Judge Dredd: The Atomic War, Explained

The law in Judge Dredd is hard justice, but it’s also what is needed to keep the “rough and tumble” streets of Mega-City One safe for its citizens. Dredd’s Mega-City One has never been the epitome of a low-crime, low-violence city, there was a time when it was much easier for its Judges to keep secure – but then came the Atomic War of 2070.



Essential Judge Dredd: Origins – by John Wagner, Kev Walker, and Carlos Ezquerra – gave the most detailed account of the Dredd franchise’s pivotal global conflict, the Atomic War, which the long-running series had often alluded to but never fully explained.

Judge Dredd from the Stallone movie, with Mega-City One in the background

The conflict caused worldwide devestation, leaving limited population centers remaining across the planet – including America’s Mega-Cities – and leading to global infrastructure collapse, which in turn resulted in the ascendency of the Judges.

Related: How Many People Actually Live in Judge Dredd’s Mega-City One

The Atomic War Brought About The Supremacy Of The Judges

Judge Dredd, President Booth Starts The Atomic War

As seen in Essential Judge Dredd: Origins, when Robert L. Booth was elected U.S. President in 2068, the Judges were powerless to stop him from pursuing an overaggressive foreign policy, demanding the nations of the world pay America back for the protection and support it has provided over the years. Any nation that refused would suffer the consequences. Naturally, countries pushed back. This led Booth to order the U.S. military to forcefully take what he wanted – which in reality was to control the world. This push for global domination led Booth to use America’s nuclear arsenal in 2070, igniting a response in kind by the world’s other superpowers.

There was no winner of the Atomic War, but the fighting did cause global radioactive devastation. For America, the resulting radioactive nightmare scenario led to the breakdown of society, and subsequently, the Judges’ decision to double-down on their system of street justice. The collapse of civilian political control caused by the Atomic War left the Judges as the only viable government authority, able to bring order from the chaos. Still, the Judges’ jurisdiction was largely limited to the Mega-Cities. The lawlessness paled in comparison to the crime-ridden days before the Judge justice system was established, ensuring that their reactionary control would grow ever-tighter.

The Atomic War Internationalized The Judges’ Justice System

Judge Dredd with an Irish Judge

While Dredd’s Mega-City One survived the attack and expanded along the eastern seaboard, two other cities emerged from the ashes; Mega-City Two in the west, and Texas City along the souther border. Places in between these Mega-Cities were rendered virtually ungovernable, as a result of the rampant radiation caused by the atomic bombings. Further, the death, damage, and destruction of the atomic bombardment were not isolated to America. It occurred in East Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Like America, all experienced varying degrees of population consolidation in or around urban centers. Additionally, all suffered increasing degrees of lawlessness and violence.

After the war ended, the people of Earth – from its Mega-Cities, as the world’s populace consolidated further in those places that had survived the conflagration – began adopting the American Judge justice system, or hybrids of it. Not only was this due to the promotional efforts of Mega-City One’s Judge outreach, but also due to the identification of the Judge justice system as the most effective way to quickly, and completely, establish and maintain peace, safety, and security in uncertain times. Judge Dredd has always portrayed a severe possible future, but the details of the Atomic War make it clear why humanity suffered such an outcome.

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