All Quiet on the Western Front, an action-packed novel that conveys the hardships of war, while demeaning the violence, was written by Erich Maria Remarque. The story recounts firsthand the experiences of Paul Bäumer in the First World War. The novel depicts Paul’s progression from a young carefree private to the experienced veteran he becomes by the end. It takes place during World War I and is set for the majority of the novel on the Western Front. Through his experiences in the War, Paul makes new friends with his fellow soldiers and becomes closer to his childhood school chums, who have enlisted along with Paul. Not only does Paul develop his friendships during wartime, but he also develops his thoughts and opinions, mostly those directed towards the War. Near the end of the story, one clearly sees that Paul has taken a negative standpoint on the War. This is not just because of the lack of supplies or rest, but also because he has come to the realization that the men whom he is fighting against are not his enemies, but really his brethren. All Quiet on the Western Front is an extremely accurate account of the First World War and provides a truthful in-depth look into the mind and emotions of a soldier.
In order to begin the support of the historical accuracy of this book, one must first look at the author, Erich Maria Remarque. Born Erich Paul Remark, he grew up in Osnabrück, Germany. At the age of eighteen, he enlisted in the German Army to fight in the First World War. He was quickly sent to the front lines. While serving, he was wounded five times, the last severely, and because of this he was discharged. He wrote the novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, in 1929, at the age of 33. It was entitled “Im Westen nichts Neues” (In the West Nothing New). Later, in 1933, the Nazis banned and burned Remarque’s works, including All Quiet on the Western Front, and issued propaganda falsely stating that he was a descendant of French Jews and that his real last name was Kramer, Remark spelled backwards. This is still listed in some biographies, although there is no evidence to confirm it. These actions taken by the Nazis show that the book must contain very true accounts of warfare of that period that could have discouraged many Germans from entering the Second World War.
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Having experienced World War I first hand, Remarque could easily relate himself to the characters in the book. Many of his own experiences of the First World War were seen in the experiences of Paul. There are many users, but in particular, his time spent in Army Hospitals and experiences with the doctors. In addition, a huge part of his experience of war is seen in Paul through his opinions of the War. Paul and Remarque both felt there to be no good reason for waging war after all everyone is a human being and therefore all are brothers and sisters in that sense. Because Remarque was able to base much of the book on first-hand experiences, much of the book is very true to the essence of war.
Many different things in this novel seem very accurate and true to the First World War, the first of which is trench warfare. In the time of World War I, this type of warfare was rather new and was, for the first time, being used on a widespread basis. In the infant stages of the War, Germany was focused on delivering a quick blow to France in order to try to cripple the French. In order to do so, the Germans had to march through Belgium and that required Belgian approval. The Germans did not have this, but marched through despite the lack of Belgian consent. At first, the Germans met no resistance and easily took Luxembourg, but soon thereafter met opposing forces in Liège. This opposition slowed the Germans enough to allow the British to send an army to France and meet the Germans in Belgium. After meeting in Belgium, both Allied and Central sides tried an outflanking maneuver in order to force the other sides to retreat.
This resulted in both sides heading north towards the North Sea in what is today called the Race to the Sea. The British and French forces arrived only to find entrenched German positions from Lorraine to Belgium’s Flemish coast. The British and the French took the offensive while the Germans defended occupied territory. German trenches are much better constructed compared to the British and French trenches. The British and French trenches were meant to be temporary. They thought the trench warfare would not last long, but they could not have been more incorrect.
In their attempts to break the stalemate between the Allied and Central forces, both sides turned to science and technology. The Germans were the first to use chemical warfare on the Western Front. With their first use of chlorine gas, they opened a huge hole stretching four miles in width. The French troops had retreated in the face of the gas. The Canadian forces at Ypres quickly closed this breach. After this use of chemicals in the war and after seeing the results of it, both side’s troops were equipped with gas masks in order to prevent the functionality of it in the future. This too was used in All Quiet on the Western Front (Remarque 68).
In the later stages of the War, the Allied forces placed a naval blockade on Germany. This greatly affected the morale of the troops and the production in the country. In order to counteract this, the government published articles on how the troops were in good spirits and how all was well at the front. This was seen in the real world and in the story. In the story, they say the troops were organizing dances just as soon as they came back from the front (Remarque 140).
Because of the lack of production in Germany, fewer goods were produced. This created the widespread famine. The famine did not hit the army as badly as the civilians, but the German soldiers did receive much, much less than the British and French and often fought on stomachs that had been empty for days.
This famine was the cause of many of the civilian deaths of the war, along with the Spanish flu. In All Quiet on the Western Front, we see both sides of this, military and civilian. It is mentioned multiple times in the book how they do not receive ration loaves for days, and how for every one German ration loaf there are fifty tins of corned beef for the Allied forces (Remarque 286). The civilian famine is also alluded to when Paul brings his family lots of food when he arrives home while on leave (Remarque 160).
Another reality that is portrayed in All Quiet on the Western Front is the amount of death. Every one of Paul’s comrades, including Paul himself, is dead by the end of the book. Not only were the characters that were introduced by Remarque killed, but also all of the other classmates who enlisted with Paul who was unnamed are killed. This is a very real portrayal of the probability of one dying in the War. With 9 million military casualties and 16 million total, there was a very good chance that one would have been dead by the end of the war, whether or not one was in the military. Death was very real at this time in history and was witnessed by many, including Remarque and Paul.
Overall, the historical accuracy of this book is astounding. It is hard to believe the hardships faced by the men in World War I and in this book. It would be extremely challenging to adapt to the constant death and destruction that would surround a person in a situation such as Paul. Not only would the adaptation to war be challenging, but also the adaptation to society after the war, but Paul never had to face that. After all, he died when all was quiet on the Western Front.
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