Kantorek, the former school master of many of the novel's characters, is described as “a stern little man”, and although his physical presence is of little consequence to the novel’s development his actions influence many of the characters in their thoughts and actions. His fiery and impassioned speeches to his class influenced all of them to join the army, leading to their inevitable dooms. The ideas he preached on nationalism and one’s duty to his country were a glorious mask for the true, atrocious nature of war. The doom of innumerable men in the “great” war.
The whole of Paul Bäumer’s class joined the army voluntarily due to Kantorek’s rhetoric on nationalism. National pride is portrayed as outdated and only useful for national leaders seeking to control the populace. Yet it become rather crass when it drives men and countries blindly forward to death and ruin. It is this very same force that is drove Kantorek’s students to join the army, and for that they abhorred him. The other characters’ quickly learned how pointless pride was on the battlefield and in the trenches. Paul feels that when Kantorek is drafted and forcibly shown the true nature of war he is receiving his just reward. Paul seems to take away a sadistic satisfaction at Kantorek being drafted. Yet even with knowledge of the horrors of war none of the boys could have done anything as the entire populace was enflamed with the same nationalism. The one boy who hesitated was, ironically, the first to be slain. This is all part of Remarque’s critique of unbridled and blind patriotism. It is portrayed that no one is safe on the front
for any reason, and it places much of the cause of the slaughter on men like Kantorek.
As the novel progresses the boys (now men) become increasingly repulsed by Kantorek’s rhetoric, laughing at his...