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The Atomic Wars or Great Atom War is a fictional event in the Judge Dredd universe.
This created the third key component in the setting for Judge Dredd (the others being the Judge System and Mega Cities). Although the Mega Cities had their own laser defence systems, the rest of the world was reduced to vast irradiated wasteland, the most famous being the Cursed Earth, from which many threats have sprung including Shojun the Warlord (from the radlands of Ji in Eastern Asia).
The road to war
During the mid-21st century, the United States suffered a horrific crime problem. Powerful gangs rampaged through the urban sprawls that would become Mega-Cities, able to intimidate juries and virtually immune to prosecution, at one point even storming the White House itself. This led to the formation of the instant justice system in 2031 to mass public support, with specially-trained Judges taking over the roles of police, jury and executioner. However, at the same time America was becoming increasing xenophobic and in 2060 elected a president on a xenophobic platform. In 2068 his Vice-President Robert Booth secretly rigged the vote to gain office himself; claiming the rest of the world was living off America's back, he drove already bad international relations into the ground.
In 2070 Booth ordered the US Army to occupy various key industrial points around the world. Following this mass protests were received from the Mega Cities, nations and alliances worldwide (with the exception of Brit-Cit). Booth issued an ultimatum: either they backed down or America would nuke every other nation (at this point the Judges now knew Booth was insane). The American population was whipped up into a furor, with both they and Booth believing the anti-nuclear screens would shelter America from any retaliation.
Early on the morning of 12 June 2070 Judges were called to the White House to find one of Booth's staffers dead in the Catfish pond, since the man was known to be anti-war he was assumed to have committed suicide. Later in the morning the chief Judges of the Mega Cities met to discuss what to do about Booth. However Booth would never listen to them and would abolish the Judges instead, a coup was postulated but at the time the Judges simply were not able to take that step since it would have meant betraying the laws of the United States, an act which even given the coming holocaust they were not yet ready to undertake. At the end of the meeting Booth starts the war and the Judges rush back to their home cities (MC2's Chief Judge dying in a blast over the mid-west).
After the ultimatum expired at around 1300 on 12 June 2070, Booth launched a massive number of nuclear weapons and received a massive counterattack. America's defenses failed, devastating much of the continent; the Mega-Cities defensive lasers kept them safe, with a few exceptions such as Baltimore Quadrant.
By the 13th the Atomic War had ravaged the entire planet, with only Mega-Cities surviving the brunt of it; even in them there was widespread looting and power failures. All Judges and regiments of soldiers were sent out onto Mega-City One's streets to maintain order, but often the Judges found themselves fighting the soldiers; Judge Dredd's first experience of Judicial killing came when he was forced to execute a rape gang made up of soldiers.
Aftermath (United States)
Sporadic civil disturbance and looting went on for the next few days with the Judges desperately trying to hold things together while trying to find a solution to the problem of Booth. A few days later a White House staffer came to the Judges and confessed that Booth had rigged the 2068 elections and that the staffer found dead on the 12th had A: probably been murdered, and B: had the proof in a hidden location. Through this the Justice Department discovered the proof that Booth had rigged the election. The Judges now consulted Judge Fargo (a former chief judge and long believed dead, though actually still alive in a special Justice Department facility) who urged them to remove Booth.
Using the election fraud in their cause – and the Declaration of Independence as a legal precedent – the Judges ordered Booth to stand down. Under mass public support, Chief Judge Goodman seized the reins of power and abolished democracy. After brief fighting, the Judges marched on the White House but Booth fled to the Rocky Mountain military bases. It took over a year of war but the Judges finally caught Booth and put him on trial, sentencing him to one hundred years in suspended animation. The civil war cost many lives on both sides. The final "Battle of Armageddon" was fought in Death Valley and cost 100,000 Judges and Mega-troopers their lives.
Booth was not sentenced to death but to cryogenic freezing, as it was decided that future generations would make the choice of his punishment with the benefit of hindsight. When thirty years later Dredd found that Booth had inadvertently been revived, he resentenced Booth to hard labour for life, working on a Cursed Earth farm cleaning up the mess he had made. Booth escaped however, and raised an army to take back the country in 2129. He failed and died an ignominious death when he was used as a human shield by the Judges and shot by his own men.
Most of the survivors of the Atomic War fled to the Mega Cities. The United States gradually changed into the three independent Mega-Cities - Mega-City One, Mega-City Two and Texas City - as did most of the rest of the planet.
Most of the world is reduced to only Mega-Cities, with vast radioactive wastes around them; tribes of mutants eke out a meagre existence outside the city walls; many countries, such as South Africa and the entirety of the Middle East except for Egypt, have been completely destroyed. There also appears to have been a drift off world, with colonies on many planets scattered across space.
The Judge system had already spread across the world before the war; similar to America, in the aftermath of the nuclear holocaust, the Judges took control of many of surviving Mega-Cities and nations. There were usually some variants by city.
Russia: Reduced to East-Meg One and Two. The Judges opted a quasi-communist model, based on the old Soviet Union, centred around the Diktatorat (at the time of creation Russia was still the largest component of the USSR).
China: Reduced to Sino-Cit One & Two and Hong Tong (formerly Hong Kong). These cities mixed ancient culture with the Communist state of the twentieth & early-21st century, with the central governing body being the People's Justice Ministry. For reasons unknown, Hong Tong was partitioned between Chinese and British judicial control.
United Kingdom & Ireland: Fallout devastated the East Midlands, and only the Mega-Cities in England (Brit-Cit) and Scotland (Cal-Hab) remained intact. Fell into civil war, eventually seeing the rise of a Judge System (secretly founded by criminal gangs), based out of the New Old Bailey and run by the Star Chamber by the 2080s. However many rules were relaxed: Judges could marry, were paid and could also drink alcohol. Scotland lost much of its semi-independent powers from the early 21st Century, with direct Brit-Cit control of its Judges. Ireland's Mega-City (Murphyville) came under Brit-Cit control, with a relatively liberal Judge Militia keeping order.
Australia: Badly nuked in the war, it was renamed Oz, and its Outback became the Radback. Primary Mega-City is the Sydney-Melbourne Conurb, and while under Judge control it is a far more laid back culture than most.
Japan: Became Hondo City, an economic powerhouse due to high technology; the Justice Department's ethos and culture is based around old Samurai culture. The city is badly sexist with very few women in high positions. The outer islands retain a 20th Century rural existence.
Africa: Multiple conflicting governments and factions exist, with only a few Mega-Cities, and the south of the continent is desert; the militarised Pan-African Judge force enforce the peace between these factions, who see the Judges as an enemy. Egypt, with its own Mega-City (Luxor) and Judge system, stands apart from the rest of the continent, and has reverted to Ancient Egyptian mythology and culture.
Other nations do not have a Judge system, either for political reasons (moon colony Puerto Luminae) or financial (Borneo). There are the existence of free states - the Mediterranean Free State, a floating collection of various habitats; the Mongolian Exclusion Zone, a lawless region; and Canadia, which appears to have Mega-City level technology and a non-Judicial law-enforcement group.
The balance of global power has been altered - for example, the Antarctic has a Mega-City and is a key geopolitical player, with Antarctic "delegations" popping up in several stories; and Vatican City has its own Judge force and political foreign policy.
End of Democracy
Another casualty of war was democracy which due to Booth's actions was now discredited, the Judges became dictators in most countries. In Mega-City One only very limited democratic government occurred until the reforms of Judge Volt in 2117. Though democracy campaign movements existed, they never had a broad popular base (a few million out of hundreds of millions of citizens) and lost most of their influence when a free election confirmed the Justice Department in power in 2113. Democracy was further discredited in 2126 when the "Total War" terrorist group nuked three sectors of the city in a demand for democratic change.
When he was rescued in 2129, the dying Fargo told Dredd that the Judges' rule should not last forever, and as such Dredd has begun careful moves for change, since while Dredd still believes in the Judges, he does intend to bring about reform, especially regarding the anti-mutant laws which he wishes to see repealed. He has found an ally in this in Cadet America Beeny, who also believes that while the Justice Department is still the only real option it does need to change (ironic since Benny's parents were known democracy supporters and in her mother's case a known terrorist).
Role of Joe Dredd
During the war, then Cadet Dredd briefly served as a full judge during the worst of the nuclear holocaust, maintaining law and order on the streets. The epic "Origins" is largely made up of his memories of the war and the time leading to it.
The war largely consisted of the USA versus the world. Brit-Cit was about the only country not to condemn the initial assaults but neither do they seem to come to America's aid.