Fallout’s post-apocalyptic world is vast and long-standing, which means there’s tons of lore about its myriad factions, the creatures of the desert, and the many chests that housed (and, uh, experienced) people. throughout the nuclear war that ravaged the world in 2077. But given that the Fallout games are set decades after those cataclysmic events, not much is known about the world before the bombs were dropped, including Why the bombs dropped to start the so-called Great War.
Here, we’re going to cover some of the big facts and theories surrounding dropping bombs in Fallout: Who dropped the bombs? What caused the Great War? And were there perhaps secret forces conspiring to make war happen? Here’s everything curious expats need to know.
What caused the Great War in Fallout?
The first thing to know is that the timeline of Fallout deviates from reality shortly after the end of World War II (1945). Given that Fallout’s portrayal of the United States has a charming 1950s retro-futuristic style and culture, it seems fair to assume that the split happened around the 50s. For reasons that might as well be “because it looks cool,” these ’50s styles stuck around until the bombs dropped in 2077.
The great prelude to the Great War was China’s military encroachment on American soil in 2066, which kicked off the Sino-American War. China launched an assault on Alaska in a successful attempt to seize the Oil pipeline in Anchorage (events you can play in the Operation Anchorage DLC for Fallout 3). It was just the latest in a series of destabilizing global conflicts known as the Resource Wars, which lasted from 2052 to 2077 as the world’s reserves of petroleum, uranium, and oil dwindled. However, no event in the war has been as cataclysmic as the event that will end it in 2077.
Despite China’s initial success in capturing the Anchorage pipeline, the United States retaliated after gaining military access through Canadian lands and airspace. This caused tensions with Canada to escalate, as the United States ravaged Canadian lands and consumed Canadian resources to support its counterattack on China. Riots spread across Canada and extreme hostility towards American forces led to the The United States annexes Canada in June 2072.
In 2074, the United States opened another front in the Sino-American War by invading mainland China. The war was at a complete stalemate until 2077, when the United States finally liberated Anchorage with the help of the advancing T-51 Power Armor. The breakthrough on this front led to a heavy focus on the campaign in mainland China, where US forces wearing T-51s pushed deeper into the country. At this point, the US government fled to remote locations, knowing that a nuclear strike from an increasingly desperate China could come at any moment. This hidden government would later become known as the Enclave.
The US push into China seemed like the beginning of the end. On October 23, 2077, the United States responded to reports of a nuclear attack by launching nuclear weapons at China. A nuclear back-and-forth began between the United States and China, and within two hours both countries were decimated. At some point during this exchange, a Chinese stealth submarine in the North Atlantic Ocean, the Yangtze-31, launched all but one of its warheads and missiles at key cities on the US East Coast. There is not much information about the direct impact of nuclear bombs on the rest of the world, but nuclear fallout and debris would have affected the entire planet’s atmosphere.
Who fired the first Nuke in Fallout?
There is no official source on who fired the first nuclear bomb of the Great War, although the events of the war – as well as events in the hours leading up to the first reported sightings of nuclear bombs – suggest that c was China. That said, the timeline of events on that fateful day in October 2077 isn’t entirely clear. Most likely, the best timeline can be found on computer terminals at the Switchboard in Fallout 4 – an abandoned secret operating base for the United States Defense Intelligence Agency. Here is the sequence of events found on a computer there that seems to bring us closest to the truth about what happened on October 23, 2077:
0003 EST: US Pacific Fleet reports 3 USOs (unidentified submersible vehicles) off California.
0337 IS: The US Air Force spots a squadron of planes off the Bering Strait.
0913 EST: Integrated Operation Nuclear Detection System detects “4 probable launches” of ballistic missiles.
0917 IS: Norad confirms “birds in the air”.
0926 EST: The United States retaliates and launches a nuclear arsenal on China.
0942 EST: The first Chinese nuclear weapons hit Pennsylvania and New York.
So who fired the first nuclear bomb? Well, we don’t know exactly. It is crucial to point out that while much evidence points to China, there is in fact nothing that specifically identifies China as having fired first. There are almost six hours between the submarines and planes spotted in the Pacific (all unidentified) and the first “probable launches” of missiles. With cities on the east coast of the United States appearing to be the first to be affected, it is also not excluded that the first Chinese nuclear bombs will be launched from the Yangtze-31 in the North Atlantic.
Four ballistic missiles also appear to be a small amount of nuclear bombs for China to launch its first strike on the United States. One would expect a country with the kind of arsenal it had to go all out on the first strike, hoping to do as much damage to American infrastructure as possible.
So yes, the evidence points to China, but there just isn’t a whole lot of evidence to back it up.
Did Vault-Tec start the Great War?
One of the most popular fan theories surrounding the start of the Great War concerns Vault-Tec Corporation, the powerful defense contractor that designed the vast underground bunkers known as the Vaults for the US government. The theory was given some seriousness by the fact that in 2011 a script for a canned Fallout movie from the early 2000s appeared (thanks, VG247), in which it was revealed that Vault-Tec had actually engineered the Great War. The key part in the movie synopsis which says it is as follows:
Our hero asks how the war started and is shocked to learn that it wasn’t China, North Korea or India that fired the first strike. The first nuclear bomb was dropped by the creator of the vaults, a fanatical businessman who wanted to fulfill his own prophecy of world annihilation. This first bomb set off a panicked chain reaction among other countries, leading to a four-hour World War III.
However, the script was later changed to not include the Vault-Tec angle. Additionally, the film was scrapped, so its influence on Fallout canon is ultimately irrelevant. Beyond that, the rationale for “fulfilling a prophecy of world annihilation” seems like pretty flimsy reasoning from a cold, calculating businessman, and more the product of early-1990s video game adaptation. 2000s than the solid storytelling of Fallout.
Stronger ballast for the Vault-Tec theory is the blurring of information surrounding the first nuclear weapons launched in 2077. There is no confirmation that it was China, and the United States bombing China in response to ” probable” missile launches have a slight whiff of deception and behind-the-scenes misinformation. but the big question is Why Would Vault-Tec want to trigger a nuclear apocalypse? Here are some of the most popular theories:
- With much of humanity (at least in the US) on their knees, Vault-Tec would emerge as the lords and saviors of those who survived the apocalypse. This would give them power in the new world (let’s not forget that the pre-war world was also in a rather dire situation, so the idea of a “fresh start” might have been on the minds of various powerful players).
- We now know that the vaults were something of a science lab for the shady Enclave government – remnants of the high and mighty in American politics and the military-industrial complex. Many of the vaults have been used for some pretty gruesome social and scientific experiments, with the Enclave intent on using this data – perhaps for its fledgling spaceflight program. It’s not unthinkable that Vault-Tec and the Enclave conspired to hasten the Great War so they could pursue their experiments and ambitions.
Vault-Tec theories tend not to suggest that Vault-Tec literally started the war itself, just that it pushed things in that direction. All things considered, there’s no evidence that this is the case (other than the fact that Vault-Tec and the Enclave are terrible and amoral entities), so take it with a grain of salt.
So while we may not know the exact cause of the Great War in Fallout, what we can say is that the world was in a terrible place before the war, and somehow, it was the culmination of years and years of resources. overconsumption and bad politics. War never changes, friends?