Originally banned and burned in Germany by the Nazi’s in 1933 (five years after it was first published) because of its antinationalist, pacifist, and dissident sentiment, All Quiet on the Western Front by Enrich Maria Remarque reached acclaim across the world as an intimate portrayal of life during the war from the “enemy’s” point of view. It was translated to over twenty-five languages, two movies have been made, and it has sold many million copies. As a result of its popularity across the world and its subsequent distaste for the Nazis, Enrich Maria Remarque was exiled in 1938, and his citizenship in Germany was revoked.
All Quiet on the Western Front is a novel written from the point of view of a German soldier, Paul Baumer, fighting on the western front during 1917 & 1918 (the last two years of WWI). Through Paul’s experiences, we can see the similarities between all men in war. From detailed descriptions given by Paul of the food soldiers ate, the boots and clothes they wore, and the conditions under which they lived and fought to the corpse rats, the war field graveyards were the bodies of buried soldiers were unearthed during the battle, and life under the rules of the German army, Remarque leaves no stone unturned about the conditions and subsequent effects of war upon its soldiers.
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Closely paralleling Hemingway’s “Soldier’s Home,” an account of the effects of WWI on an American soldier, All Quiet on the Western Front displays the universal effects of the war upon those who fought heroically – disillusionment with war and facing the reality of a country who, upon the soldier’s return, cannot identify with his life. Estrangement and distance grow with society as the men realize that “the world they (girls & those in society) were in was not the world that he was in” (“Soldier’s Home”) and “men will not understand us and … [they will] push us aside; … the years will pass by and in the end, we shall fall into ruin”(All Quiet on the Western Front 294).
The similarity between men on both sides of the war reveals the universal result of war – death (if not physical then social or emotional). When, upon entering the war, Paul Baumer says, ” Our early life is cut off from the moment we came here, and that without even lifting a hand” (AQWF 19), he foreshadows the life of the young soldiers who must face war without a choice and whose life pays the ultimate price of victory for his country. But will Paul willingly sacrifice all for sake of his country?
Through the gripping battle scenes and the loss of friends to returning home to a “foreign country,” All Quiet on the Western Front reveals the struggles of not only soldiers but of ordinary men forced to fight a battle against other men: “…for the first time, I see you are a man like me… Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us… forgive me comrade; how could you be my enemy?” (All Quiet On The Western Front 223) Remarque’s personal experience in the war and his realization of the terror that actually occurs – man killing a man – reveals the necessity of counting the cost of war and maintaining peace whenever possible. This is what we face today, and the question remains – have we learned from the past, or do we continue to tread upon the same course that leads us to destruction?
It is this grim realization that caused his book to be banned and burned by the Nazis and spread acclaim throughout the rest of the world. Spreading the truth of the real tragedy of war opened people’s eyes to the reality that faced those condemned to die – a reality that faces everyone and is the same for everyone in the midst of war … a reality that is no respecter of persons and takes all it can – a reality called death.
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