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During the second rebellion, the Capitol was still more powerful than all Districts combined. The difference should be even more because of continuous oppression of Districts by the Capitol. Individual Districts were forced to be no-creative labour workforce while the Capitol flourished in every aspect (which includes military research).

The only thing special this time was Mockingjay.

Mockingjay poster

But, she merely acted to unite the Districts. Last time, Districts were already united even to a greater extent. So, she was also not an advantage.

What exactly changed during the second rebellion that the Capitol lost? What prevented Capitol from nuking Districts this time? How did rebellions overcome Capitol's military might?

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    Well, luck. But also District 13's military buildup vs. The Capitol's complacency, and the growing discontent of many Capitol citizens (enabling some key betrayals).
    – Adamant
    Jan 15, 2018 at 1:31
  • 2
    And don't underestimate how effective making people miserable can be.
    – Adamant
    Jan 15, 2018 at 1:32

6 Answers 6

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The military might of Thirteen.

In the first rebellion, District Thirteen was allowed to survive cut off from the rest of civilisation, only because the Capitol feared the repercussions of destroying it completely.

During the Dark Days, the rebels in 13 wrested control from the government forces, trained their nuclear missiles on the Capitol, and then struck a bargain: They would play dead in exchange for being left alone. The Capitol had another nuclear arsenal out west, but it couldn't attack 13 without certain retaliation. It was forced to accept 13's deal. The Capitol demolished the visible remains of the district and cut off all access from the outside. Perhaps the Capitol's leaders thought that, without help, 13 would die off on its own. It almost did a few times, but it always managed to pull through due to strict sharing of resources, strenuous discipline, and constant vigilance against any further attacks from the Capitol.

-- Mockingjay, chapter 2

But instead of dying off, Thirteen spent the next seventy-five years preparing for another war. They built up their arsenal and devoted themselves to the downfall of the Capitol, who could do nothing to harm them underground. Meanwhile, the Capitol grew fat and complacent while living on the backs of the other districts - but still easily powerful enough to keep them suppressed. Without the strength of Thirteen, the war would have been lost almost before it started.

Propaganda

Never forget that the Hunger Games series is more of a propaganda story than a war story - or rather, it emphasises that what's truly important in war is propaganda. We know nothing about this aspect of the first rebellion, but it's safe to say that just as in the real world, propaganda techniques developed a great deal during seventy-five years.

Certainly in the second rebellion, one of the greatest propagandists of the Capitol defected to District Thirteen. From being Head Gamemaker (in charge of the biggest propaganda event in Capitol-run society), he became the de facto head of propaganda for the rebellion, and finally betrayed Coin just as he'd betrayed Snow when he set Katniss up to execute her. I'm talking, of course, about Plutarch Heavensbee, the real behind-the-scenes mastermind of events throughout the series.

Yes, Katniss was an important part of the propos for the rebellion. But she was only the face on the screen. The most vital part was the minds behind the propos: the mind which knew what to say to whom, how to influence the masses in the districts to rise up, how to fool Snow into watching them instead of the real threat in Thirteen. The effectiveness of the latter ploy can be seen in Snow's words to Katniss towards the end:

"I wasn't watching Coin. I was watching you, Mockingjay. And you were watching me. I'm afraid we have both been played for fools."

-- Mockingjay, chapter 25

Never underestimate the power of propaganda. This is one of the most important messages of the whole Hunger Games series.

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    This actually answers their other question about mutually-assured destruction, indirectly. My disagreement with their assumptions still stands, but in fact there was no nuclear war, not even a one-sided attack..
    – Adamant
    Jan 15, 2018 at 2:00
  • Adamant is talking about this question: scifi.stackexchange.com/q/178864/931 Jan 15, 2018 at 2:04
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This is a difficult question to answer, as not much is known about the First Rebellion. With the release of the new book, "The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes", we see that during the First Rebellion, the rebels, with support from District 13, were a formidable opponent, and were about as well-armed as the Capitol, judging by their ability to bomb the Capitol, take over the Capitol's bomb warning system, and cut off all food supplies to the Capitol during the last 3 years of the war. It seemed that the rebels were actually pretty close to victory. Were the rebels lacking in military power? It does not seem so. They were able to hold their own for 3 years, almost.

The failure was mention by Katniss during the first book of the Hunger Games (page 71). The rebels scaled the mountains which surrounded the Capitol in the invasion attempt, and mass numbers were killed off by the Capitol's air forces. This was most likely the failure of the First Rebellion.

During the Second Rebellion, all that is known is that Gale Hawthorne came up with the strategy to destroy the Nut (the Capitol's military headquarters) during the Battle of District 2. This move essentially defeated the Capitol and destroyed the Capitol's war efforts.

However, it is worth noting that the First Rebellion lasted around 3 years, since Coriolanus Snow was 5 when it began and 8 when the Hunger Games began. By contrast, the Second Rebellion lasted only a few months. What was the difference?

I presume that it is because District 13 functioned as an independent country for the 75 years prior to the Second Rebellion, they were able to learn to function independently, without outside support. They were able to develop reasonably good living standards and had plenty of time to properly develop their military and prepare for another rebellion. Perhaps District 13 was in a better position to take on the Capitol in the Second Rebellion.

Did strategies change? I assume that District 13 evaluated their military strategies during the First Rebellion and what went wrong. They avoided the same mistakes during the Second Rebellion when they did not scale the mountains to enter the Capitol.

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From the information available, what exactly changed during the 2nd Rebellion where the rebels won, was that by the time the rebels invaded the Capitol, the Capitol's military had already been decimated. With the bombing of the Nut (the Capitol's military headquarters) in District 2, the Capitol's control over Panem was pretty much over at this point (except for the city itself, of course!). In the film, following the bombing of the Nut, resulting in the Capitol losing what President Snow described as their "best troops", Snow himself acknowledged that the game was over at that point, and that they were toasting "a glorious era, coming to its bitter end". At that point, Snow began making preparations to face the rebels in the invasion of the Capitol, ordering his officials to ready anti-aircraft defenses, and the Gamemakers set up pods to cause large numbers of deaths to the rebel forces.

So, in conclusion, the turning point for the Second Rebellion was when the rebels launched airstrikes on the mountains surrounding the Nut in D2, triggering avalanches, burying the military base, and having nearly completely destroyed the Capitol's military (the air force of the Capitol was done, by this point). THIS is what sealed the Capitol's fate, and led to the war turning in favor of the rebellion.

By contrast, during the First Rebellion, it is mentioned that the rebels attempted to scale the Rocky Mountains to invade the Capitol, but were easily spotted and attacked by the Capitol's air force. According to the Hunger Games Wikia (and Katniss in the first book), this loss was a major factor in the First Rebellion's failure. As the rebels sent large numbers of soldiers to climb the Rockies to attack the Capitol, and losing large numbers in the attempt, this lead to the downfall of the First Rebellion. So apparently, when the rebels tried to invade the Capitol in the first rebellion, they had NOT completely destroyed the Capitol's military (it seemed like the Capitol was still quite strong then, compared to the 2nd rebellion, when the rebels completely destroyed the Capitol's military through the bombing of the Nut). I think this was probably the difference in the first and second rebellion.

I wonder, though, since during the First Rebellion, D13 was the military-industrial complex of the Capitol (D2 was the military-industrial complex in the second rebellion), and D13 had pried from the Capitol's rule, WHY was the Capitol still able to win, and use their air force to destroy the rebels trying to climb the Rockies? If the Capitol had gotten all their military equipment from D13 at the time of the First Rebellion and D13 was siding with the rebels, why was the Capitol still the winner at the end?

Maybe the Capitol had other military bases too, elsewhere throughout Panem?

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During the First Rebellion, the rebels were definitely NOT lacking in military might. It is mentioned in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes that during the last 2 years of the conflict, the Capitol was completely cut off from all the districts and from outside support. This led to massive starvation and poverty in the Capitol among its residents, and there was even an outbreak of rabies. Many Capitol citizens sold their goods to buy food, or even turned to cannibalism. This shows just how dire the situation was.

It also helps to remember that District 5 was able to send fake bomb warnings to the Capitol, and this allowed the rebels to do even further damage during real bombings. The fact that the rebels were able to bomb the Capitol repeatedly shows that they certainly did NOT lack military power or strength. The rebels certainly had a VERY good chance of winning the war. Given that they had the upper hand for the final 2 years of the conflict, there is little doubt that they were winning.

The problem, I believe, is at some point, it is mentioned that the rebels tried a mass invasion of the Capitol through scaling the Rocky Mountains. This was a brutal undertaking, and the Capitol's Air Force easily located them and killed off massive numbers of rebel soldiers. This was a massive loss for the rebels; imagine mass numbers of your own soldiers being killed in an attempted invasion of the Capitol. This would do serious damage to the rebels' morale and military might.

Apparently, when the rebels tried attacking the Capitol during the First Rebellion, they had not yet squashed the Capitol's military. I am not sure why; given that they were able to bomb the Capitol repeatedly, why not do something to cripple the Capitol's military? They were definitely not lacking in weaponry or military might.

The difference between the First and Second Rebellion? During the Second Rebellion, when the rebels invaded the Capitol, they did NOT scale the mountains. Prior to doing so, they already had utterly destroyed the Capitol's military through taking over the Nut (burying it by bombing the mountains). The bombing of the Nut buried the Capitol's military base, destroyed its air force, as well as its logistical capabilities, on top of killing mass numbers of Peacekeepers and Loyalist soldiers. This, I believe, ensured the rebels' victory.

Then again, we must remember that the Hunger Games Trilogy is fiction.

https://thehungergames.fandom.com/wiki/First_Rebellion#:~:text=The%20First%20Rebellion%20was%20a,the%20ruling%20totalitarian%20government%20of

https://thehungergames.fandom.com/wiki/District_5

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  • Hi, welcome to SF&F. Note that this answer is very similar to 3 of the existing answers. You could improve this and make it stand out by quoting relevant portions of the text instead of summarizing or paraphrasing them.
    – DavidW
    Jun 22 at 14:19
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To be honest, not much information regarding the First Rebellion is available. But according to an article about the First Rebellion from the Hunger Games Wikia:

The rebels were known to use falsified information and with support from District 13 and their military arsenal, were presumably able to fight on par with the Capitol's military forces for some time during the initial phase of the conflict.

However, in the first book, Katniss mentions:

The mountains (the Rockies) form a natural barrier between the Capitol and the eastern districts. It is almost impossible to enter from the east except through the tunnels. This geographical advantage was a major factor in the districts losing the war that led to my being a tribute today. Since the rebels had to scale the mountains, they were easy targets for the Capitol’s air forces.

According to the aforementioned article from the Hunger Games Wikia:

This loss presumably had a devastating impact on the rebel war effort and very likely was the catalyst for the war turning in favor for the Capitol.

In the second rebellion, by the time the rebels begin the invasion of the Capitol, the Capitol's air force and military was largely decimated, through the bombing of the Nut (the Capitol's primary military base) in District 2. With their military crippled, this allowed the Capitol to be easily invaded and overrun by the rebels, as the Capitol no longer had the means to defend itself. Following the bombing of the Nut in the movie (Mockingjay Part 2), President Snow admitted that the war was lost to the Capitol at that point, and that they were...

celebrating a glorious era, coming to its bitter end.

Presumably, the major difference between the First and Second Rebellions was that during the Second Rebellion, the rebels had almost completely decimated the Capitol's military prior to invading the Capitol. But in the First Rebellion, when they attempted to climb the Rockies to attack the Capitol, they had NOT done so. Therefore, their attempt to invade the Capitol cost them massive casualties, and eventually, the war itself. In fact, when they tried climbing the Rockies to reach the Capitol, the air force was mentioned to have been able to easily locate and bomb them. This suggests that the Capitol's air force was alive and well! Compare that with the Second Rebellion, when the destruction of the Nut in District 2 killed off the Capitol's air force.

I have always wondered this: During the First Rebellion, when District 13 was the center of the Capitol's Military-Industrial Complex, and District 13 began the rebellion, why did the Capitol still win? If Thirteen was the center of the Capitol's military/weapons production and THEY pulled away, why was the Capitol stil able to win?

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My best guess is the Defense Minister Antonius blunder, by which he left most of the Capitol troops trapped in the Nut, in District 2. Also, for instance, it says that "(p)rior to the Second Rebellion, this latter industry was apparently not widely known among the larger citizenry", which refer to Dis.2 military industrial complex and the Nut, which is a big deal in any war if you have no idea about opponents resources and source of its tech, logistics, etc. This time they knew about the Nut, and Antonius played into their hand.

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