All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Marie Remarque
The thing that strikes me the most about All Quiet on the Western Front is that during the conflict of World War I, Germany was the enemy of the United States. Erich Marie Remarque was a German- thus this story is told from the point of view of a German soldier, Paul Baumer- the enemy. And all through the story I felt nothing but sympathy for Paul and his comrades.
All Quiet on the Western Front was first published in 1929 in Germany. During World War I the military hierarchy was definitely formal, strict, and uncompromising, but Germany was still far from the Nazi mentality of the 1930s. Paul was an 18 year old boy drafted into the army. He didn’t have strong political beliefs. He had no grudge against other countries. He didn’t want to kill anyone. He didn’t understand specifically for exactly what he was fighting. And he didn’t particularly care. All he wanted to do was come out of it alive.
The story Paul tells is the story of millions of young men who have gone off to war…. from different countries, fighting different battles, but always the same story- death, destruction, and tragic endings. War is madness. Several quotes that convey the heart-felt message of fear, terror, loneliness, and confusion:
“How long has it been? Weeks- months- years? Only days. We see time pass in the colorless faces of the dying, we cram food into us, we run, we throw, we shoot, we kill, we lie about, we are feeble and spent, and nothing supports us but the knowledge that there are still feebler, still more spent, still more helpless ones there who, with staring eyes, look upon us as gods that escape death many times.”
“To no man does the earth mean so much as to a soldier. When he presses himself down upon her long and powerfully, when he buries his face and his limbs deep in her from the fear of death by shell-fire, then she is his only friend, his brother, his mother; he stifles his terror and his cries in her silence and her security; she shelters him and gives him a new lease of ten seconds of life, receives him again and often for ever, Earth!”
“We see men living with their skulls blown open; we see soldiers run with their two feet cut off, they stagger on their splintered stumps in to the next shell hole… we see men without mouths, without jaws, without faces; we find one man who has held the artery of his arm in his teeth for two hours in order not to bleed to death. The sun goes down, night comes, the shells whine, life is at an end.”
The biggest tragedy of Germany’s World War I experience is that fighting continued even after the leaders knew they could not win. Germany sacrificed the lives of a whole generation of young men, simply because they were too proud to surrender. Paul and his army buddies would gladly have given up their pride to go home and live a normal peaceful life.
All Quiet on the Western Front is a very sad depressing book. But I am so glad I read it. Perhaps if the book were required reading for all adults there would be fewer wars. The story does not discourage patriotism, however, it does question authority, and dispels the myth that there is glory in war. In fact… a bit of trivia… when Hitler gained power in Germany, he had the book banned.
Erich Remarque did serve in the German army during WW I and spent a short time on the Western Front, where he was severely injured. Though his time in battle was limited, he certainly was adept in expressing the day to day, year after year tedious routines and horrifying despondence. My 1929 edition was translated from German by A. W. Wheen, who did a wonderful job.
Rated 5 Stars June 7, 2016
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