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"I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure."
Ripley, Aliens

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 conflagration which will destroy the whole facility, the whole city, or the entire region. It could be a nuke, it could be a fuel-air bomb, it could be orbital bombardment -- but whatever it is, high civilian or friendly casualties are almost certain, and are chalked off as "acceptable losses." Often a Shoot the Dog moment.

Sometimes this strategy works, sometimes it doesn't.

Oddly enough, Aliens is not an example despite being the Trope Namer. This is only because the cause of the explosion was not an intentional attack for that purpose. The entire colony blows up because the Marines shot up the cooling system of the atmosphere processor earlier in the movie.

Examples of It's the Only Way to Be Sure include:


Comics

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.
  • In Alien vs. Predator, the "hero" Predator, Scar, 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.
  • 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.

Literature

  • 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.


Live Action TV

  • An episode of The Champions 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.
  • In the adaptation of The Walking Dead, the CDC is rigged with a thermobaric device to prevent the release of WEAPONIZED SMALLPOX!!

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 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.
  • Metroid Fusion combines this with Colony Drop: Samus drops the space station the game takes place in on SR-388 to eradicate the X Parasites... by erasing SR-388 from existence.
  • This is what is implied in The Parish campaign in Left 4 Dead 2. Many dead bodies found are noted that they were shot up and were not infected. This makes Nick worry that the military is aiming to kill everyone in one fell swoop without checking to see who is infected and who isn't and his fears become true when the survivors discover that the military is bombing the whole city. Regardless, the other 3 survivors seek out the military to escape. Because the military now assumes the survivors are carriers, many people theorize that the military are going to kill the survivors after aiding their escape or perform experiments on them since they have not turned into zombies. This theory got more wild when the original survivors in The Passing campaign refuse to go to New Orleans, stating they are sick of dealing with the military.
    • The latter being more likely, as the safest and most efficient way to kill the survivors would be to simply refuse to lower the bridge.
      • A comic released by Valve, featuring the original survivors, supports the second theory.
  • 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 original Forerunner method was to kill all non-Flood life in the galaxy to ensure the Flood had no food.
  • 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 drasticly than the ones in the original. Instead of incinerating the entire planet, her method is vaporising the (potentially) infested parts.
  • 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. (His idea is to set off a neutron bomb and salvage what's left.)
  • Mass Effect 3: "This ends now! Patch the quarians to the Normandy's weapon system. I want the targeting laser synched to the whole damn fleet."
  • In the backstory of Nie R, 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.


Tabletop Games

  • Occurs with depressing regularity in Warhammer 40000, 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.
  • 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.


Web Comics

 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.


Western Animation

  • In Re Boot 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.
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