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It's the early 23rd century, and we are about 50 years into Mars being colonized. The planet, which was supposed to usher in a new era in civilization and the expansion of humanity into the stars, hasn't quite played out that way. Instead, Mars is really just more of a depressing, harsh resource mining facility populated by the disenchanted and dissatisfied. There are civilians living there but they're not particularly happy either.

The Earth governments strictly control everything on Mars, and although the planet has been vying for independence, they have been refused time and time again. They are not quite self-sufficient, but they're getting there, and ideologies and belief systems on the planet have already diverged greatly from the home planet.

There is a growing rebellion forming on Mars, led by a charismatic militant leader who has the ear of the planet. Their goal is to gain independence and they will do anything to achieve it, even if it means causing mass destruction and calamity to Earth and its populace.

The problem is: there is no way in hell that Mars would ever win in a straight-up war. They are way, WAY outnumbered, and way outgunned. Earth would simply wipe them off the map if they tried. Mars does have the following potential trump cards though:

  • The ability to mine and transport small asteroids from the belt – this new resource extraction method started recently
  • Lots of Mars sympathizers on Earth who believe the planet should get its independence
  • Spies within the government and military installations on Earth, as well as in medical and biochemical research labs

How can they exploit the above to level the playing field and get around the big d**k swinging competition when it comes to raw manpower and weaponry?

Two options I was considering:

  • Throw an asteroid into the planet, or break it up into pieces for orbital bombardment. However, this is extreme and would leave the Earth and its infrastructure unusable for a while.
  • Release a bioweapon that they have immunity to to destabilize the population and the Earth militaries – this still leaves the infrastructure usable, and they can put boots on the ground and along with Martian supporters, start a campaign to take over the ruined Earth.

Do any of these make sense? Or are there any other methods that they could use?

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    $\begingroup$ Have you read any past works on Martian colonisation/independence? I'm a fan of Red/Green/Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson, but there are others. Your ideas and many like them have been covered in depth by many authors over the last fifty years or so ;-) $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Nov 5 at 16:40
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    $\begingroup$ But specific to your suggestion... you can't surreptitiously throw an asteroid at Earth, and your scenario implies a mature spacefaring society who'd be entirely capable of defending against such an attack. And charismatic leader or no, are all the martians so happy to commit genocide on a scale never seen before, and perhaps unlikely to be ever achieved again? And potentially trigger a terrible revenge attack? $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Nov 5 at 16:42
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    $\begingroup$ Lots of Mars sympathizers on Earth who believe the planet should get its independence Throw an asteroid into the planet, or break it up into pieces for orbital bombardment They won't be very sympathetic if you do that. Unless Mars is completely self sufficient, you don't want to cause longterm damage to Earth $\endgroup$ – nzaman Nov 5 at 16:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Faz you don't have to read all of it ;-) but seriously; this isn't fresh ground you're treading here; there's lots of good stuff to read/watch/play, and if it doesn't give you any good ideas it'll at least expose you to the terrible ideas and cliches that should be best avoided. "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it", and all that. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Nov 5 at 17:13
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    $\begingroup$ Von Clausewitz answered this question over 150 years ago. War is a political instrument, and wars pursue political goals...like independence. There are lots of political instruments, use them all in concert. See Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress for how he answered a very, very similar question. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Nov 5 at 17:24

19 Answers 19

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Using WMD against Earth will cause entire Earth to unite and demand revenge.

Instead, I propose the same way that US gained its independence (while still requiring supplies from the old world): find a sponsor nation in the old word. Specifically, US was relying on France, which wanted to weaken Britain.

Your colony could find a nation on Earth that is willing to support its independence, and continue supplying it with high-tech goods that Mars cannot produce yet. Maybe exploit differences between US & Europe, or maybe go to a rapidly developing nation eager to prove its superpower status (like China or India)

As for military action, the goal is not a complete defeat, but the cost of it. Earth needs resources from Mars (why establish mining otherwise), Mars needs technology from Earth, and everybody knows the trade will continue. The only issue is splitting the profits from this trade.

All Mars needs to do is to make cost of military intervention exceed the profit from keeping old terms of trade. Shipping heavy military hardware from Earth to Mars is very expensive. Martians have home turf advantage: they know places to hide, they can tunnel under Earth's bases, etc.

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    $\begingroup$ I love this idea. Definitely would make sense for them to buddy up with another powerful nation that has an axe to grind with other major powers. $\endgroup$ – Faz Nov 5 at 17:12
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    $\begingroup$ also since you're drawing from history, you have all kinds of source material, betrayals, battles, crazy people, the rich driving the whole thing over money/taxes, the long voyage to fight a war in a foreign land, and some darker things like slavery that you could weave in (or leave out) as you like $\endgroup$ – ContextSwitch Nov 6 at 15:37
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for this "As for military action, the goal is not a complete defeat, but the cost of it. " Many wars were decided historically by this. The most famous is the Vietnam War, which the USA lost without its army being vanquished: the war just got so expensive that the USA didn't want to commit even more men and even more resources into it. So they just went back home. $\endgroup$ – vsz Nov 6 at 21:33
  • $\begingroup$ @vsz in fact the US won every battlefield engagement with the NVA/VC, and had the political will been there could have ended the war in weeks most likely. $\endgroup$ – jwenting Nov 7 at 6:13
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    $\begingroup$ "Lots of Mars sympathizers on Earth who believe the planet should get its independence" definitely supports this argument $\endgroup$ – DarthCadeus Nov 7 at 14:12
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The same way the American Revolution and the Vietnam War were won. Just make it too costly to fight for the occupiers. Rebels don't need to win, just not lose.

So stick to small-scale hit-and-run attacks on occupation forces. Assassinate occupation officials, vandalize the Earth-Mars Public Relations Offices (read: propaganda centers), ambush patrols, sabotage any local resources the occupiers use, get people on the inside to feed you info and/or steal equipment for you. Eventually public opinion back on Earth will shift, they'll tire of burying their officials and wasting their money, and they'll give Mars independence.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 on this. Students should read Bernardo LaPaz's explanation of this in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress -- it boils down to "the long, expensive supply line is your greatest ally." Your enemy can destroy you if they choose, but to hold you will cost far more than you're worth to them. $\endgroup$ – Zeiss Ikon Nov 5 at 17:09
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    $\begingroup$ @ZeissIkon And note that the Moon could easily shoot at Earth, Earth could only shoot at the Moon with considerable difficulty. Mars comes reasonably close to this--the atmosphere is thin enough that mass driver launch of kinetic weapons is feasible. Earth certainly can shoot down one. Can they shoot down 100? $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Nov 6 at 11:46
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    $\begingroup$ In both the actual American Revolution, and in "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress", the military and economic actions were supported by strong diplomatic efforts. $\endgroup$ – Patricia Shanahan Nov 6 at 13:30
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Strike.

On Earth, employeers can send in strikebreaking scabs to work the mine or thugs to beat up the strikers. Governments can replace the strikers outright like Reagan did with the air traffic controllers. Despite this, worker's strikes have been pretty effective at winning concessions for workers.

Martian workers have big advantages when it comes to going on strike. Like any strike, when the workers stop work, the revenue stops flowing. But there is no good way Earth corporations can break the strike - they cannot exactly send in scabs because there is not a population of them handy on Mars. They cannot easily send thugs. The government could send shiploads of people to replace them but if I were an earthling I would hesitate to sign up for that trip. The Martians will not be happy to see me, if they even let the ship land. The government could shut off supply ships to Mars to try to strongarm them, but that risks chaos.

The earth companies who profit from Mars do not want chaos. Because of that, Martian workers are in a position to get big concessions. If the concession is autonomy and the raw materials keep flowing, earthbound corporations will lean on the government to give the Martians what they want. After all, the corporations will profit regardless of whose face is on the Martian money. Where else are the Martians going to sell their stuff? If the government is grumpy about losing the tax revenue, they can just tax the Earth corporations and get it that way.

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  • $\begingroup$ The transit time to Mars works in favor of the strikers. Any change to what flows from Earth to Mars -- whether sending scab workers, strike-busting thugs, or just cutting off the flow of supplies -- will not affect Mars for a minimum of six months. $\endgroup$ – Codes with Hammer Nov 6 at 14:47
  • $\begingroup$ @CodeswithHammer That doesn't really change much, though. If you skip a month of supplies, those supplies will still be missing five months later. It's not necessarily true that after the conflict is resolved, you could afford to send extra supplies to offset the ones "lost". And that's if you assume Mars actually has half a year of supplies - more likely, there are supply ships already on way. While they can't easily return back to Earth mid-way, they may be able to either return as soon as they arrive, or just stay without unloading their cargo. The transit time is a disadvantage. $\endgroup$ – Luaan Nov 7 at 9:59
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    $\begingroup$ @CodeswithHammer Transit time is an advantage to the rebels only if they don't actually depend on the supplies - in the American Revolution, there was already plenty of industry in the colonies, as well as alternate supplies from France etc. There also wasn't a practical way to contact merchants already on the way - or indeed, restrict "free" merchants as soon as the colonies stopped cooperating. Whether this translates to advantage to the rebels or the masters depends on way too many factors - the idea that "whatever we do doesn't affect anything for six months" is false. $\endgroup$ – Luaan Nov 7 at 10:01
  • $\begingroup$ Strike opposition can hire scabs and thugs on Mars. All the dissatisfied and disenchanted people are a great recruiting pool - plus as soon as it becomes know that Earth could hire such scabs and thugs, you'll have internal strife on Mars, weakening the opposition. $\endgroup$ – toolforger Nov 8 at 16:09
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Just wait it out.

Mars is not a particularly good target for mining; it is at the bottom of a fairly deep gravity well, after all. Not as deep as Earth's, but still very inconvenient. If mining offworld resources is important, the coporate and national interests who control the mining operations will eventually turn outwards to the asteroid belt. Much more material, much easier to get to, much cheaper and easier to ship back to Earth.

You can tip the balance by a little careful sabotage, a little halfhearted industrial action, general poor economic performance. Nothing too bad, because the value is in the resources and not the people and if you become a real problem, a real brutalist colonial power will stomp you out and bring in new workers. And remember that on a dead world, stomping you out can be done much more thoroughly than is practical in most places on earth.

If Mars' only value is in the resources that can be extracted from it, once it becomes valueless to the colonial powers they will abandon it. You will then have a whole new set of problems as a post-colonialist state, such as that charismatic militant leader becoming the next supreme chairperson or generalissimo, or the sudden lack of availability of medical supplies or critical bits of hi-tech equipment that can't be fabricated locally. A cursory glance over the political history of, say, almost any resource-rich country in Africa over the last 100 or so years is likely to give you some hints of how your newfound freedom will be enjoyed by a fresh, new 1%.

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    $\begingroup$ Actual Mars mining is sort of silly, based on what we know about Mars at the moment at least, but Mars would still be a useful place for belt miners to live between excursions out to the belt for belt mining (which is pretty practical), assuming that permanent settlements in the belt are impractical. All of that hinges on how well humans cope with very long-term microgravity, which as far as I know is still a matter of current research. $\endgroup$ – Ian Nov 5 at 18:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Ian spun habitats built in-situ in the belt might be more practical, but the techlevel here is unclear. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Nov 5 at 18:10
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    $\begingroup$ (Just a fun fact: the kinetic energy to spin up a roughly spherical object of roughly homogeneous density to make spin gravity with acceleration $a$ on the surface is on the order of $m a r$, which in the case of something like Ceres with $a$ on the order of 1 g is on the order of a million years of current global electricity consumption. The Expanse's Ceres Station would thus be the greatest engineering accomplishment in the history of humanity by far, at the start of the story.) $\endgroup$ – Ian Nov 5 at 18:31
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    $\begingroup$ @Ian If you are going to spin something up to give gravity, surely you don't want it "roughly homogeneous density" - you want a cylinder, or a toroidal tube? I haven't done the maths, but I think if you spin a long cylinder (so most of the mass is in the other wall), the KE in each bit of mass will be larger than your homogeneous sphere (because they are all moving at maximum speed), but the total mass will be much much less (because most of the cylinder is empty). $\endgroup$ – Martin Bonner supports Monica Nov 6 at 11:05
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    $\begingroup$ @MartinBonnersupportsMonica this specific example was the weirdness of spinning up Ceres in The Expanse, I believe. And yes, it is a very silly idea. though if you were intending to dismantle Ceres entirely it isn't quite so strange... $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Nov 6 at 11:09
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The earthians only have to withold its supplies to defeat the martians. Earth can wait a while on the raw materials, but the Martians will suffer and potentially die if they dont get the necessary goods. So the solution isnt to fight them but to use diplomatic relations.

You mention two options yourself. Throwing an asteroid is likely going to fail. The earth can and will moniter all actions taken by the martians. If they see an asteroid miner start pushing an asteroid they have time to react. Even if they dont spot it immediately they will likely have months to give it a nudge that will make the asteroid miss earth. The other option was a plague, but this presents other problems. Earth builds your supplies, and those might stop for too long if you hit earth with a plague. Additionally a space-ship is an enclosed structure, making people on one ship sick (how?) would lead to quarantine and it would stop right there. Sickening the earth would also lead to quarantine's and still a retaliation by all space ships and orbital platforms that arent infected. The martians would likely have no substantial boots on the ground for years even if the virus succeeds in decimating the population and none of the agents and sympathizers who are proven to be immune are reverse-engineered for the cure. By then most of that infrastructure will have fallen in disrepair, knowledge to operate it is minimal and the martians will have been without the supplies they supposedly need for a long time while their soldiers have had to fight (and potentially still lose) the earth soldiers in space and maybe even on Mars itself.

They have people in governments, militaries and civilian sectors that support them or are even direct spies. Getting the support for the people on earth would be critical in this scenario. Military actions would likely not help your cause, so any that does happen should be from the position of supposed victim. A divide and conquer strategy would be ideal if possible. Trying to tell the united America's how those dirty European unionists make parts of shipments dissappear, creating incidents between military divisions where one faction's guns fire one salvo at another faction and the like. The martians can then become the small 3rd party that can make either team win by offering military aid or by offering economical advantages to whoever is more lenient to them, lets say more materials in trade for the equipment to be self-sufficient and independant...? Surely the group that does that could see the benefit of Mars producing more resources that would SURELY end up in the proper production facilities, you wash my back and I wash yours right?

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Lots of different strategies have already been proposed.

But for the sheer warfare aspect, it really is very simple: They sit at the better position in the gravity well.

enter image description here

The Delta-V need to shoot something from Mars to Earth is much less than the Delta-V you need to shoot something from Earth to Mars. Not only is Earth gravity higher, you also need to fight the Sun's gravity as Mars is more distant from the Sun. From Mars, on the other hand, you just need to bring something into Mars orbit and can essentially make a guided drop from there.

All wars are at their core wars of attrition. In a full-scale war, whoever first cannot supply the frontlines with manpower, ammunition or fuel, machines and weapons or other things needed to keep fighting will be defeated. "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers" has a brilliant chapter on WW2 showing that the Allies essentially overpowered the Axis by sheer numbers. The war turned when the Allies began to outproduce the Axis in tanks and aircrafts (USA, UK) and the Russians outspent them in men thrown into the meat grinder.

If you need to spend three or four times as much energy, fuel and materials just to reach your opponent, the tables are turned badly against you. You would have to outproduce your enemy by at least that factor in order to win. Now try to convince your Earth population that they need to turn their entire economy towards war in order to defeat tiny Mars.

So I challenge your assumption that Earth could wipe the floor with Mars. Just getting your fleet there is not a small feat, and running supply lines all that way - good luck. The German submarines were a serious threat to the US supplies in WW2. Imagine how much more could happen to supply ships in space. Just raining things down the gravity well would already be a quite effective defense. At the speeds needed to make travel times acceptable, a small rock would tear a clean hole through the entire ship, engine and all.

By physics alone, my bet is on Mars, not Earth.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Not only is Earth gravity higher, you also need to fight the Sun's gravity as Mars is more distant from the Sun." Shouldn't this just be "Earth gravity is higher"? The rest is symmetric: to go from a Martian orbit to a Terran orbit you need to slow down by exactly the same amount that you need to speed up to go from a Terran orbit to a Martian orbit. $\endgroup$ – Peter Taylor Nov 7 at 12:10
  • $\begingroup$ You need a transfer orbit. But you can just slow down and you'll fall towards the sun. That doesn't work the other way around. $\endgroup$ – Tom Nov 7 at 22:47
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    $\begingroup$ Also, because the distance from Earth to Mars is not constant, it means that an ininterrupted supply of resource is not possible (like what was done in west Berlin during USSR era). If the shipping cost is only minimal every 2 years, this means you'll have 2 years to recover/prepare your next attack, that's plenty of time to build/improve technology. $\endgroup$ – xryl669 Nov 8 at 15:05
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You can't on your own. Most independences on Earth happened because the colonial overlord exhausted itself fighting large-scale warfare against other great powers.

-Latin America: Spain and Portugal were defeated by Napoleon.

-USA: Just after the 7 years war.

-India: India is free not because of Ghandi but because of the Kaiser and Hitler.

-Indichina mentioned in another answer and the african colonies: the aftermath of WW2 and the cold war.

-Ukraine and the soviet sattelites: USSR lost the cold war and went bankrupt.

So your colonists will only have a chance to be free when the earth's nations once again wage large scale warfare against each other. If earth is united they will have to wait for the the inevitable power struggles and civil wars, analogues to the byzantine civil wars and An Lishi Rebellion.

PS.: Don't throw asteroids on Earth. The earthlings will react in kind by nuclear carpeting Mars. Since Mars has no ecology worth preserving there is nothing stopping the earthlings from using 200mt bombs configured for radiation, maybe cobalt-laced tsar bombs mounted in missiles with hundreds of decoys. Earth can survive 20 tunguskas-level events over it's cities, the martians can't survive 20 tsar bombs because they die if the infrastructure is destroyed and their population is much smaller. It's like Mao said about nuclear war with the US: if half a billion dies on both sides America is gone but China will still be there.

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This answer is quite simple: learn from the French

France held a solid colonial empire until not so long ago. Then WWII happened. In 1940, France surrendered to Germany. History books gladly tell the tale of Charles de Gaulle going to England to fight the good fight. These books are light on the fate of the colonies. Here are two cautionary tales.


TL;DR: Independence is inevitable. Or when someone takes arms to fight for their independence, there's only two things you can give them: liberty or death.


Indochina

Before Vietnam there was French Indochina. In 1940, the Vichy regime, being now an ally of Nazi Germany, got to maintain administration over its colonies, and in particular Indochina, even as it became a de facto Japanese military occupation. After the liberation of France in 1944, the Japanese decided to seize control of Indochina for fear that the colonial government of France would start to work against them.

The Viet Minh was initially created to fight against the French Empire, and during WWII fought the Japanese occupation, with the support of the US. The Viet Minh kicked the Japanese out and declared the independence of Vietnam. This was short-lived as a victorious France came back to reclaim its colony. This lead to the Indochina War, that opposed the Viet Minh, now supported by China, against France, with support of the US.

The Indochina War lasted from 1946 to 1954, and ended after an humiliating defeat at Dien Bien Phu. The Viet Minh had managed to transport artillery across the dense Vietnamese jungle and assemble them all around a French military camp. While they took heavy losses themselves, they forced the French commanders to surrender. French Indochina was replaced by Cambodia, Laos and North and South Vietnam.

The Vietnam War was the logical sequel to the conflict. The leaders of the Viet Minh, now leaders of North Vietnam, weren't satisfied with the split between North and South. And like the Viet Minh against the Japanese and the French, the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army used guerilla tactics against South Vietnam and the US, and won.

Algeria

Algeria was a French colony in 1940. It remained under French rule, Vichy French rule, with the French army defending it against Free France and the Allies. But while the government collaborated, indigènes, Native-Algerians if you will, were not particularly interested in helping the Vichy regime round up Jews. Nationalists were split. There were those that wholeheartedly supported the Allies. There were others that considered that their fight was independence, not anti-fascism.

When Algeria was liberated and Alger became the capital of Free France until the liberation of Paris, nationalists had hopes this would mean recognition from the French. It did not. The anti-colonial sentiment grew for the rest of WWII. On May 8, 1945, the day Nazi Germany surrendered, at least 6000 Algerians were massacred by the French army. This planted the seed that, 9 years later in 1954, became the Algerian War of Independence.

The war was brutal, nationalists faced against a French military resolute to not lose another war. This wasn't a far away land like Indochina, for all intents and purposes it was France. The French army and Algerian loyalists outnumbered Algerian nationalists. Like in Indochina, the Algerian War was asymmetric. Nationalists fought a guerilla war against a regular army.

The conflict saw the end of the Fourth French Republic, and the beginning of the Fifth. The Algerian National Liberation Front kept fighting. Eventually, the French negotiated an end to the war, and in 1962 Algeria took its independence.

The lesson

The French did the same critical mistake twice: they thought they could fight the will of the people with tanks. They should have known better, they had just ousted the superior Germans force out of their home.

WWII exacerbated the anti-colonial sentiments in those countries, and the way France handled it post-war was by sending troops. It just served to widen the divide. Guerilla tactics proved more than effective against a conventional army that was used to fight a conventional enemy. But that's not why the French lost these war. They lost because, from the very beginning, they never had the hearts and minds of the people.

After decades of an average colonial rule, which is to say far from bloodless, the French found that the people they ruled over overseas simply didn't like them very much. And as the wars dragged on, the bodies piled up and reports of exactions came up, the French people also started to find they didn't like that line of action very much. Indochina and Algeria proved to be more trouble than was worth.

The home field advantage is a supreme tactical and strategic advantage. But in the end, the side willing to sacrifice everything for their own land won.

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  • $\begingroup$ Maybe independence is not always inevitable, but in this case it clearly was. $\endgroup$ – llywrch Nov 6 at 19:17
  • $\begingroup$ @llywrch Maybe not always, but under the circumstances, which are suspiciously similar, I only see two outcomes: either colonial Earth accepts independence as a matter of fact, or try to fight it and kill 'em all. But as history shows the latter is deceptively hard to achieve. $\endgroup$ – AmiralPatate Nov 7 at 7:49
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If the Martian rebels are stuck on the surface of Mars, things are much harder for them. As other answers have noted, you're really only left with mass civil disobedience or terrorism as solutions. Not that these are necessarily a bad option - civil disobedience by Gandhi's supporters was the foundation of India, and terrorism by the Irgun was the foundation of Israel, so this certainly can work.

But you also mention that Mars has "the ability to mine and transport small asteroids from the belt". That implies that they have interplanetary spaceflight capabilities, orbital stations to manage this transport, and a whole fleet of spacecraft with significant range, endurance and load-carrying ability. With that, Mars has the ability to go full Lucifer's Hammer on the Earth, simply by choosing the destination for those asteroids. As the Cold War and the doctrine of mutually assured destruction demonstrates, it is not necessary to actually use that weapon, only to show that you have it and are prepared to use it.

In theory Earth could shoot down an incoming asteroid. In practise though, all that would happen is that you get more smaller pieces of asteroid, most of which will land and do serious damage anyway. (The Hollywood plan of breaking up the asteroid to make it pass either side of the Earth is radically implausible, in spite of the exciting special effects.) Breaking up the asteroid will also guarantee Kessler Syndrome and leave Earth unable to get to orbit. This is a win-win scenario for Mars.

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Have you read the book Wasp by Eric Frank Russell? The book focuses on a single, heavily outnumbered, spy planted on an enemy planet, in your case this would be Earth, and using the tension from the war, however this could easily be just tension from a war between countries not races. The protagonist in ‘wasp’ uses propaganda to eventually get much of the worlds defence force chasing him, allowing an easy invasion.

What I am suggesting is that you equip many of your spies with propaganda, mainly designed to show that the leaders of earth are incapable of doing there job, gaining support from the majority can come later.

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    $\begingroup$ The wasp was a terrorist who used disinformation, counterfeiting, & murdering a few aliens to help defeat a very dumb species of aliens. What you propose is asymmetric warfare, but it is terrorism. It is the practical & logical way to fight Mother Earth. $\endgroup$ – a4android Nov 7 at 7:53
  • $\begingroup$ I'd even say "unrealistically dumb aliens". $\endgroup$ – Oleg V. Volkov Nov 14 at 0:10
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As another poster mentioned, Mars doesn't need to win, just not lose. I'd take it a step further and say the most dangerous rebel/terrorist is the one with little or nothing to lose. "I don't care if I live, as long as we both die." This is what makes suicide bombers so scary. There is an advantage to having less to lose than the other guy.

Mars doesn't need to win a war against Earth, but if Mars is willing to destroy itself in order to seriously damage earth, it has scary leverage. Heck, it might be the case that Earth has become so dependent on the Mars operations that Mars could threaten NOTHING except destroying itself and still prevail.

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The Japanese sci-fi franchise Gundam have explored and expanded on this topic for many years and have quite a few established framework. Though a lot of them have built upon the idea that the "spacenoids" are more technologically (or even evolutionarily) advanced and could thus compensate for their relative lack of resource and manpower. Not sure if they are applicable here.

Nonetheless as far as warfare is concerned, I've seen several ways that Earth get defeated -

  1. Asteroid / orbital bombardment like you said.
  2. Long range precision targeting weapon, aiming at critical targets (miltary base, command centers, etc.)
  3. Exploiting Earth's reliance on energy or other resources. Earth's big population comes with a cost. It's perceivable that by 23rd century fossil energy wouldn't be the major energy source. In Gundam SEED for example, Earth uses nuclear energy, and their adversary developed and deployed neutron jammer, a device that suppresses nuclear fission reactions by blocking the movement of free neutrons, thus creating a major energy crisis on Earth.
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  • $\begingroup$ JFYI, Earth Federation won or at least preserved and maintained control through each and every Gundam sub-story and each and every "alternate dimension". $\endgroup$ – Oleg V. Volkov Nov 14 at 0:07
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Assuming no new technology has been invented that drastically reduces the cost of getting something from Earth to Mars, then in reality even the small industrial output of the Martians would exceed whatever military equipment and manpower Earth could transport to the Martian surface. It is the Earth forces that would be outnumbered and outgunned in a land war on Mars.

It's been said that the reason the United States was able to avoid being preyed upon by more powerful European countries during its youth was the fact that it had two very, very big moats on either side of it.

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Space Docks.

The martian got the lion's share of them.

Building starships is really sensitive to solar radiation and operating on the dark side of the planet is nonviable for safety. Thus we build on Mars.

The martians are the prime shipbuilders who in turn can remotely access all the ships made in they space docks using maintenance protocols.

Overrides that engineers leave in the systems in order to diagnose and repair the fleets.

Earth Space Navvy can only command a tiny part of all of Humanity's spacefaring vessels. The other is under direct control of mars with the press of a keystroke.

Now with all the high command in space, celebrities singing on the moon and kids doing their first space trip, all those are our hostages.

And we demand independence.

Or else.

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    $\begingroup$ Spending a little time to make this more coherent would greatly improve it. $\endgroup$ – Harper - Reinstate Monica Nov 7 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ Rephrased the answer for clarity. $\endgroup$ – Gustavo Nov 7 at 18:50
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This is a very interesting problem you have. However, thankfully, a viable answer does exist.

In the novel The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World, the main character says at one point that interplanetary invasions are completely impossible. This is because of two facts:

(1): Fleets, due to their transitive nature, have relatively limited firepower.

(2): Planets, on the other hand, have essentially unlimited resources (as compared to a fleet). As a result, any planet with the ability to make space stations can easily scrounge up enough firepower to destroy any fleet which tries to land there.

(3): Because of facts # 1 & 2, it is impossible to land any sizable number of troops on a planet, let alone keep them supplied.

As a result, the only thing which works when attacking an enemy planet is a swift nuking of the entire inhabitable surface. Of course though, that has the side effect of making said planet unusable for several millenia...

Also, @Tom has a very good point. It would be almost impossible to get a fleet to mars in the first place.

Relative to the "Let's Just Launch some Asteroids" idea, it simply would not work. This is because the sheer distance separating Earth and Mars gives Earth plenty of time to destroy any asteroids. "Oh, but it worked in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress! Maybe, but that was only because the asteroids were being launched from so close to Earth, and the velocity was so huge that, even if the Earth military HAD been able to destroy the asteroids, the resulting fragments would actually cause MORE damage than if they just let the asteroids do their thing. Here is a Windows Paint drawing making my point:

Image describing my point about asteroids.

As you can see, it is highly dubious that any fragments would actually make it to Earth. In addition, these fragments would be travelling at such low velocities that they would burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.

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    $\begingroup$ They don't need any firepower. They only need resource management. If the Martian are not technically independent, the earth just need to stop supplying resources and Martian will die. No war to fight whatsoever. $\endgroup$ – xryl669 Nov 8 at 15:02
  • $\begingroup$ @xryl669: The question assumes that the Martians have resource management, so I wrote my answer from that standpoint. $\endgroup$ – thescribe Nov 15 at 12:46
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I'm reminded of the explanation given in the novel Ecotopia for how the Pacific States successfully succeeded from the rest of the United States: they planted nuclear bombs under the major cities in the other parts of the country, & threatened to set them off if the US used its massive imbalance of power to quash the rebellion.

Looking back, this was little more than a plot device, mentioned once & never really expanded on -- & probably impractical in any case -- but in your scenario, it might actually work: fifth columnists rig nuclear bombs to level various major cities on Earth unless Earth allows Mars independence. Maybe they had to set one or two off in order to prove these bombs actually existed.

On another note, Earth crushing a rebellion on Mars would not be as simple as it might seem, despite the given inequality of power. Yes, Earth could probably ship over a very large army to crush any revolt, but should something happen where the expeditionary force needs reinforcements, it could take as long as a year for the reinforcements to arrive. Plus all the items an army needs to be an army -- food, clothing, materiel, etc. -- would likely need to be shipped from Earth too. It would require a lot of planning & management to keep the support pipeline flowing during any war on Mars. So the solution to your problem might be something as simple as the Martians capture some key military bases on Mars, & the PTB on Earth do some calculations, decide it's not worth the effort to reconquer the planet, & after a few minor military actions for the sake of honor declare victory & bring their remaining troops home.

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  • $\begingroup$ The earth expeditionary forces would suffer like the spanish suffered in South America: The loyalist headquarters was in Peru, many months away from Spain. $\endgroup$ – Geronimo Nov 6 at 13:32
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It sounds like Mars already has the ultimate weapon - a charismatic leader. Make them a Gandhi-like figure who can overwhelm the colonisers with his moral authority and nobody needs to be killed. The most successful revolutions are the bloodless ones.

I assume the population of Mars is extremely low (not sure that you would need any people at all) so independence should not be much of an issue so long as the mineral rights aspect is clear.

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    $\begingroup$ " The most successful revolutions are the bloodless ones." Citation needed. US independence seems to have been pretty successful (not to mention that Indian independence cost the lives of 200,000 - 2,000,000 people through partition). $\endgroup$ – Martin Bonner supports Monica Nov 6 at 11:08
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    $\begingroup$ If Britain hadn't been devastated by two world wars the Union Jack would still be flying over the Indian Subcontinent. The real liberators of India were Kaiser William and Adolph Hitler, not Gandhi. $\endgroup$ – Geronimo Nov 6 at 13:30
  • $\begingroup$ Obvious rating revolutions is subjective -- Zhou Enlai's comment on the French Revolution was that it was too early to say (apocryphally). But looking at the colour revolutions in Eastern Europe and elsewhere I'd say those are vastly preferable. Maybe in the 23rd century we won't need violent revolution? $\endgroup$ – David Hambling Nov 8 at 11:26
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Get control of the life support systems

Firstly, Earth is very far away so getting help isn't going to be quick. If you can take control of the life support systems, Earth would have to kill everyone to get it back and then start again. This would be expensive and wiping out all life on a planet wouldn't be politically acceptable. The government would cut all travel and all supplies and try to starve them out so they need to be self sufficient.

When the cost of keeping control outweighs the return, they can win their freedom.

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Mars's lower gravity would be a significant advantage in an interplanetary war. Mars could attack using Kinetic bombardment. While Earth could do the same it would be much harder and far less damage.

Spoilers for the novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress below

In the novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress similar tactics are employed by colonists on the Moon when they go to war against Earth, they launch rocks from the Moon's surface and then let Earth's gravity do most of the work.

In the novel above, the Moon warns Earth of its intended targets allowing them to fire "warning shots" to demonstrate their capability without killing civilians. The Moon then starts targeting far more devastating locations on Earth, although also arming the rocks with the ability to self-destruct. Since the rocks take a couple of days to travel to earth this gives the Moon a strong negotiating position. Earth must agree to their demands for independence and the rocks will self-destruct - don't and millions of people will die.

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    $\begingroup$ Aiming from Mars is way harder than from Moon and gives Earth plenty of time to disperse any kinetic missile, as mentioned in other answer. $\endgroup$ – Oleg V. Volkov Nov 14 at 0:09

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