Erich Maria Remarque’s timeless novel against war, All Quiet On The Western Front, tells the war from the private’s point of view rather than from the general’s point of view. The former point of view is grimmer, filled with the everyday terror of war. And this war was unlike any other fought before, as there were no major advances or retreats, and the war was fought on a limited sector of ground, between two lines of trenches, one French and British, the other German, with both sides giving no quarter, throwing thousands of young lives at each other and away. The new technology and weaponry didn’t improve the situation. In that context, there were two possible outcomes for the private: death at the front, or the worse, psychological death.
What kind of war was it where the survivors were better off dead, killed instantly by being annihilated by a shell, asphyxiated by mustard and chlorine gas, or slower and more painful, by gangrene? The “Great War” has transformed Paul and his company into semi-living blobs of fear on the front, and in the case of Paul, alienated him from civilian life, such as his books, family, and the older people who his father takes him to meet. And the older generation, completely disconnected with what Paul has undergone at the front, shallowly tells him to “shove ahead a bit out there with your everlasting trench warfare–Smash through the johnnies and then there will be peace.” One can imagine Paul wanting to grab the old fool by the collar and shaking him silly.
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They also become wild beasts defending themselves against Death, as Paul mentions in Chapter Six. When the French soldiers attack, the Germans do not think of them as men. They have had it with being attacked by faceless artillery and gas and can take their revenge by flinging grenades at them. Their fear, madness, and drive for life are multiplied in concert to the point that if their own father came in front of them, they wouldn’t hesitate to lob a grenade at them.
To summarize the common denominator of the people the soldiers hate, it is people who are not in their world. What do the recruits, non-commissioned and commissioned officers, the older generation at home, or the sisters know of their life, their world?
During war, things take on multiple meanings that alienate the soldiers from humanity. Death is signified by an empty bed. All that remains of the poor fellow who died for his country is his effects, be they boots, clothes, or photographs, the things that had significance because they were owned by a soldier. These possessions, bereft of their owner, seem like another layer of skin that has been sloughed off following death.
In the end, World War I proved to be the worst area a soldier could ever have been stationed for the following reasons: a lengthy stalemate on both sides, new technology, and the bitter animosity of the opposing sides that extended to the battlefield.
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