- "After all, it was Thirteen that started the rebellion that led to the Dark Days, and then abandoned the rest of the districts when the tide turned against it."
- ― President Snow[src]
The First Rebellion was a major civil war that erupted in the nation of Panem more than seventy-five years prior to the events of The Hunger Games, in which a rebel coalition force of the then thirteen districts of Panem, led by District 13, launched an open insurrection against the ruling totalitarian government of the Capitol. While no specific cause is stated for the outbreak of the First Rebellion, it is understood that it was the culmination of years of oppressive rule at the hands of the Capital, resulting in the districts rising up in revolt, a situation likely orchestrated and presumably instigated by District 13.
After approximately three years of conflict, the tide of the war turned in the Capitol's favor. Seeing that the rebellion was facing imminent defeat, District 13 abandoned the other districts in order to secure their own freedom. By seizing a portion of the Capitol's nuclear weapons and threatening to escalate the insurrection into a nuclear war, District 13 gained its independence in a separate peace with the Capitol. With the loss of support from 13, the remaining districts were quickly routed and pacified in the final phase of the conflict referred to commonly as the Dark Days. The conflict concluded with the final collapse of the rebellion and the signing of the Treaty of Treason and the resulting institution of the annual Hunger Games.
Some time after the collapse of modern civilization, the nation of Panem was established in North America, with its capital and seat of power, the Capitol, situated in the Rocky Mountains. In the following years after its founding, Panem expanded across North America and eventually was segmented into thirteen outlying districts that covered much of the former United States, Canada, and Mexico. The government of Panem was a totalitarian dictatorship and a police state in which each district was subservient to Panem's Capitol and responsible for producing goods of a particular industry to serve the growing needs of the nation and the Capitol in particular. Despite producing advanced technology and immense wealth, all of the goods and services provided by the districts were strictly controlled and operated by the oppressive government. The Capitol and its citizens were the only ones able to reap the full benefits of Panem's vast resources, largely at the expense and detriment to the district and its citizens, who had no say or control and largely remained impoverished. The oppressive nature of this relationship would, over a period of time, sow the seeds of dissent and resentment inevitably amongst the populace against the ruling government.
Eventually, the outlying districts grew tired of the oppressive regime of the Capitol and rose up in revolution against it. While no particular event is mentioned to have started the civil war, it can be assumed that since the rebel forces were led and largely supplied militarily by District 13, the then center of the Capital's military-industrial complex, its district leaders were the ones likely responsible in instigating the start of the conflict.
Very little information exist regarding the details of the First Rebellion and the scope of the conflict, although it is likely the war was waged across the entire country, with multiple fronts likely in most, if not all, of the districts. It presumably led to mass loss of life on both sides as well as immense devastation to the infrastructure of many districts.
It is known that the Capitol liberally used horrifying organic weapons called muttations alongside their regular military units to harass rebel forces. Such muttations included jabberjays, genetically modified birds used to spy on insurrectionist meetings and tracker jackers, genetically modified wasps that were extremely aggressive and possess potentially lethal, hallucinogenic venom. The Capitol also put down rebelling districts by carpet bombing them into submission with fleets of hovercrafts. 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.
For the last two years of the conflict, the Capitol was under siege, entirely cut off from outside supplies. As a result of this, food supplies ran extremely low for the Capitol, forcing desperate families to sell their goods and furniture for rations and lead to starvation amongst the city's populace. In extreme cases, some Capitol citizens resorted to cannibalism.
Eventually, the rebels attempted a mass invasion of the Capitol itself by scaling the Rocky Mountains. Such an undertaking, proved to be incredibly costly as the natural fortifications of the terrain exposed the invasion force to constant attack, presumably resulting in heavy rebel casualties. The invasion was ultimately a failure, as Capitol aircraft were able to easily find and destroy the rebel contingents trying to reach the city. 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.
The Dark Days
Towards the end of the conflict, the tide turned against the rebel forces. Realizing that freedom from the tyranny of the Capitol for all of the districts was no longer possible, District 13 instead decided to abandon its allies and secure its own independence by launching a successful gambit in seizing a portion of the Capitol's nuclear arsenal and targeting the city with them. Understanding the Capitol still possessed its own separate arsenal, District 13 threatened mutually assured destruction to force a secret ceasefire deal for itself and the Capitol: in exchange for District 13 withdrawing support from the rebel war effort and presenting the illusion that the Capitol destroyed the district, the Capitol would allow District 13 to quietly secede from Panem and be left alone as an independent state. Left with no other viable alternative, the Capitol reluctantly agreed to the terms of the ceasefire.
In accordance with the ceasefire, District 13 pulled back all of its military forces and assets to the district in a discrete manner, where it presumably relocated the entirety of its military and populace to a series of bunkers underground. It then allowed the Capitol to cut off all access to district from the rest of Panem and demolish the infrastructure above through repeated carpet bombing. The Capitol would use the decimated ruins of District 13 as propaganda to showcase the consequences for rebelling against the government. With the total loss of support from District 13, their primary military benefactor, the remaining districts could not hope to further resist against the Capitol forces. In the final phase of the war, commonly referred to as the Dark Days, the Capitol quickly overran all rebel resistance across Panem as the rebellion collapsed in the face of superior numbers and weaponry. One by one, the remaining districts were eventually pacified until at last Panem was reunited under the firm grip of the Capitol.
With the collapse of the rebellion, the Treaty of Treason was put into effect on the defeated districts. The Treaty imposed a number of restrictions on the districts that severely curtailed civil liberties, including inter-district travel and communication, while expanding surveillance and punishment for dissent that was ruthlessly enforced by the Peacekeeper Corps.
The Treaty's most prominent and lasting provision was founding the annual Hunger Games event, both as a cruel reminder of the rebellion and to ensure it never occurred again. It mandated that each district must select one male and female tribute between the ages of 12 and 18 via a lottery system each. The selected children would be taken to the Capitol where they were to be briefly trained before fighting to the death in a winner-take all battle royale in a engineered arena until only one remained, who was crowned Victor.
The most prominent and lasting legacy of the failure of the First Rebellion was the Hunger Games, instituted for the exact purpose of reminding the twelve districts each year of the consequence of rebellion and that they should never attempt it again. In addition, restrictions on communications and travel between the districts were effective at preventing rebel coordination across the districts and isolating Panem's dispersed population.
- One of the most infamous muttations used in the First Rebellion was the jabberjay, birds that had been genetically modified by the Capitol to mimic human voices. They would fly to the districts during the rebellion and spy on insurrectionist meetings. They would then fly back to the Capitol and report back with direct information from the districts. Upon discovering this, the rebels fed the jabberjays false information. The Capitol then abandoned the jabberjays, releasing them into the wild and inadvertently creating mockingjays, which became the symbol of the Second Rebellion.
- Another infamous muttation employed by the Capitol against the First Rebellion was the tracker jackers, genetically modified wasps which were extremely aggressive and possess potentially lethal, hallucinogenic venom. However, they were easily sedated by smoke.
- The rebellion had presumably lasted for 3 years, as Snow was 5 years of age on the first year the war broke out, and was 8 years old when the Hunger games officially began.
- Canfield, David (May 12, 2020). Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes: Listen to the first 11 minutes of the Hunger Games prequel. Retrieved on May 12, 2020.