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It is mentioned in Dune Messiah that Muad'Dib's jihad resulted in the "sterilization" of a number of planets.

“Very good, Stil.” Paul glanced at the reels in Korba’s hands. Korba stood with them as though he wished he could drop them and flee. “Statistics: at a conservative estimate, I’ve killed sixty-one billion, sterilized ninety planets, completely demoralized five hundred others. I’ve wiped out the followers of forty religions which had existed since—”

The question of why his followers felt the need to wage a Jihad is addressed here but I'd like to know how this particular feat (sterlising planets) was accomplished and what these poor souls did to deserve such treatment.

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    What information exactly are you seeking beyond what the answers to this question gives? scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/69304/…
    – tobiasvl
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 19:18
  • It is difficult even in the Dune Universe to "sterilize" an entire world, much less 90 worlds. I am curious if anyone has any insight into the methods used such as biological or atomics that I am not aware of, similar to the methods used in the Butlerian Jihad. Specifically this one segment of the Jihad doesn't seem to be addressed anywhere else. Perhaps its in an upcoming book? Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 19:24
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    Witness this fully armed and operational... oh wait, wrong universe.
    – void_ptr
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 19:26
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    @WilliamLedbetter it would probably be a good idea to completely change your question to reflect that you are asking HOW rather than WHY.
    – Broklynite
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 21:41
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    @Valorum if ever an edit deserved to be upvoted, yours would be it.
    – SQB
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 22:25

2 Answers 2

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The how is addressed in Paul of Dune. When Muad'dib wishes to destroy a world utterly, he waves his ringed hand and his armies make it happen using all the tools at their disposal. This would appear to include conventional explosives, chemical and biological weapons , but not nuclear weapons.

A Heighliner carried one hundred of the largest and most powerful Atreides vessels, each loaded to capacity with weapons, explosives, highly toxic chemical bombs, defoliants, and wide-dispersal incendiaries.

Paul had never given such a frightening command before: Sterilize the world. Memnon Thorvald's people had to be more than defeated, more than exterminated. They must be... gone.

The Atreides ships gave no warning, engaged in no negotiations, gave no quarter to the people of Ipyr. They switched off all but their battle communications systems, so no one would hear the wails of terror, the cries for mercy or, afterward, the resounding silence. The heavily armed vessels circled down, calling up charts of every single planetary settlement, and the annihilation began.

Paul of Dune on Google Books

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  • Thank you I had forgotten about that, I was wondering if it would be worthwhile to read Winds of Dune for clarification if it was mentioned but I'll probably stop now at least for the time being. Everything escalated so quickly in the later books its becoming hard to handle! Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 19:13
  • @Valorum “Memnon Thorvald's people had to be more than defeated, more than exterminated. They must be... gone." Since the terms “exterminated" and "gone" are synonyms, I wonder how FH distinguished one from the other?
    – Hydra119
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 0:58
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    @Hydra119 - Killing them is insufficient. He wants to make all evidence of their existence disappear
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 8:20
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    @Hydra119 Cross reference "memory hole" from 1984. The difference between "extinct but known" and "never existed" is psychologically powerful.
    – user15742
    Commented Aug 2, 2022 at 22:51
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Valorum's answer based on the non-Frank Herbert novels is certainly correct. However, I would suggest that it points out one of the many flaws in those sequel/prequels: they take things mentioned in the core books way too literally.

I doubt FH imagined Paul literally giving the order to sterilize a planet (this would be out of character even for Leto, who is much more bloody-minded). I take the passage mentioning sterilized planets to refer to Paul reflecting ruefully that the damage done by his Fremen legions pushed these planets into ecological collapse so complete they became sterile (imagine the destruction of critical terraforming equipment, or the global winter resulting from continent-wide uncontrolled fires). This would be in keeping with FH's overarching concern for ecological themes-- but admittedly does not have other textual support in the books.

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  • While we shouldn't depend on nonFrank Herbert books the real world fact is science fiction vastly under uses planetary sterilization. Any rock redirected into a planet or crashing spaceship has the same potential as the Chicxulub asteroid that killed the dinosaurs and most of everything else. A jihadist would have a trivial time destroying a world. Taking it over and occupying it is hard. Commented Jul 2, 2022 at 19:55
  • Late response but this is also a great point and I think is part of the reason why I had this question. It might be interesting to look at the usage of terms like ‘atomic’ and ‘sterilize’ between the FH and newer books. I always felt like the Dune universe was both too big and too small. There are references to the many worlds of the Landsraad but not enough time actually spent there to make it feel real. Like the destruction of Alderaan felt meaningful in Star Wars because it was tied to Leia but here 90 worlds just feels like a throw away line when it should be meaningful. Commented Mar 17 at 12:59

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