I can't say I've seen every episode of Star Trek. I've dabbled in Enterprise, Voyager and DS9 (mainly Voyager and Enterprise). But the first episode of TNG made it fairly clear that in the past, most of the earth suffered from a nuclear war and society began to break down.

I was surprised.

Nowhere in any of the episodes I had seen — even Enterprise — was there a reference to this supposedly huge aspect of their world. You would think the Vulcans would have used it against them every chance they got, instead of just calling humans emotional, but they never mentioned, nor alluded to this aspect of humanity’s history.

So I ask, is the Post-Atomic horror still canon? Or has it been written out over time?

  • 6
    Enterprise follows on from First Contact. You should watch First Contact. Also the Vulcans are fine ones to talk... Commented Aug 6, 2016 at 18:41
  • If you are just starting with TNG, you have a real treat waiting for you. It's widely considered to be the best part of the Star Trek shows.
    – Heinzi
    Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 8:07
  • 2
    "You would think the Vulcans would have used it against them every chance they got, instead of just calling humans emotional, but they never mentioned, nor alluded to this aspect of humanity’s history." In the 4th season of Enterprise they discussed how the Vulcans went through a similar period and it took them 1500 years to recover and master warp flight, while earth did it in 100 years. This made the Vulcans very nervous about humans future impact on the galaxy.
    – user70094
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 20:40
  • 2
    In Enterprise they don't directly say it, but that's what the whole "too soon" thing is all about that Vulcans keep saying through out. Much of the world was still doing crazy barbaric things inside living memory, less than 100 years ago.
    – Durakken
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 22:04
  • 5
    "I've dabbled in...mainly Voyager and Enterprise". Jesus. Rough luck.
    – 1252748
    Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 1:24

3 Answers 3


The Third World War (and its resulting nuclear exchange and subsequent unpleasantness) has been referenced in every Trek show to date. You may wish to note that it's been described very inconsistently, mostly because the show's writers seem to be somewhat at odds over whether the Eugenics Wars should be considered to be part of World War III or something distinct.


SPOCK: They do seem to have escaped the carnage of your first three world wars, Doctor.

MCCOY: They have slavery, gladiatorial games, despotism.

SPOCK: Situations quite familiar to the six million who died in your first world war, the eleven million who died in your second, the thirty seven million who died in your third. Shall I go on?

TOS: Bread and Circuses


DATA: According to our astrometric readings we're in the mid twenty-first century. From the radioactive isotopes in the atmosphere I would estimate we have arrived approximately ten years after the Third World War.

RIKER: Makes sense. Most of the major cities have been destroyed. There are few governments left. Six hundred million dead. No resistance.

Star Trek: First Contact


BASHIR: Two years? Isn't that a bit harsh?

BENNETT: I don't think so. Two hundred years ago we tried to improve the species through DNA resequencing, and what did we get for our trouble? The Eugenics Wars. For every Julian Bashir that can be created, there's a Khan Singh waiting in the wings. A superhuman whose ambition and thirst for power have been enhanced along with his intellect. The law against genetic engineering provides a firewall against such men and it's my job to keep that firewall intact. I've made my offer. Do you accept?


Doctor Bashir, I Presume


DOCTOR: Throughout human history weapons of mass destruction were often designed in the hopes that they'd never be used.

SEVEN: And yet, in Earth's Third World War, nuclear weapons accounted for six hundred million casualties. Were they looking on the bright side?

DOCTOR: An unfortunate exception.

Voy: In the Flesh


ARCHER: For thousands of years, my people had similar problems. We fought three world wars that almost destroyed us. Whole generations were nearly wiped out.

KOLOS: What changed?

ARCHER: A few courageous people began to realise they could make a difference.

ENT: Judgement


JOSIAH: And they sat by while millions of our people died. World War Three.

TUCKER: We didn't make contact with the Vulcans until ten years after the war.

JOSIAH: But they were up there with their superior technology. They could've stopped it, but they didn't. I think it suited their plans. A devastated Earth was much easier for them to control.

ENT: Terra Prime

  • 4
    And the film "first contact" had the aftermath of the war as a key part of it's plot. Commented Aug 6, 2016 at 16:40
  • @PeterGreen - Yes, it was set after WWIII, in a period of relative calm.
    – Valorum
    Commented Aug 6, 2016 at 16:41
  • Ah, thank you. Very Informative!
    – Slojanko
    Commented Aug 6, 2016 at 16:42
  • 3
    @Izkata - He's a doctor, dammit, not a historian.
    – Valorum
    Commented Aug 6, 2016 at 21:42
  • 1
    @ApproachingDarknessFish - It makes me wonder if this is the only time Spock has been wrong on the show. I suppose that could be a new question.
    – iMerchant
    Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 7:35

The Post-Atomic Horror takes place between 2053 and 2123.
What you are mistaking is that you assume that as soon as the Vulcans make contact that just ends all of the problems. This is not the case. In First Contact we are seeing the Early years of the Post-Atomic Horror and we're only dealing with one faction of humans that are still fairly civilized in 2063.

By 2079 an attempt at a New United Nations failed. Obviously a number of factions gained enough power to form countries and have global talks, which indicates that a number of nations were recovering quite quickly, probably with the aid of the Vulcans, but there likely was a resource disparity which lead to rich nations fairing pretty well, but poor nations falling into what we see presented by Q.

By the 2100s Europe was reforming and uplifting the poorer communities, eventually forming the European Hegemony in 2123. Between this period and 2151, the United Earth Government formed and all governments by 2151 joined. 2151 is also when the NX-01 launched.

So the Post-Atomic Horror that TNG made famous with those Q episodes takes place 16 years AFTER First Contact and in areas of the world we generally don't look at in Star Trek. Most likely in Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia.

A more full run down can be found Here

There is also a episode in TOS that likely inspired the idea of the Post-Atomic Horror called the Omega Glory. You could think of it as a "what if the Vulcans never made first contact."


The Eugenics Wars took place in the 1990s and were a separate conflict lasting through the early 21st century. They were secret wars and not known as the Eugenics Wars until long afterwards.

World War Three was fought in 2053. Asia appeared to have suffered the most damage although several cities in North America and Europe were destroyed, and living conditions were worse than they had been since the Great Depression (First Contact), although based on a photograph of one of Captain Janeway's ancestors in Voyager, the impact was apparently less severe in some places. Most of the Post Atomic Horror (including the mutants and monsters that appeared afterward) seems to have happened in Asia (which might also explain why there are so few Asians in Star Trek overall). According to Picard, the world had been able to recover "within a generation" (First Contact) after meeting the Vulcans.

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