story has Victory initiating a "neutron bombardment" to wipe out the Prothean husks away on Eden Prime.
  • 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).
  • Metroid:
    • Metroid Fusion double subverts this. When the BSL Station is overrun by the X Parasites, Samus plans to activate the station's self-destruct to kill all of them aboard. However, her ship's 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. It fails in the long run since Metroid Dread reveals the X Parasites have infected another planet, ZDR, forcing Samus to blow up that planet as well. Metroid Dread also reveals that the Thoha Chozo tribe wanted to destroy SR388 because both the Metroids and X were too dangerous to leave alive, but Raven Beak had other plans.
  • 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. The reason for this seemingly overkill is that certain powerful entities are practically deathless, even beheading doesn't always kill them as the intro cinematic shows. These measures are taken to try and maximize the difficulty of reassembling them in their entirety lest doing so restore them to power.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Quite a few Resident Evil games end with this:
    • The original had the mansion explode in a self-destruct sequence.
    • The most famous example from the series is the fate of Raccoon City, as detailed in Resident Evil 3, Nemesis, and the Outbreak games. Starting in May of 1998 with the Mansion Incident, there were several more outbreaks of the T-virus that slowly started to overwhelm the city. The tipping point occurred on September 22 when Umbrella forces tried to retrieve a new virus sample from one of its reclusive researchers, William Birkin. In the resulting chaos, the virus got into the sewers and infected the city's rat population, which led to a full-scale Zombie Apocalypse. The situation quickly got out of control; local police were overwhelmed in days (though some of them put up a valiant, but ill-fated, Last Stand at their headquarters), and containment forces that the National Government sent in met similar fates. By September 30th the city was deemed a lost cause; almost the entire population was either dead or infected and military barriers around the city were starting to fail. Faced with the threat of the infection spreading to the rest of the country, the U.S Government ordered Raccoon City sterilized by missile strike.note  The end result was that the city was completely wiped off the map. All that remains of Raccoon City are a few craters and a government research faculty/Quarantine Zone.
    • 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.
  • 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 by activating special microchips that emit EMPs, hidden inside all electronics manufactured in Japan.
    • 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.
  • StarCraft:
    • Right before the first StarCraft 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.
    • At the beginning of StarCraft II, Raynor states that Tassadar incinerating Mar Sara in the original game apparently didn't work — new Zerg dens are still found there all the time. Which might explain Selendis's less-extreme approach.
    • In StarCraft II: 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.
  • The only way in Stellaris to deal with an infected world is by way of Orbital Bombardment until all traces of biosphere and atmosphere are eradicated.
  • In Wasteland 2, a certain expansive, incredibly overbuilt underground bunker (even its elevator doors are said to be impervious to any military explosives and lasers) is brought down by exploding a Davy Crockett tactical nuclear warhead inside of its topmost level. The problem is, this solution is rubbish: the real-life explosive equivalent of this Chekhov's Bomb is a measly 10 to 20 tons of TNT (accompanied by a very sharp radiation spike, with lethal radius of 400 m over open terrain). If anything, that explosion would benefit the villain: sure, it would slightly damage his new front lobby, but would also completely sterilize the installation, destroying all biological life he's fighting against.
  • 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 
  • Anthronauts: In the original series, a zombie outbreak succeeded in covering the earth. The president of humanity made the decision to nuke earth and retreat to mars. Turns out that the zombies were a Horde of Alien Locusts... with shapeshifting capabilities and near-universal interspecies reproduction. Which would make them the perfect ambassadors if not for their inescapable Horror Hunger and unsustainable instinct to conquer and destroy. They usually hatch on new planets, conquer the other species by assimilating their traits and improving them, and ultimately fight each other until the planet explodes. It's unknown whether or not genocide of a near-limitless potential shapeshifting species is justifiable when they destroy planets on a regular basis.
  • PS238: Prospero is willing and ready to blow up the earth to prevent the spread of an extraterrestrial virus.
  • 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.
  • Riff from Sluggy Freelance thinks this is an acceptable way to deal with two women talking to each other about him if they are ex-girlfriends and/or potential girlfriends.

    Web Original 
  • The Alomal-137 Case Study by Lon Miller briefly describes nuclear annihilation of several east-coast cities in response to a pandemic.
  • In the BIONICLE web serials, Toa Helryx contemplates doing a Nova Blast while trapped in the Makuta-controlled Great Spirit's processor unit, unleashing her Elemental Powers and drowning herself, but also destroying Makuta's brain and killing the entire Matoran Universe contained in the Great Spirit's body, just to make sure Makuta won't conquer other worlds. Thankfully she's stopped.
  • SCP Foundation:
    • Several sites run by the 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.
    • A short story explored a scenario in which SCP-173 began multiplying. Exponentially. After North and South America are completely overrun in a matter of days, the Foundation, secrecy breached, decides to carpet nuke the entire landmass to keep them from spreading to other continents. One is later spotted in the UK. They nuke the area immediately.
  • 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.

    Web Videos 
  • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • In Clerks: The Animated Series, Leonardo Leonardo plans to take over the town. Dante and Randal find a book detailing his master plan, which is full of countermeasures for every possibility. If things spiral completely out of control, the city is to be nuked from orbit. Randal even invokes the trope name.
  • 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.

    Real Life 
  • Declassified materials from the US Department of Defense seem 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 that 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.
  • On a smaller scale: A relatively quick and reliable (if messy) method to dispose of a nuclear weapon is to blow it up. While this scatters the fissile material (hence the mess), it also prevents unauthorised use or accidental nuclear detonation.
  • It is precisely because of Simo Häyhä's reign of terror during the Winter War as the White Death that suspected sniper nests are justifiable targets for an Alpha Strike: Häyhä had so many kills under his belt (and using a Finnish Mosin-Nagant at that) that the Red Army had to resort to calling in artillery strikes on places they thought he was shooting at them from. He survived those attempts and would continue to terrorize the Russians for the duration of the conflict.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): The Only Way To Be Sure



When the mycologist says that the only way out of the situation is to bomb your own capital city to take out a hostile pandemic, you know that it's really serious.

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