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All Quiet on the Western Front Chapter SummaryBy:
Jesse CodyAll Quiet on the Western Front is an
anti-war novel from the opening chapters. Many
critics of the novel in the early days after the
publication of the novel blamed Remarque for
writing for shock value. They did not want to
believe his novel represented the truth about
World War I. In many ways, such people were like
Paul’s schoolmaster, Kantorek. They wanted to
cling to classical, romantic notions of war.
However, Remarque wrote his novel specifically to
shatter those idealistic illusions. Yes, he wrote
to shock, but he also wrote to educate.The young
teenage men who enlisted in the army on both sides
often never recovered from their horrific
experiences.

They returned home with shattered
minds and shattered bodies to an impoverished,
ravaged civilian population that often regarded
them as unpleasant reminders of a war they wanted
to forget. Many civilians were unable to believe
that the soldiers suffered horrors far greater
than what they had suffered. Many veterans could
not talk about their experiences because they were
so unspeakable. They were the victims, but they
were also the killers. What had been done to them,
they had done to others as well. There are a lot
of reasons that the generation of men who entered
their young adulthood during the war is called
“the lost generation.”The Great War seemed utterly
senseless.

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Countries slid unknowingly into a
conflict they thought would end quickly. They
thought the conflict would follow the classical
concept of warfare. They were utterly wrong. There
was a strict disjunction between the romance of
fighting for honor and pride and the nasty,
unbelievable wholesale butchery that actually
happened. Hundreds and thousands of men died to
win a few yards of land only to lose it again in
another battle. Once the death toll neared
unbelievable proportions, the war continued
because civilians and soldiers demanded some
justification for the slaughter and the suffering.
The stalemate lasted over four years.It is
difficult to estimate the scale of The Great War’s
casualties.

Many of the dead were never buried in
marked graves. They lay and rotted in the trenches
or in the No Man’s Land between the trenches.
Historians estimate that between nine and twelve
million soldiers died in action. Others died from
complications from wounds or from disease.
Millions more lost arms, legs, or suffered from
disfiguring facial wounds. Millions of civilians
were killed or starved to death. Many suffered
disfiguring wounds from being in the wrong place
at the wrong time.Although World War II
overshadows World War I, the first World War made
the second possible. In some ways, the first war
was worse than the second.

Before The Great War,
no one had any idea what modern warfare meant. The
Great War heralded a different kind of fighting.
Soldiers rarely saw their enemies face to face
when they died. The very distance made the killing
easier. On both sides of the conflict, propaganda
denied the humanity of the enemy, thus making the
killing and maiming more acceptable. Both sides
raced to find new, more horrific ways to kill and
maim one another. People had a better idea of what
to expect when the second war started.No one
expected The Great War to be as terrible as it
was.

Powerful men with their pride and their honor
at stake chose to throw away the lives of millions
rather than call an end to the stalemate of The
Great War. All Quiet on the Western Front is a
protest against the betrayal by older, powerful
men of the younger, naive generation. Young men
enlisted believing they were embarking on an
exciting adventure to fight for glory and honor.
They thought they would be home by Christmas.All
Quiet on the Western Front – Chapters
1-2SummaryPaul and the other members of the Second
Company are resting after being relieved from the
front lines. When they went to the front, their
company contained one hundred and fifty men. Only
eighty returned. The quartermaster requested
rations for a full company, but on the last day,
they suffered a heavy attack.

The surviving men
receive a double ration of food and tobacco.Paul,
Leer, Muller, and Kropp are all nineteen years
old. They are all from the same class in school,
and they all enlisted voluntarily. Tjaden is the
same age, but he is a locksmith. He eats
voraciously, but remains thin as a rail. Haie
Westhus, also the same age, is an enormously built
peat-digger. Detering is a peasant with a wife at
home.

Katczinksy is the unofficial leader of
Paul’s small group of comrades. He is a cunning
man of forty years of age.Paul remembers that they
were embarrassed to use the general latrines when
they were recruits. Now, they are a pleasure.
Every soldier is intimately acquainted with his
stomach and intestines. “Latrine humor” offers the
most succinct expression for joy, indignation, and
anger. The men settle down to rest, smoke, and
play cards. They do not talk about their narrow
survival during their last trip to the front.
Kemmerich, one of Paul’s classmates and a member
of the Second Company, is in the hospital with a
thigh wound.Paul and his classmates’ schoolmaster,
Kantorek, urged them to enlist as volunteers to
prove their patriotism.

Joseph Behm did not want
to go, but eventually he gave in to Kantorek’s
unrelenting pressure. He was one of the first to
die, and his death was particularly horrible. With
Behm’s death, Paul and his classmates lost their
innocent trust in figures of authority. Kantorek
often writes letters to them filled with the empty
phrases of patriotic fervor.They go to see
Kemmerich, who is unaware that his leg has been
amputated. Paul discerns from his sallow skin that
Kemmerich will not live long. Muller wants
Kemmerich’s boots, but Paul subtly discourages him
from pressing on the matter.

They will have to
keep watch until Kemmerich passes on and take the
boots before the orderlies steal them. Paul bribes
an orderly with cigarettes to give Kemmerich some
morphine for the pain.Paul and the other young men
of his generation were cut off from life just as
they had begun to love it. The older soldiers have
jobs and families to which they can return after
the war. They will forget the trenches and the
death, but the young men have nothing definite to
which they can set their sights. Their past lives
are vague, unreal dreams.During the training, Paul
and his classmates learned that classical
patriotism requires the loss of individuality and
personality, a sacrifice that civilians do not
require of even the lowest class of servants.
Corporal Himmelstoss, formerly a postman, trained
Paul’s platoon. He is a small, petty man who
relentlessly humiliated his recruits, especially
Paul, Tjaden, Westhus, and Kropp.

Eventually, Paul
and the others learned to balk Himmelstoss’s
authority without outright defiance. Paul knows
that the humiliation and the arbitrary discipline
toughened him and his friends. Otherwise, the
front lines would have made them go insane.Paul
attends Kemmerich’s death throes. He lies to his
friend, and assures him that he will get well and
return home. Kemmerich knows that his leg is gone,
and Paul tries to cheer him with the advances in
the construction of artificial limbs. Kemmerich
tells Paul to give his boots to Muller.

Kemmerich
begins to cry silently and refuses to respond to
Paul’s attempts at conversation. He dies within
minutes, and Paul takes his boots to Muller.
CommentaryBefore World War I, wars generally did
not involve non- stop fighting over a period of
years. Often, the armies were comprised of hired
mercenaries, or professionals who fought
seasonally. The opening of the novel portrays a
very different picture. The soldiers are
volunteers or conscripts. The army has become an
expression of patriotic duty, not a career.

Paul
and his classmates enlisted because their
schoolmaster, Kantorek, pressured them to do their
duty by their country. Outside the classroom,
young men of their age faced ostracism and
condemnation from society for being cowards if
they did not join the war effort as volunteers. In
England, able- bodied men of age faced similar
pressure to join the army.World War I was an
expression of nationalism, a form of political
ideology that swept Europe during the nineteenth
century. The citizen was expected to give
unquestioning loyalty to the state. Unfortunately,
the romantic ideals of the nineteenth century were
at odds with the reality of modern trench warfare.
Paul and classmates are the tragic victims of this
disjunction between the idealism and the reality
of The Great War.The opening chapters of the novel
serve to introduce details about the reality of
the war. Nearly half of the Second Company was
killed or wounded during the last tour of duty on
the front.

Paul reports this fact matter of factly
in his narrative. He expresses no surprise.
Therefore, such heavy, sudden casualties are very
common on the front. The cook’s main concern is
not that seventy men have been injured or killed,
but whether he should dole out the rations for a
full company to the remaining survivors. This is
also the primary concern of the soldiers. The
message inherent in the opening scenes to the
novel is that massive carnage is an everyday
occurrence in trench warfare. Therefore, the
participants are desensitized to the violence,
death, and destruction around them.Kemmerich’s
death extends the criticism of romantic illusions
about the war.

It also highlights the fact that
soldiers faced a lot of dangers, not merely enemy
fire. Muller describes Kemmerich’s wound as a
“blighty,” a non- lethal wound that keeps the
soldier out of combat for a while. Such wounds
were considered a boon to receive because they
mean a break from the miserable conditions of
trench warfare. The sheer number of wounds placed
a huge strain on the medical supplies. No country
that entered The Great War was prepared for a
prolonged conflict involving hundreds of thousands
of injuries. Moreover, the conditions on the
battlefield were unbelievably unsanitary.

And
antibiotics had not yet been discovered.
Therefore, slight wounds could easily become
infected with lethal bacteria. Gangrene was a
constant problem that led to the amputation of
limbs after relatively light wounds. Millions of
men were maimed for life in the war, and many lost
more than one limb.Kemmerich’s death is utterly
senseless. He dies from a relatively light wound,
and there is no glory in his death. It is merely
ugly and pointless. His meaningless death shatters
the romantic rhetoric in Kantorek’s patriotic
phrases.

There is no honor in warfare. Moreover,
there is no room for refined notions of honor.
Muller needs Kemmerich’s boots. It is not that he
or any of the other survivors is not affected, but
they cannot dwell on sentimental grief. Life on
the front is dangerous, ugly, dirty, and
miserable. The soldiers do not have adequate food
and clothing, so the day to day matters of
survival take precedence over sentimentality. They
cannot afford to do otherwise.

If they dwelled on
every friend’s death, they would invite
madness.All Quiet on the Western Front – Chapter
3SummaryMore than twenty of the reinforcements for
the Second Company are new recruits. They are all
around seventeen years old. Kat gives one of the
new recruits some beans he acquired by bribing the
company’s cook. He warns the boy to bring tobacco
next time as payment for the food. Kat’s ability
to scrounge extra food and provisions amazes Paul.
Kat is a cobbler by trade, but he has an uncanny
knack for all manner of things.Kat believes that
if every soldier got the same food and the same
pay, the war would end quickly. Kropp proposes
that the declaration of wars should be conducted
like a festival.

He wishes the generals and
national leaders would battle one another with
clubs in an open arena. The country with the last
surviving man wins the war.Paul and his friends
remember the recruits’ barracks with longing now.
Even Himmelstoss’s petty humiliations seem idyllic
in comparison to the actual practice of war. They
muse that Himmelstoss must have been different as
a postman. They wonder why he is such a bully as a
drill sergeant. Kat replies that Himmelstoss is
like a lot of other men. He remarks that even a
dog trained to eat potatoes will snap at meat
given the opportunity.

Men are the same when they
are given the opportunity to have a little
authority. Every man is a beast underneath all his
manners and customs. The army is based on one man
having more power over another man. Kat thinks the
problem is that they have too much power.
Civilians are not permitted to torment others the
way men torment one another in the army. The irony
of the drills is that they do not exist on the
front line. They exist a few miles behind it.
Tjaden arrives and excitedly reports that
Himmelstoss is coming to the front.Tjaden has a
grudge against Himmelstoss.

Tjaden is a bed
wetter, and Himmelstoss set out to break him of
his “lazy” habit. He found another bed wetter,
Kindervater, and forced them to sleep in the same
bunk bed. Every night, they traded places. The one
on the bottom was drenched by the other’s urine
during the night. The problem was not laziness,
but bad health, so the ploy did not work. Often,
the man assigned to the bottom slept on the floor,
frequently catching a cold.Haie, Paul, Kropp, and
Tjaden had their revenge on Himmelstoss once.

They
lay in wait for him one night on his return from
his favorite pub. They threw a bed cover over his
head, and Haie punched him senseless. They
stripped him of his pants and took turns lashing
him with a whip, muffling his shouts with a
pillow. Afterwards, they slipped away, and
Himmelstoss never who gave him the beating.
CommentaryPaul and his friends conclude that the
army and warfare function on an imbalance of
power. Those with more authority enjoy the
luxuries of greater power. Kat concludes that if
everyone received the same pay and the same food,
the war would end quickly.

However, not everyone
suffers equally. Common soldiers receive such
inadequate food and clothing that they must steal
to survive.The difference in amenities between
common soldiers and officers, between lesser
officers and greater officers, facilitates the
prolongation of the war. If they all suffered
equally, then they would identify more completely
with one another through their experiences.
However, they do not fraternize with one another.
One of the purposes of maintaining the imbalance
of power and suffering in an army is to create a
situation in which one man can order another to
perform an action that may cost his life. This is
the ultimate form of authority of one man over
another. Moreover, the intense bonds between
common soldiers make them more willing to
sacrifice life and limb to save their comrades.
Without this structure of power in modern armies,
modern warfare could not exist.Kropp proposes that
the leaders who declared war should have to battle
one another and suffer the consequences for their
decisions. The imbalance between nations and their
leaders sparks a conflict between them.

The
expression of this conflict arises from an
imbalance of power between leaders of nations and
their citizens. Leaders can draft men for their
armies and send them into armed conflict. Within
the army itself, the imbalance of power between
the common soldier and the officers further
facilitates the armed conflict’s prolongation.
From the top level of power down to the bottom,
there are increasing degrees of suffering and
decreasing degrees of luxuries.Therefore, the
imbalance of power allows very powerful leaders to
declare war without suffering the worst
consequences of their decisions. The common
soldier must live with misery of the trenches and
the psychological horror of actual combat.
However, Kat attributes an instinctive desire for
power and authority to man. He compares man to a
dog in his desire for authority. As a civilian,
Himmelstoss was a simple postman, and he snapped
at the opportunity to enjoy authority over others
as a Corporal in training camp.The irony of the
army is that all the pomp and circumstance mean
nothing on the front line.

All the marching,
bed-making, bowing and scraping cease to exist in
actual combat. The drill has more to do with the
ability of a few men to luxuriate in the pleasure
of demanding the submission of another.
Himmelstoss’s use of authority to order recruits
to march, salute, and bow has nothing to do with
combat. It is only one of the perks of his greater
position of power.Moreover, when Paul and his
friends talk about enemies, they do not speak of
the soldiers on the other side. Instead, they view
fellow country-men as the origin of their
pointless suffering. They blame the petty power-
hungry men like Himmelstoss and powerful leaders
on their own side. The implication behind their
discussion of the origins of the war and the
structure of the army is that the common soldiers
on the other side are victims like they are.

Oddly
enough, however, those other men are the ones they
must kill in combat.All Quiet on the Western Front
– Chapter 4SummaryThe Second Company is assigned
to the task of laying wire at the front. Everyone
crowds into trucks. The drivers do not risk using
light, so the trucks often lurch when they hit
deep holes in the road. No one minds that they are
often nearly thrown from them. A broken bone means
they will not have to fight until it mends again.
They pass a house, and Paul detects the cackle of
geese. He and Kat agree to make a surreptitious
visit later.The sound of gunfire and shells fills
the air.

The veteran fighters are not gripped with
fear like the new recruits. Kat explains to the
recruits how to distinguish which guns are firing
by listening to the blasts. He announces that he
senses there will be a bombardment later in the
night. The English batteries have begun firing an
hour earlier than usual. The experienced soldiers
change “imperceptibly.” In the roar of guns and
the whistling of shells, their senses sharpen.Paul
regards the front as a “mysterious whirlpool.”
Already, he feels its pull. For the soldier, the
earth takes on a new significance.

He buries his
body in it for shelter. It receives him every time
he throws himself down in a fold, furrow, or
hollow. Often, it takes him in forever. At the
front, a man’s ancient animal instincts awaken.
They are a saving grace for many men who obey them
without hesitation. Often, a man drops to the
ground just in time to avoid a shell he did not
even hear coming. On the front, men transform from
soldiers to “human animals.”The soldiers carry
wire and iron rods to the front.

Shortly before
they arrive, they extinguish cigarettes and pipes.
After they lay the wire, they try to sleep until
the trucks arrive to drive them back. Kat’s
prediction about the bombardment is correct.
Everyone scrambles for cover while the shells land
around them. Paul attempts to replace a terrified
recruit’s helmet on his head, but the boy cuddles
under his arm. Paul places it on his behind to
protect it from shell fragments. After the
shelling lessens, the recruit comes to and notices
with embarrassment that he has defecated in his
pants. Paul explains that many soldiers experience
this problem at first.

He instructs the boy to
remove his underpants and throw them away.They
hear the wrenching sounds of wounded horses.
Detering is particularly horrified because he is a
farmer and he loves horses. After the wounded men
are gathered, those in charge of the job shoot the
wounded animals. Detering declares with disgust
that using horses in war is the “vilest
baseness.”As the trucks drive them back, Kat
becomes restless. A flurry of bombs lands around
them. The men take cover in a nearby graveyard.
Paul crawls under an uncovered coffin for
protection. Kat shakes him from behind to tell him
to put his gas mask on.

After he dons his mask,
Paul helps a new recruit don his mask. Afterwards,
he dives into a hole left by an exploding shell.
Shells seldom hit the same place twice. Kat and
Kropp join him. Paul takes a breath on the valve,
hoping that the mask is air tight. Sometimes they
are not, and the victims die, coughing up blood
clots from their burned lungs.Later, Paul climbs
out and notes that one man not wearing his mask
does not collapse. He tears his mask off and gulps
fresh air.

The shelling has stopped. Paul notices
a recruit lying on the ground with his thigh a
mass of flesh and bone splinters at the joint. It
is the recruit who defecated in his pants earlier.
Kat and Paul know that he will not survive his
wounds. Kat whispers that it will be more merciful
to end his life with a gunshot before the agony of
his wound begins to torment him. They are not able
to complete their plan because other people are
emerging from their holes. CommentaryDuring The
Great War, laying barbed wire was one of the most
unpopular jobs on both sides.

It was also an
extremely dangerous job. After a period of massive
bombing, soldiers had to return and lay wire where
it had been blown away. The job had to be
conducted at night, and the darker it was, the
better. If they were to lay the wire in daylight,
they would be picked off by snipers or bombed
promptly by the other side.Even the drivers of the
trucks transporting the Second Company to the
front dare not turn on their headlights for fear
of attracting attention. Soldiers could easily
suffer a fatal accident during such moments
because the roads are so treacherous. The work
itself is heavy and unpleasant, and it is made all
the more difficult by the darkness.

The soldier
does not even have the protection of the trenches
and a lit cigarette, or flash of light from an
exploding shell, is enough to give away their
position to the enemy.Even though the darkness is
the soldier’s chief protection, it also gives rise
to the psychological torment of not being able to
see the enemy. A soldier can never be sure a
sniper does not have a gun trained on him. He can
never be sure that a flash of light has not given
his position away. The only thing on which he can
rely is pure animal instinct, throwing himself to
the earth when he senses danger. Paul’s
description of the soldier’s relationship with the
earth is full of the metaphors of sexual acts and
the child’s relationship with its mother. The
earth is a dense symbol representing all the
archetypal human relations: desire, love, need,
and even death.

It is shelter that saves his life
as well as the final resting place for his dead
body.Paul’s description of the experienced
soldier’s reaction to the front strips the
romanticism out of the war experience. He does not
speak of the honor and glory of fighting for one’s
country. The soldier does not really fight for his
country on the front. He fights for his life. He
relies on animal instinct to save him from bullets
and bombs, and he concentrates on acquiring food,
clothing, and shelter, not on some abstract ideal
of patriotic duty to the fatherland.The recruit’s
first trip to the front is a test of fire. If he
cannot immediately shed his illusions about the
war, and the useless elaborate drills of the
training camp, he either goes mad or dies.

His
training camp can do nothing to prepare him for
the front. The real training begins with gaining
experience on the front. He must learn to cope
with constant fear, uncertainty, bombardment, and
violence by becoming a “human animal.”World War I
soldiers had to face the possibility of new
weapons for which they are not prepared. Poison
gas was one of those weapons in The Great War.
Germany was the first side to use poison gas in
the war. The leaders of Germany claimed that
France had used chemical weapons first, so they
felt justified in breaking the terms of the Hague
Convention. The soldiers on the other side were
utterly unprepared for the chlorine gas that crept
towards their trenches.

England and her allies
quickly developed gas masks for it, but only after
a number of painful, agonizing deaths.Afterwards,
chemists on both sides researched furiously to
find various gases and methods of delivery. Often
the winds blew the gas back into their own
trenches. By the end of the war, mustard gas,
chlorine gas, and phosgene were being used. The
effects on the victim were utterly unbelievable.
Some fell where they lay and turned black. Mustard
gas was odorless, and it did not take effect for
twelve hours. Huge blisters rose on the victim’s
skin, and he often suffered blindness.

Chlorine
gas destroyed the respiratory systems of many
victims. Those who received a lethal dose not
strong enough to kill them faced a slow, agonizing
death, coughing up blood clots from their damaged
lungs while gasping for breath.In the early days
of poison gas, there was a delay between its
introduction and the development of a mask to
protect soldiers against it. Before then, they
could do nothing other than flee the poisonous
cloud. Snipers from the other side could pick them
off as they fled the trenches. Because gas was a
new weapon, soldiers learned how to avoid injury
and death only through experience. Masks were only
part of this endeavor.

They learned that gas
lingered in the shell holes and trenches longer
only after seeing others make the mistake of
removing their masks too soon.All Quiet on the
Western Front – Chapter 5SummaryEvery soldier on
the front is constantly infested with lice.
Tjaden, tired of killing them separately, scrapes
them off his skin with a wire into a boot-polish
tin. He kills them by heating the tin with a
flame. His lice have red cross on their heads, and
he jokes that he got the at a hospital where they
attended to the surgeon- general. Himmelstoss has
arrived, proving the rumor true. He was observed
excessively tormenting some recruits and sent to
the front as punishment. Muller begins asking
everyone what they would do if the war ended
suddenly.

Albert says the war will not end, but
Muller persists. Kat mentions his wife and
children. The younger men mention women and
getting drunk. Haie says he would become a
non-combat army man since digging peat is such a
terrible occupation. Tjaden states that he would
concentrate on getting revenge on Himmelstoss.
Detering would return to manage his
farm.Himmelstoss approaches their group. Their
lack of recognition of his authority disconcerts
him.

He orders Tjaden to stand, but Tjaden moons
him in response. Tjaden rushes off to hide before
Himmelstoss returns with the authorities. Muller
continues with his questions. They calculate that
there are only twelve men left out of the twenty
from their class who joined the army. Seven are
dead, and four are wounded. One went insane.

They
recite questions Kantorek shot at them in school.
All of their schooling seems pointless now. They
wonder how they will get used to civilian jobs
since they never had any before they went to war.
Paul cannot even imagine anything. Albert
concludes that the war has destroyed everything
for them. They are not impetuous youths any more,
but men perpetually on the run. They cannot
believe in anything except the war.Himmelstoss
returns with the sergeant-major. Paul and the
other refuse to tell him where Tjaden is.

The
sergeant- major solves the problem by declaring
that Tjaden must report to the Orderly Room within
ten minutes. They resolve to torment Himmelstoss
every moment they get. Himmelstoss returns later
to demand they tell him where Tjaden is. Kropp
remarks sardonically that men will rush to obey
his orders on the front while they are being
killed and maimed by the dozens. Himmelstoss
storms off.Later that evening, Kropp and Tjaden
undergo trial for insubordination. Paul and the
other relate the bed- wetting incident, and the
presiding lieutenant gives Tjaden and Kropp light
punishments.

He lectures Himmelstoss about his
behavior. Tjaden receives three days open arrest,
and Kropp gets one. Paul and the others visit them
and play cards where they are enclosed by a wire
netting, the confines of open arrest.Kat and Paul
bribe a driver of a munitions wagon with two
cigarettes to take them to the house where the
geese are kept. Paul climbs over the fence and
enters the shed to find two geese. He grabs both
and slams their heads against the wall, hoping to
avoid a commotion. The maneuver does not work, and
they cackle and fight with him furiously before he
manages to escape with one goose in hand.

Kat
kills it quickly, and they retreat to an unused
lean-to to cook it. They have to eat it quickly
before the theft is discovered. They keep the
feathers to make pillows. Paul feels an intimate
closeness with Kat as they roast the goose. They
eat their fill take the rest to Tjaden and Kropp.
CommentaryThe rate of infestation by lice in the
trenches was close to one hundred percent during
World War I. De-lousing was completely pointless,
since a man was infested again within hours.

The
de-lousing techniques rarely killed the eggs on
his body and clothing. Besides the continual
discomfort of itching and scratching, the lice
were a source of typhus and Trench Fever. Trench
Fever was rarely fatal, but it often removed a
soldier from combat. If the soldier did not
receive medical leave, it weakened him and thus
made him even more vulnerable. Soldiers often
removed clothing only to see it teeming with
swarming lice. It seems that the cloth moved of
its own will.The sanitary conditions in the
trenches were terrible.

Soldiers rarely had an
opportunity to bathe, so they learned various
methods of de-lousing themselves for temporary
relief. Picking them one by one and bursting them
between finger nails was too tedious and it was a
losing battle because there were so many. They
learned to use candles and wire to scrape them off
in large numbers, and it took no small amount of
skill and practice to avoid burning
themselves.Muller’s persistent questioning about
his friends’ post- war plans reveals why the young
generation of men who enlisted right out of school
is termed “the lost generation.” Older men who had
pre-war jobs and families regard the war as an
interruption in their lives that will eventually
end. They had concrete identities and functions
within society. Younger men like Paul and his
classmates had no such concrete identities. They
entered the war when they were on the threshold of
their adult lives.

None of them have definite
answers to Muller’s questions.Many of the lost
generation regarded the war as something that
could not possibily end because they could not
imagine anything else. They gained their
identities as soldiers. Their experiences of the
war were so shattering that many could not imagine
functioning in a peacetime environment. Haie gives
the most definite post-war plans, but even his
answer involves remaining in the army. He still
cannot imagine himself as anything but a soldier.
Paul and his younger comrades cannot imagine
functioning in civilian jobs after what they have
seen and done. Their curt answers to Muller’s
questions betray a certain anxiety about the end
of the war.

It is almost as if they fear the end
of the war as much as they fear the war itself.
Thinking and planning for the future requires
concrete forms of hope. The horror of trench
warfare does not allow them to have hope other
than the desire to survive. They have no
experiences as adults that do not involve a day to
day fight for survival and sanity.Paul and his
younger comrades’ only definite plan for the
future is to exact revenge against Himmelstoss.
Tjaden even defines his post-war plans in terms of
avenging himself against Himmelstoss. Paul
ironically notes that their only goal is to “knock
the conceit out of the postman.” Their army
experiences have infiltrated their thinking to
such an extent that these experiences form the
basis for their only goals. School, learning, and
their education seem completely useless now.
Kantorek used to strike fear into their hearts,
but now he seems ridiculous and superfluous to
their existence. The petty humiliations of
Himmelstoss loom much larger in their
minds.Moreover, peacetime social relations can
never approach the intimacy or intensity of a
soldier’s bonds with other soldiers.

Paul marvels
at the flood of emotion he experiences while
roasting the stolen goose with Kat. He and Kat
would never have known one another in peacetime,
but the war brought their lives together in a
crucible of horror. Their shared suffering makes
peacetime concerns and friendships pale ….

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