.. ers in the front lines. His tactlessness makes Paul’s first leave more miserable than it might otherwise have been. ^^^^^^^^^^ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT: FRAU (MRS.) BAUMER Paul’s mother is a courageous woman who is dying of cancer. She is the most comforting person Paul finds at home.
She alone does not pretend to understand what it is like at the front. Paul is in agony over her illness and is overwhelmed by the love she shows him by preparing his favorite foods and depriving herself in order to buy him fine underwear. ^^^^^^^^^^ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT: FRAU (MRS.) KEMMERICH Unlike Paul’s quiet mother, Franz Kemmerich’s mother tends to weep and wail. She had unreasonably expected Paul to watch out for her son, Franz, and blames him for surviving while Franz died. The two mothers show different reactions to the brutality of war. ^^^^^^^^^^ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT: MITTELSTAEDT This classmate of Paul takes revenge on schoolmaster Kantorek when the latter is assigned to the home guard unit Mittelstaedt commands.
Once Kantorek had held Mittelstaedt’s future in his hands by his potential influence in connection with examinations. Aware now that survival is more important than any test, Mittelstaedt ridicules Kantorek, even using the schoolmaster’s favorite phrases. ^^^^^^^^^^ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT: BOETTCHER The former porter at Paul’s school becomes a model reserve soldier. Mittelstaedt sends him on errands through town with the former schoolmaster, Kantorek, who is an impossible soldier, so that everyone may enjoy the irony of the reversal of roles: the nobody is now the teacher. ^^^^^^^^^^ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT: GERARD DUVAL Duval is a French printer with a wife and child.
The soldier Paul instinctively stabs after he falls into Paul’s shell hole. Paul’s horror grows as he waits hours for Duval to die, and then learns the facts of his life from his wallet. Duval is a pleasant-looking man, and now he is dead at Paul’s own hand. Guilt nearly drives Paul mad before a slowdown in the firing finally allows him to leave the shell hole. ^^^^^^^^^^ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT: SERGEANT OELLRICH In contrast to Paul, Oellrich is a sniper who is proud of his ability to pick off enemy soldiers. Katczinsky and Kropp point him out to Paul to shock him back to the reality of front-line warfare after Paul has killed Duval.
Oellrich boasts about how his human targets jump when he hits them, and Katczinsky and Kropp remind Paul that the man will probably get a decoration or promotion if he keeps shooting so well. ^^^^^^^^^^ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT: JOSEF HAMACHER Hamacher is a popular soldier in Paul and Kropp’s hospital ward. He can get away with anything because of a shooting license, a paper stating that he experiences periods of mental derangement. ^^^^^^^^^^ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT: LITTLE PETER Another patient, Peter is small and has black, curly hair. His lung injury is so serious that he is sent to the Dying Room, a room located next to the elevator to the morgue. He vows to return–and does, to everyone’s amazement. ^^^^^^^^^^ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT: SISTER LIBERTINE Sister Libertine is one of the nurses at the hospital where Paul and Albert are patients.
Unlike some of the callous medics and surgeons, and even the other serious-minded nuns, she spreads good cheer throughout her entire wing of the hospital. The men would do anything for her. ^^^^^^^^^^ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT: FRANZ WACHTER Wachter dies in the hospital. Unable to get anyone to take care of his hemorrhaging arm wound, he makes Paul realize that patients can die just from neglect. ^^^^^^^^^^ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT: THE THREE FRENCH GIRLS Three girls live in a house across the river from a German camp.
Paul, Kropp, and Leer swim a closely guarded canal to spend two evenings with them. Leer’s favorite is the blond; Paul’s girl is the little brunet. She is not particularly concerned that he is going on leave. Considering the shortages, she will welcome any decent soldier, whatever his uniform, if he can also bring food. ^^^^^^^^^^ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT: BERGER Berger is the strongest soldier in Paul’s company.
At one time he stoically listened while the screaming horses died, but by the end of the war his protective shell has grown as thin as anyone else’s. He loses all judgement and insanely tries to rescue a wounded messenger dog two hundred yards off. He dies of a pelvis wound in the attempt. ^^^^^^^^^^ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT: KAISER WILHELM William II (1859-1941), or Kaiser Wilhelm, who briefly appears to inspect troops, is a figure from world history. Emperor of Germany and King of Prussia from 1888 to 1918, he was the son of Frederick III and a grandson of both William I of Germany and Queen Victoria of England. When he was a young man, his parents rejected his belief in the divine right of kingship and disliked his impulsiveness and love of military display.
These traits have often been explained as his attempts to compensate for a withered left arm. His visit to the troops in this novel shows both his love of military display and his lack of an imposing physical appearance. His goal was to make Germany a major world power, and he was the dominant force in his own government. He loved foreign travel but often spoke impulsively and insulted other heads of state. His actions helped drive Great Britain into an alliance with France.
He engaged in the famous Willy-Nicky correspondence with Czar Nicholas of Russia, but undermined the friendship by supporting Austria in policies offensive to Russia. He strained relationships with France by interfering in colonial affairs in Morocco. Alarmed at the growing isolation of Germany, he allied his country with Austria, Italy, and Turkey. His power declined after the outbreak of the First World War. His abdication was one of the peace requirements demanded by the Allies in 1918. ^^^^^^^^^^ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT: SETTING The story told in All Quiet on the Western Front occurs during the two years just before the Armistice ended World War I in November 1918. In Chapters 1 and 2 we learn that Paul Baumer, the narrator, and his friend Kat had been together three years–one year longer than the time period covered by the novel.
By 1916 when the story begins, World War I had already been underway for two years. It broke out in August 1914 between the Allies (Britain, France, Russia, Belgium, Serbia, and later the United States) and the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary and Germany). In June 1914 Austrian Archduke Frances Ferdinand and his wife had been assassinated at Sarajevo by a Serbian nationalist, leading to Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war on Serbia. German leaders, alarmed at Russian mobilization and eager to establish the Reich as a power on a par with Britain, declared war on both of Germany’s neighbors, Russia and France. They also refused to guarantee the neutrality of Belgium.
Great Britain, in turn, declared war on Germany in response to the threat to British allies. At the time, Paul and his classmates would have been 16-year-old schoolboys. German desire to become a major power was nothing new. Prussian beliefs included the idea that Germany had to be a military state because it lacked natural protective boundaries. The Prussian goal was to make Germany a glittering, well-organized, self-confident machine.
The idea that Paul rejects–18-year-olds as Iron Youth–fits perfectly into this Prussian mentality. From the beginning, World War I was fought in two areas, named for their geographical relationship to Germany. The Eastern Front extended into Russia, and the Western Front extended through Belgium into northern France. Germany hoped to knock out France in six weeks and then turn its full strength against Russia. The Allies, however, soon halted the German army at the Marne River, and the war in the West settled down to four years of trench warfare–the static or at a standstill kind of war described in the discussion of Chapter 6 in this guidebook.
In All Quiet, Paul describes a battle with the French in Chapter 6 and then, a short time later, is assigned to a camp (Chapter 8) where he guards Russian prisoners of war. Although he does not name the exact locations for the military offensives he describes–after all, the place names had little to do with life and death–the offensive in Chapter 6 could have been the French attack in 1917 at Aisne and Champagne. That offensive failed, with heavy French losses. Meanwhile, behind the Fronts, all resources were being directed toward winning the war. At first, military methods used were mostly those from earlier wars–infantry, cavalry, and artillery–but this war boosted production of tanks, planes, machine guns, high-explosive shells, flamethrowers, and poison gas. The strong industrial push left little for civil life, and economies and governments were shattered all over Europe. Forced drafts of men, food shortages, attacks on civilian populations, and hysteria reached heights never before seen. It is during this final period that the last few chapters of All Quiet occur.
By late 1917 Germany had won the war in the East. In March 1918, Russia signed the harsh treaty of Brest-Litovsk, giving Germany huge chunks of its territory. Russia’s withdrawal enabled Germany to transfer forces from the East and to mount a supreme effort to capture Paris. But by this time the United States was entering the war, and timing was essential to the German plan: the offensive had to succeed before American troops could reach the Western Front in sizable numbers. Ludendorff, the German leader who directed the operation, was prepared to lose one minion men to win. He poured his efforts onto the British sector.
The situation became so desperate that the Allies stopped arguing among themselves and established a unified command under Marshal Ferdinand Foch. Nevertheless, at its height the German offensive came within 40 miles of Paris. Then in May 1918 American divisions poured in, and the Allies fought back furiously. In July they broke through the new German lines and swept the Central Powers back toward the pre-1914 frontiers. In the fall of 1918, German allies began to surrender–in September the Bulgarians, in October the Turks. One by one, ethnic minorities within Austria-Hungary began to proclaim independence, and on November 3 the Austrians capitulated. Germans were demoralized, and mutinies broke out in German fleets. There were revolts among civilians in Kiel and Hamburg.
In early November the German king or emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm, fled to Holland. Finally, on November 11, 1918, a German delegation appeared at Allied headquarters to request an armistice. Overall, the war was fought at tremendous cost. Most tragic was the loss in lives. Known dead included 1.8 million German soldiers and more than one million men each from Russia, France, Austria-Hungary, the United Kingdom, and Italy.
Even the U.S., latecomer to the war, lost more than 100,000 men. Actual fatalities have been estimated as high as 13 million. In addition, nearly 22 million men were wounded, 7 million of them permanently disabled or mutilated. More than 9 million civilians were also killed. The world of 1919 was stunned and uncertain.
Ten years later the mood still lingered. People wanted to understand what had happened but could not. It is in that atmosphere that Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front appeared. ^^^^^^^^^^ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT: THEMES In the short note that comes just before Chapter 1, Remarque lets us know exactly what theme he intends. He says that All Quiet on the Western Front is the story of a generation of young men who were destroyed by World War I–even if they survived the shelling.
To arrive at a fifth statement of this main theme, Remarque weaves several related themes into the story. The outline that follows points out chapters you can read to see how he presents each idea. 1. THE HORROR OF WAR Remarque includes discussions among Paul’s group, and Paul’s own thoughts while he observes Russian prisoners of war (Chapters 3, 8, 9) to show that no ordinary people benefit from a war. No matter what side a man is on, he is killing other men just like himself, people with whom he might even be friends at another time.
But Remarque doesn’t just tell us war is horrible. He also shows us that war is terrible beyond anything we could imagine. All our senses are assaulted: we see newly dead soldiers and long-dead corpses tossed up together in a cemetery (Chapter 4); we hear the unearthly screaming of the wounded horses (Chapter 4); we see and smell three layers of bodies, swelling up and belching gases, dumped into a huge shell hole (Chapter 6); and we can almost touch the naked bodies hanging in trees and the limbs lying around the battlefield (Chapter 9). The crying of the horses is especially terrible. Horses have nothing to do with making war.
Their bodies gleam beautifully as they parade along–until the shells strike them. To Paul, their dying cries represent all of nature accusing Man, the great destroyer. In later chapters Paul no longer mentions nature as an accuser but seems to suggest that nature is simply there–rolling steadily on through the seasons, paying no attention to the desperate cruelties of men to each other. This, too, shows the horror of war, that it is completely unnatural and has no place in the larger scheme of things. 2.
A REJECTION OF TRADITIONAL VALUES In his introductory note Remarque said that his novel was not an accusation. But we have seen that it is, in many places, exactly that. This accusation–or rejection of traditional militaristic values of Western civilization–is impressed on the reader through the young soldiers, represented by Paul and his friends, who see military attitudes as stupid and who accuse their elders of betraying them. In an early chapter Paul admits that endless drilling and sheer harassment did help toughen his group and turn them into soldiers. But he points out, often, how stupid it is to stick to regulations at the front–how insane this basic military attitude becomes in life-and-death situations.
One such scene occurs in Chapter 1 when Ginger, the cook, doesn’t want to let 80 men eat the food prepared for 150, no matter how hungry they are. Another occurs in Chapter 7 when Paul is walking around in his hometown and a major forces him to march double time and salute properly–a ridiculous display, considering what he has just been through at the front. The emptiness of all this spit and polish shows up again in Chapter 9 when the men have to return the new clothes they were issued for the Kaiser’s inspection: rags are what’s real at the front. The betrayal of the young by their elders becomes an issue on several occasions. In the first two chapters of the book we learn how misguided Paul was by the teachings of parents and schoolmasters. We also see how older people cling to the Prussian myth of the glory of military might when Paul goes home on leave in Chapter 7.
The Kaiser’s visit in Chapter 9 adds some hints of Remarque’s specific disillusionment with the leaders of his own country. From a broad study of literature and world history, we can see that these older people were not individually to blame for their views. They were simply handing on what was handed on to them. Still, we can also understand why Paul and his friends are so bitterly disappointed and so angry to discover that their elders were wrong. Most readers feel a little sad that young men should consider the act of ridiculing adults their greatest goal in life, but we can also understand why they take revenge on Himmelstoss and Kantorek (Chapters 3 and 7). We even get a certain kick out of what they do, understanding their need to take out their disappointment on someone they know. These situations are, in miniature, an acting out of the bitter anger and disillusionment Paul feels when he says in Chapter 10, It must all be lies and of no account when the culture of a thousand years could not prevent this stream of blood being poured out. 3.
FRIENDSHIP: THE ONLY ENDURING VALUE The theme of comradeship occurs often and gives the novel both lighthearted and sad moments. In Chapter 5 it’s easy to overlook how the farmer felt about having his property stolen and to chuckle aloud when Paul is struggling to capture the goose! We appreciate the circle of warmth that encloses him and Kat that night as they slowly cook and eat the goose, and then extend their warm circle by sharing the leftovers with Kropp and Tjaden. In Chapter 10 we enjoy their sharing of the pancakes and roast pig and fine club chairs at the supply dump, and we understand why Paul fakes a high temperature to go to the same hospital as Albert Kropp. Friendship emerges as an even more important theme at the front. In Chapters 10 and 11 we see men helping wounded comrades at great personal risk–or even, like Lieutenant Bertinck, dying for their friends.
The handing on of Kemmerich’s fine yellow leather boots also acts as a symbol of friendship–a symbol we can almost touch, and one that keeps us aware of how deeply a soldier feels the loss of each of his special friends. We can understand how hearing the voices of friends when one is lost (Chapter 9) or even just hearing their breathing during the night (Chapter 11) can keep a soldier going. We grieve with Paul and almost put down the book when Kat dies. 4. A GENERATION DESTROYED BY WORLD WAR I Taking all of the themes together and adding Paul and his friends’ hopeless discussions of what is left for them to do after the war (Chapter 5), we can conclude that Remarque succeeds in his main theme: showing that Paul’s generation was destroyed by the Great War, as World War I was then called.
^^^^^^^^^^ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT: STYLE AND STRUCTURE All Quiet on the Western Front is, on the whole, a very serious and even a grim novel. Remarque presents his message through vivid description and imagery. The tone is not overwhelmingly bitter. Two things stand out in Remarque’s style: his vivid word pictures and the way he balances contrasting scenes against each other to make each one stand out. His descriptions bring every chapter to life, whether he is showing us the glare of flares or the darkness beyond the trenches, vicious rats or itchy lice, the steady drumlike beat of bombardment or the piercing shrieks of shells and wounded.
His descriptions also include images of beauty and peace–usually in Paul’s thoughts–that make clear how awful the front actually is. He converts a pair of boots, a goose, and the circle of light cast by campfires into symbols of friendship. And he uses similes to show the brutality of war: the men fight like thugs, like wild beasts. The tanks push relentlessly forward like steel beasts squashing bugs. CH FAR FROM THE FRONT NEAR THE FRONT AT THE FRONT 1 Recollections: Second Company, school, Kantorek.
down to 80 men, well fed. 2 Recollections: Kemmerich’s death Himmelstoss, in a field hospital. basic training The boots. 3 Reminiscences: Kat’s skill at Himmelstoss. foraging. Theories of war.
4 Barbed wire duty. The wounded horses. The upturned graves. 5 Insubordination to Himmelstoss. Lack of post-war goals.
The goose incident. 6 Days upon days of trench warfare. Company down to 32 men. Westhus wounded. 7 Paul home on The evening with leave. the French girls.
Mittelstaedt’s humiliation by Kantorek. 8 Paul guarding the Russian prisoners of war. 9 The Kaiser’s visit. Paul’s killing of Duval in the trench. 10 The hospital.
The supply dump. Kropp left behind. 11 Starvation, lack of supplies, demoralization. Loss of Detering, Muller, Leer, Kat. 12 Paul’s death on a quiet day. Remarque’s use of contrast, gives a new meaning to the phrase theater of war. He keeps us moving between the trenches and the rest of the world. Even if Paul’s hometown is suffering from war shortages, life there is safe and comfortable compared with the front.
Even the hospital, filled with wounded, offers clean sheets and regular food–luxuries unimaginable at the front lines. These contrasts help us to understand what is happening to the emotional life of the young soldier. The above chart will help you see more clearly how Remarque uses contrasts. The first part of All Quiet dwells on what happened at home, far from the front, and what it is like near the front. The middle chapters actually take us to the front and then pull us back several times–to civilian life, to a camp behind the lines, to a supply dump, to a hospital–so that we too feel the shock when we return, in the final chapters, to the unrelieved pressures of the front. Finally, Remarque’s style includes irony.
We fully appreciate how little value is attached to a single human life by 1918 when we read the army report on the progress of the war on the day Paul dies: All quiet on the Western Front. ^^^^^^^^^^ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT: POINT OF VIEW Stories usually are told from the first person or the third person point of view. We get these terms from grammar. I love is a first person structure, you love is second person, and he (or she) loves is third person. A story is told in the first person when the narrator says that I or we are doing thus-and-so: someone actually in the story is telling it. A third person story uses the he or they approach; some unnamed person outside the story is observing others doing something. Except for the very last two paragraphs of the book, All Quiet on the Western Front is written from the first person point of view.
The story is being told by someone who is actually in it–Paul Baumer–not by some invisible outsider. Remarque does switch to third person in the last two paragraphs for an obvious reason: Paul cannot report his own death. First person narration always has both advantages and disadvantages. A big advantage is that we tend to identify with the main character. In All Quiet we feel as if we are right there with Paul, experiencing what he is seeing and hearing and feeling.
We almost think his thoughts, share his ideas. First person narration makes the whole story seem direct and real and honest. On the other hand, first person narration also limits us to knowing and seeing only what the narrator–in this case, Paul–knows and sees. We get other news and views and opinions only as he filters them and reports them to us. In the case of All Quiet, Paul is young and immature. Until he enlisted, he had never experienced real pain or tragedy in his life.
Older people generally know from experience that human beings can survive incredible pain and still find meaning in life. Paul hasn’t had any time to gain that kind of experience to sustain him. Therefore it’s asking quite a bit to have us accept, from him, whole theories about war and life and the nature of human beings. Still, whatever Paul might lack in age or experience is balanced for us by the honesty and sensitivity we see in him. Over all, then, in All Quiet on the Western Front, the advantages of first person narration outweigh the disadvantages.
There is a perfect fit of first person point of view with what Remarque wanted to say about World War I–that it destroyed a whole generation of the young. How better to show us that than to let us experience the war through the eyes of a young soldier? ^^^^^^^^^^ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT: FORM When critics use the word form to discuss a novel, they sometimes mean its overall style and structure–the elements already presented under that heading in this guidebook. Another meaning of form is the category a novel falls into–how it should be classified, what kind of fiction it is. You yourself use from in this narrow, second meaning when you say that you like to read mysteries or westerns or romances or some other kind of story. But if someone asked you what kind of book All Quiet is, you would find that it just doesn’t fit standard classifications. You might say it’s a war story–but it’s a lot more than that.
It’s also a story about a boy turning into a disillusioned adult, or perhaps a story telling society that it ought to eliminate the great evil of war. The standard categories simply do not express all that. The best term for a novel in which everything depends on a specific war setting is historical novel. Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, set during the French Revolution, is an example. All Quiet does happen during World War I, but Remarque doesn’t dwell on historical details such as names of battles. Instead he concentrates much more on what any war does to people.
Usually a novel in which a young person matures by passing through some kind of crisis is called a novel of formation or a novel of initiation. This fits Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, in which Henry Fleming starts out as a naive boy, expecting war to be glorious, only to find how terrible it is. It also fits All Quiet to some extent, but not as well–by the time the book begins, Paul has already become disillusioned enough to call 70 deaths a miscalculation. If you see All Quiet as a novel telling society something wrong ought to be changed–in this case, war–you could try sociological novel, but again the label seems somehow off. It fits a book against slavery like Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin but seems to express only one element of All Quiet. All in all, form as classification is simply too narrow and artificial for this book.
With All Quiet, you are better off using the word form in its broad senses meaning style and structure. All Quiet can be described as a novel made up of dramatic scenes, vivid language, and a series of contrasting episodes that make us feel how totally destructive war is. ^^^^^^^^^^ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT: AUTHOR’S NOTE Remarque begins his book with a note before the first chapter. In it he says that his book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, but rather an account of a generation of young men who were destroyed by the war–World War I–even though they may have escaped its shells. What does he mean? Biography and history tell us his situation.
By 1929 when his book came out, World War I had been over for ten years, but it was still affecting people like him and his friends, who had gone from the schoolroom right into the trenches. Many of them survived, but they felt as if a shadow still hung over their lives. After all that time, they still hadn’t been able to sort out their feelings about the war. Remarque says that he doesn’t want to accuse or blame anyone, that he certainly doesn’t have anything new to confess, and that he is definitely not trying to write an adventure story–the kind of war story that’s full of heroes and waving flags. If all of that is what we should not expect, then what should we expect? Well, if he means what he says, he’s going to let the story itself show us just exactly what was so destructive about World War I. Maybe it’s the deaths of friends; maybe it’s the loss of ideals. We’ll need to read the book to find out.
But we can expect every chapter to tell us something to support his theme: that the First World War destroyed even those who came through it alive. ^^^^^^^^^^ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT: CHAPTER 1 The very first paragraph takes us within five miles of the front lines. The men are resting on the ground, having just stuffed themselves with beef and beans (the cook is stiff dishing out more). There are double rations of bread and sausage besides, and tobacco is so plentiful that everyone can get his preference–cigarets, cigars, or chews. Whoever is telling the story is right there, in it; this is what is called first person narration.
But the narrator (we soon find out that he’s 19 years old and his name is Paul Baumer) makes clear that the whole situation is incredible:–We have not had such luck as this for a long time. Where did the windfall come from? Paul says, We have only a miscalculation to thank for it. It turns out that the quartermaster sent, and the cook prepared, food for the full Second Company–150 men. But 70 were killed at the end of a quiet two-week mission when the English suddenly opened up with high-explosive field guns. Before we can stop to think about Paul’s dismissing all those deaths as a miscalculation, he backs up to tell the whole story of how they nearly had to riot to get all that food and tobacco.
The cook, it seems, didn’t care about the count; he just didn’t want to give any man more than a single share. In the course of retelling how their noise brought the company commander, who finally ordered the cook to serve everything, Paul introduces all his friends. They’re an assorted lot: first, three of his classmates from school–Muller, the bookworm, Albert Kropp, the sharp thinker, and bearded Leer who likes officers’ brothels. Then there are three other 19-year-olds: the skinny locksmith Tjaden, the farmer Detering, and the peat-digger Haie Westhus. Finally he names an older soldier–the group’s shrewd, 40-year-old leader, a man with a remarkable nose for food and soft jobs, Stanislaus Katczinsky. NOTE: From their names we see that these major characters are German, but it really doesn’t matter.
They could just as well be French or English, so far as their experiences are concerned. At this point we don’t really know if Paul, the narrator, is as cold and unfeeling as he appears. He and his friends seem to care much more about food than about the lives of their companions. Is Remarque indirectly telling us that war reduces people to animals? Or are the men just being realistic? We’ll have to wait and see. The day continues to be wonderfully good, says Paul, because their mail catches up with them.
But one letter angers them. It’s from their schoolmaster, Kantorek, who pumped them all so full of the glory of fighting for their country that they marched down to the district commandant together and enlisted. The only one who had to be persuaded was homely Josef Behm, and he’s dead already–the first of their class to fall. Paul doesn’t blame Kantorek personally for Behm’s death, but he does blame the thousands of Kantoreks who were so sure their view of the coming war was the right one. We were only 18, he says; we trusted our teachers and our parents to guide us, and they let us down so badly.
He seems to be saying that the war has cut them adrift from a meaningful life, with no new values to replace the old ones. All the young soldiers know for sure is that it’s good to have a full belly or a good smoke. The friends go over to visit Franz Kemmerich, a classmate who is dying after a leg amputation. Muller turns out to be totally crude and tactless. Kemmerich is dying, and Muller rattles on about Kemmerich’s stolen watch and just who will get Kemmerich’s fine English leather boots.
Paul, on the other hand, recalls Kemmerich’s mother, crying and begging Paul to look after Franz as they left for the front. To Paul, Kemmerich still looks like a child accidentally poured into a military uniform. Perhaps war hasn’t blunted his sensitivity yet, but Muller’s crudeness shocks us. As they leave the dressing station, it is obvious that Kropp, like Paul, is still brimful of feelings. Erupting into anger, he hurls his cigaret to the ground and mutters, Damned swine! He is thinking of the leaders who sent them into battle and of people like Kantorek calling waifs like Kemmerich Iron Youth. Youth! thinks Paul.
That is long ago. We are old folk. NOTE: THE ROMANTIC VIEW OF WAR From history we know that the Kantoreks passionately believed the ideals they taught their children and students. World War I broke out in what seems to us a largely innocent world, a world that still associated warfare with glorious cavalry charges and the nob.