All Quiet On The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
“All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque tells the lives of men while they endured the harsh days of World War One in the trenches the Germans occupied. The story is told through the words of Paul Baumer, an enlistee, along with his classmates from his hometown, Dolbenburg Germany. The book follows Paul Baumers’ disillusionment, dismay and disgust with all the war has to regurgitate. This disillusionment results as his youthful innocence is instantly lost along with his naive view of the world and the war in which all is engrossed. As a result of this abrupt realization a growing resentment towards the people who mislead him to join the army and of the men in command develops.
Paul Baumer’s comrades encompass his world and become the most important tools to his survival and he to theirs’. Hunger, disease, dismemberment and death were also their constant companions and were forever foremost in thought and daily struggles for survival. The young soldiers learn quickly that the war with dreams of glory, patriotic duty and honor does not exist. This propaganda with which they had been enticed into their countries service is shattered with the first shells that exploded near them upon their arrival at the front. Paul Baumer and his comrades learn quickly that a war with pestilence and untold mind numbing terrors and the horror which overwhelms their collective minds is the only war and all that war would be.
The first of his comrades to become a casualty of the war was his classmate Franz Kemmerich. Kimmerich had lost a foot in an action at the front and then had his leg amputated in a field hospital just behind the front lines. Ironically Kimmerich possessed a most valuable pair of English airmen’s boots which laced up all the way to the knees and would be invaluable to any soldier. Franz Kimmerich died as a result of his wound and or the amputation that followed. Muller was another former classmate and member of the platoon to which Paul Baumer had been assigned. Kimmerich passed his boots to Muller after his death and, the boots would ultimately be passed on to Paul Baumer. The English boots are a harbinger of death.
After experiencing the horrific realities of war the narrator and his brothers in arms question everything that has lead them to be in the war in which they find themselves. Paul Baumer’s teacher before the war had been an arrogant schoolmaster with the name of Kantorek. Kantorek had put ideas of patriotic duty and the glory that accompanies this duty in the hearts and minds of the young students. This betrayal is not lost on Paul and Kantork becomes a man on which he focuses his resentment and contempt.
Another figure that emerges is the man who was their drillmaster, Corperal Himmelstoss. Corperal Himmelstoss, who had been a postman in civilian life, was a cruel taskmaster for eleven weeks of their lives during their basic training. Corperal Himmelstoss had created a deep resentment towards himself because of his cruelty. This cruelty extended to the point of senselessness and manifests itself in his education of a bed wetter named Tjaden. Later Corperal Himmelstoss receives his own education at the hands of the very men whom he had trained by a flogging on a dark street after he is sent to the front. Eventually Himmelstoss is accepted by the men after he joins their ranks on the line and proves himself in combat and also suffers the same horrors and miserable conditions.
The soldiers’ resentment of authority and command figures is constantly fueled by the difference in which enlisted men are treated than their superiors. At the hospitals the morphine is usually reserved for the officers. Cigars and brandy are part of the officer’s rations when cigarettes and rum are issued to the troops. The fact that life at the front was hell and tormented all did not keep the enlisted men from resenting this different treatment as all were exposed to death at the front constantly. At the front all the parades and drilling are forgotten but just a few miles behind the front army life reassumed.
In the time between attacks and counter attacks, artillery barrage and counter artillery barrage, theses soldiers philosophize about the war, the accompanying misery and the futility of the war itself. The men decide that if all men, officers and enlisted men alike were paid the same, treated the same and housed the same the war would soon be over. These now veterans of the trenches resent that men who in civilian life are of no importance should be given such power and jurisdiction over men in war. Paul Baumer and his comrades also come to the conclusion that they are fighting a war that is being fought by men who have no stakes in the war and do not hate the men they are fighting against. They decide that the leaders who start the war should settle it with hand to hand fighting with clubs to settle their differences and leave the rest of civilization to continue on its own in peace.
After two years of deadly patrols through exploding graveyards and ferocious pitched battles Paul Baumer is allowed seventeen days leave. On the train ride home Paul is stunned to see life go on as usual in the villages and marvels at the smooth country roads without crater holes that he passes. After he arrives home Paul is unable to relate his experiences to his family and chooses either to say nothing about them or lie. The one person with whom he can relate is and old friend who enjoys inflicting ironic justice on their old schoolmaster, Kantorek. Kanotorek had been conscripted into service and must now undergo training under one of his former students and now pays a low price for his propaganda efforts. This reflects how the soldiers feel about petty men who become obsessed with their power over others during war. The soldiers have become what they abhor.
After leave and before Paul must return to the front he is assigned to several weeks of training duty. While there he is required to stand guard over Russian prisoners who are housed directly by the training camp. Paul is struck by the deplorable conditions that the Russian soldiers endure. This brings out a sense of compassion in Paul and he shares cigarettes with these Russians who are starving and have little to wear. Paul chastises himself for his empathy and tells himself it is the path to the abyss as a soldier.
The ability to kill without consciousness and carry on without remorse is essential to survival at the front.
After returning to the front Paul is relieved to be back amongst his friends. Yet, deep down he realizes his break from the front had changed him from the soldier he had been before. While stranded in no mans land alone in a shell crater, a Frenchmen jumps into the crater seeking shelter from an artillery barrage and machine gun fire. Paul instantly knifes the man but the man does not die quickly but slowly before him. Paul is stuck in the crater and once more realizes he has more in common with the soldier who is his enemy than the people at home. He cannot bring himself to finish off the man as he suffers. Paul tells the man if he could he would not kill him again.
One by one his friends and comrades die. His friend Deterring , who had been a farmer and great lover of horses, is pushed over the edge when he sees a Cherry tree blooming and it reminds him of home. Deterring deserts and is caught several hundred miles behind the lines trying in vain to get home. Paul’s best friend Katzinsky or Kat is killed by shrapnel while Paul is carrying him to the hospital on his back because of a leg wound.
By this time Paul has inherited the knee high, lace up, English flyers boots. Paul Baumer feels that there would never be a life after the horrors of war. He feels he has lost everything, including his fear, and cannot see himself in any other life. He also realizes that inevitably, his life will find a way to escape his mortal body.
Paul Baumer falls and dies face down in the dirt on a day that the war is near the end and rumors of surrender abound. There was very little fighting on the day of his death and when he was found the discoverers saw he had an expression of calm on his face. On the day he fell the army reported only one sentence on it’s daily report.
All quiet on the western front.
Paul Baumer’s narrative clearly shows the loyalty and camaraderie that bound the German soldiers on the front line together. Germany had begun the war without the ability to supply a lengthy and costly war. Although life in the trenches had been hard on all sides involved the German soldiers suffered from continuous hunger and a severe shortage of basic supplies. The reality of German armies’ plight as well as Germany’s appeared to be starvation. Across no man’s land in allied trenches the influx of supplies from the United States of America had supplied the French and British forces with food and means to continue on with the war. America’s armed forces were fresh to the war while Germany’s own were war weary.
The people of Germany starved for food and Germany starved for everything necessary to maintain the war effort. World War One had starved the German war effort and quite literally the German soldiers as well as her people.