Stories of wars and the resulting victories are usually told in highly embellished narratives that seek to cover the grim realities of war as much as they aim to whip up popular emotion in order to ensure support for any future wars among the masses. However, war, by its very nature, is neither desirable nor its outcome praiseworthy. Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front lays bare the gritty, gruesome and ultimately self-defeating nature of wars. As Paul Baumer and his soldier comrades enlist and join the Germany Army in order to defeat the enemy, they themselves are slowly vanquished, first psychologically and finally physically through death. As the soldier members Paul Baumer’s company are slowly killed in battle, he becomes more and more disillusioned with the war, especially since he and his friends had enlisted with idealistic aims fed to them by their teacher Kantorek. Instead of patriotic glory and poetic war victories, Paul and his friends found defeat and ephemeral triumphs; instead of honor, they encountered dishonor; instead of personal growth and advancement, they found stagnation and watched their youthful dreams die. Through the war experiences of Paul Baumer as depicted in the novel All Quiet on the Western Front, the ultimate tragedy of war is revealed; it destroys the lives of its very agents – the soldiers – by crashing their dreams and claiming their lives for little discernible overall gain.
Going To War
Ultimately, Paul Baumer and his high school mates enthusiastically enlisted and went to war first out of a sense of youthful adventure. Barely out of their teens, Paul and his high school mates are not old enough to understand the socio-economic and political factors that characterized the outbreak of hostilities that ushered in World War 1. They enlist out of a sense of patriotic duty as much as they do out of obedience to their war-supporting teacher and mentor Kantorek. Kantorek appeals to the boys’ sense of patriotic duty and they join the war, only to encounter death and defeat.
The War Experience
Paul and his friends’ experiences during the war provide an intimate peak into the daily lives of soldiers during war – in this case World War 1. To begin with, Paul and his fellow soldiers have to contend with the squalid conditions that characterized the soldiers quarters. The sanitary conditions at the camps lead to the outbreak of disease and make the daily lives of the soldiers almost unbearable (Remarque 1982, 32). The food is highly rationed, especially once the tide of the war begins to shift in favor of the enemy.
An important change that the war effects on the lives of the young soldiers is the turning of sensitive, affable and impressionable young men into veritable death machines (Hunt 2004, 489). Before the war and even during the early experiences in the war, Paul and his friends try to maintain the civil nature and dislike for death that they had cultured as civilians (Tighe...