Example research essay topic: All Quiet On The Westren Front – 5,580 words

All Quiet on the Western Front Chapter SummaryBy:Jesse CodyAll Quiet on the Western Front is ananti-war novel from the opening chapters. Manycritics of the novel in the early days after thepublication of the novel blamed Remarque forwriting for shock value. They did not want tobelieve his novel represented the truth aboutWorld War I. In many ways, such people were likePaul’s schoolmaster, Kantorek. They wanted tocling to classical, romantic notions of war.However, Remarque wrote his novel specifically toshatter those idealistic illusions. Yes, he wroteto shock, but he also wrote to educate.

The youngteenage men who enlisted in the army on both sidesoften never recovered from their horrificexperiences.They returned home with shatteredminds and shattered bodies to an impoverished,ravaged civilian population that often regardedthem as unpleasant reminders of a war they wantedto forget. Many civilians were unable to believethat the soldiers suffered horrors far greaterthan what they had suffered. Many veterans couldnot talk about their experiences because they wereso unspeakable. They were the victims, but theywere also the killers. What had been done to them,they had done to others as well.

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There are a lotof reasons that the generation of men who enteredtheir young adulthood during the war is called”the lost generation.”The Great War seemed utterlysenseless.Countries slid unknowingly into aconflict they thought would end quickly. Theythought the conflict would follow the classicalconcept of warfare.

They were utterly wrong. Therewas a strict disjunction between the romance offighting for honor and pride and the nasty,unbelievable wholesale butchery that actuallyhappened. Hundreds and thousands of men died towin a few yards of land only to lose it again inanother battle. Once the death toll nearedunbelievable proportions, the war continuedbecause civilians and soldiers demanded somejustification for the slaughter and the suffering.

The stalemate lasted over four years.It isdifficult to estimate the scale of The Great War’scasualties.Many of the dead were never buried inmarked graves. They lay and rotted in the trenchesor in the No Man’s Land between the trenches.Historians estimate that between nine and twelvemillion soldiers died in action. Others died fromcomplications from wounds or from disease.

Millions more lost arms, legs, or suffered fromdisfiguring facial wounds. Millions of civilianswere killed or starved to death. Many suffereddisfiguring wounds from being in the wrong placeat the wrong time.Although World War IIovershadows World War I, the first World War madethe second possible. In some ways, the first warwas worse than the second.Before The Great War,no one had any idea what modern warfare meant. TheGreat War heralded a different kind of fighting.

Soldiers rarely saw their enemies face to facewhen they died. The very distance made the killingeasier. On both sides of the conflict, propagandadenied the humanity of the enemy, thus making thekilling and maiming more acceptable. Both sidesraced to find new, more horrific ways to kill andmaim one another. People had a better idea of whatto expect when the second war started.No oneexpected The Great War to be as terrible as itwas.

Powerful men with their pride and their honorat stake chose to throw away the lives of millionsrather than call an end to the stalemate of TheGreat War. All Quiet on the Western Front is aprotest against the betrayal by older, powerfulmen of the younger, naive generation. Young menenlisted believing they were embarking on anexciting adventure to fight for glory and honor.They thought they would be home by Christmas.AllQuiet on the Western Front – Chapters1-2SummaryPaul and the other members of the SecondCompany are resting after being relieved from thefront lines.

When they went to the front, theircompany contained one hundred and fifty men. Onlyeighty returned. The quartermaster requestedrations for a full company, but on the last day,they suffered a heavy attack.The surviving menreceive a double ration of food and tobacco.Paul,Leer, Muller, and Kropp are all nineteen yearsold. They are all from the same class in school,and they all enlisted voluntarily. Tjaden is thesame age, but he is a locksmith. He eatsvoraciously, but remains thin as a rail.

HaieWesthus, also the same age, is an enormously builtpeat-digger. Detering is a peasant with a wife athome.Katczinksy is the unofficial leader ofPaul’s small group of comrades. He is a cunningman of forty years of age.Paul remembers that theywere embarrassed to use the general latrines whenthey were recruits.

Now, they are a pleasure.Every soldier is intimately acquainted with hisstomach and intestines. “Latrine humor” offers themost succinct expression for joy, indignation, andanger. The men settle down to rest, smoke, andplay cards. They do not talk about their narrowsurvival during their last trip to the front.Kemmerich, one of Paul’s classmates and a memberof the Second Company, is in the hospital with athigh wound.

Paul and his classmates’ schoolmaster,Kantorek, urged them to enlist as volunteers toprove their patriotism.Joseph Behm did not wantto go, but eventually he gave in to Kantorek’sunrelenting pressure. He was one of the first todie, and his death was particularly horrible. WithBehm’s death, Paul and his classmates lost theirinnocent trust in figures of authority. Kantorekoften writes letters to them filled with the emptyphrases of patriotic fervor.They go to seeKemmerich, who is unaware that his leg has beenamputated. Paul discerns from his sallow skin thatKemmerich will not live long.

Muller wantsKemmerich’s boots, but Paul subtly discourages himfrom pressing on the matter.They will have tokeep watch until Kemmerich passes on and take theboots before the orderlies steal them. Paul bribesan orderly with cigarettes to give Kemmerich somemorphine for the pain.Paul and the other young menof his generation were cut off from life just asthey had begun to love it. The older soldiers havejobs and families to which they can return afterthe war. They will forget the trenches and thedeath, but the young men have nothing definite towhich they can set their sights.

Their past livesare vague, unreal dreams.During the training, Pauland his classmates learned that classicalpatriotism requires the loss of individuality andpersonality, a sacrifice that civilians do notrequire of even the lowest class of servants.Corporal Himmelstoss, formerly a postman, trainedPaul’s platoon.

He is a small, petty man whorelentlessly humiliated his recruits, especiallyPaul, Tjaden, Westhus, and Kropp.Eventually, Pauland the others learned to balk Himmelstoss’sauthority without outright defiance. Paul knowsthat the humiliation and the arbitrary disciplinetoughened him and his friends. Otherwise, thefront lines would have made them go insane.Paulattends Kemmerich’s death throes. He lies to hisfriend, and assures him that he will get well andreturn home. Kemmerich knows that his leg is gone,and Paul tries to cheer him with the advances inthe construction of artificial limbs.

Kemmerichtells Paul to give his boots to Muller.Kemmerichbegins to cry silently and refuses to respond toPaul’s attempts at conversation. He dies withinminutes, and Paul takes his boots to Muller.CommentaryBefore World War I, wars generally didnot involve non- stop fighting over a period ofyears. Often, the armies were comprised of hiredmercenaries, or professionals who foughtseasonally. The opening of the novel portrays avery different picture. The soldiers arevolunteers or conscripts.

The army has become anexpression of patriotic duty, not a career.Pauland his classmates enlisted because theirschoolmaster, Kantorek, pressured them to do theirduty by their country. Outside the classroom,young men of their age faced ostracism andcondemnation from society for being cowards ifthey did not join the war effort as volunteers. InEngland, able- bodied men of age faced similarpressure to join the army.World War I was anexpression of nationalism, a form of politicalideology that swept Europe during the nineteenthcentury. The citizen was expected to giveunquestioning loyalty to the state.

Unfortunately,the romantic ideals of the nineteenth century wereat odds with the reality of modern trench warfare.Paul and classmates are the tragic victims of thisdisjunction between the idealism and the realityof The Great War.The opening chapters of the novelserve to introduce details about the reality ofthe war.

Nearly half of the Second Company waskilled or wounded during the last tour of duty onthe front.Paul reports this fact matter of factlyin his narrative. He expresses no surprise.Therefore, such heavy, sudden casualties are verycommon on the front. The cook’s main concern isnot that seventy men have been injured or killed,but whether he should dole out the rations for afull company to the remaining survivors. This isalso the primary concern of the soldiers.

Themessage inherent in the opening scenes to thenovel is that massive carnage is an everydayoccurrence in trench warfare. Therefore, theparticipants are desensitized to the violence,death, and destruction around them.Kemmerich’sdeath extends the criticism of romantic illusionsabout the war.It also highlights the fact thatsoldiers faced a lot of dangers, not merely enemyfire. Muller describes Kemmerich’s wound as a”blighty,” a non- lethal wound that keeps thesoldier out of combat for a while. Such woundswere considered a boon to receive because theymean a break from the miserable conditions oftrench warfare.

The sheer number of wounds placeda huge strain on the medical supplies. No countrythat entered The Great War was prepared for aprolonged conflict involving hundreds of thousandsof injuries. Moreover, the conditions on thebattlefield were unbelievably unsanitary.Andantibiotics had not yet been discovered.

Therefore, slight wounds could easily becomeinfected with lethal bacteria. Gangrene was aconstant problem that led to the amputation oflimbs after relatively light wounds. Millions ofmen were maimed for life in the war, and many lostmore than one limb.Kemmerich’s death is utterlysenseless. He dies from a relatively light wound,and there is no glory in his death. It is merelyugly and pointless. His meaningless death shattersthe romantic rhetoric in Kantorek’s patrioticphrases.

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 heor any of the other survivors is not affected, butthey cannot dwell on sentimental grief. Life onthe front is dangerous, ugly, dirty, andmiserable. The soldiers do not have adequate foodand clothing, so the day to day matters ofsurvival take precedence over sentimentality. Theycannot afford to do otherwise.If they dwelled onevery friend’s death, they would invitemadness.

All Quiet on the Western Front – Chapter3SummaryMore than twenty of the reinforcements forthe Second Company are new recruits. They are allaround seventeen years old. Kat gives one of thenew recruits some beans he acquired by bribing thecompany’s cook. He warns the boy to bring tobacconext time as payment for the food. Kat’s abilityto scrounge extra food and provisions amazes Paul.

Kat is a cobbler by trade, but he has an uncannyknack for all manner of things.Kat believes thatif every soldier got the same food and the samepay, the war would end quickly. Kropp proposesthat the declaration of wars should be conductedlike a festival.He wishes the generals andnational leaders would battle one another withclubs in an open arena. The country with the lastsurviving man wins the war.Paul and his friendsremember the recruits’ barracks with longing now.Even Himmelstoss’s petty humiliations seem idyllicin comparison to the actual practice of war.

Theymuse that Himmelstoss must have been different asa postman. They wonder why he is such a bully as adrill sergeant. Kat replies that Himmelstoss islike a lot of other men. He remarks that even adog trained to eat potatoes will snap at meatgiven the opportunity.Men are the same when theyare given the opportunity to have a littleauthority. Every man is a beast underneath all hismanners and customs. The army is based on one manhaving more power over another man.

Kat thinks theproblem is that they have too much power.Civilians are not permitted to torment others theway men torment one another in the army. The ironyof the drills is that they do not exist on thefront line. They exist a few miles behind it.Tjaden arrives and excitedly reports thatHimmelstoss is coming to the front.

Tjaden has agrudge against Himmelstoss.Tjaden is a bedwetter, and Himmelstoss set out to break him ofhis “lazy” habit. He found another bed wetter,Kindervater, and forced them to sleep in the samebunk bed. Every night, they traded places. The oneon the bottom was drenched by the other’s urineduring 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, andTjaden had their revenge on Himmelstoss once.Theylay in wait for him one night on his return fromhis favorite pub. They threw a bed cover over hishead, and Haie punched him senseless. Theystripped him of his pants and took turns lashinghim with a whip, muffling his shouts with apillow. Afterwards, they slipped away, andHimmelstoss never who gave him the beating.

CommentaryPaul and his friends conclude that thearmy and warfare function on an imbalance ofpower. Those with more authority enjoy theluxuries of greater power. Kat concludes that ifeveryone received the same pay and the same food,the war would end quickly.However, not everyonesuffers equally. Common soldiers receive suchinadequate food and clothing that they must stealto survive.

The difference in amenities betweencommon soldiers and officers, between lesserofficers and greater officers, facilitates theprolongation of the war. If they all sufferedequally, then they would identify more completelywith one another through their experiences.However, they do not fraternize with one another.

One of the purposes of maintaining the imbalanceof power and suffering in an army is to create asituation in which one man can order another toperform an action that may cost his life. This isthe ultimate form of authority of one man overanother. Moreover, the intense bonds betweencommon soldiers make them more willing tosacrifice life and limb to save their comrades.

Without this structure of power in modern armies,modern warfare could not exist.Kropp proposes thatthe leaders who declared war should have to battleone another and suffer the consequences for theirdecisions. The imbalance between nations and theirleaders sparks a conflict between them.Theexpression of this conflict arises from animbalance of power between leaders of nations andtheir citizens. Leaders can draft men for theirarmies and send them into armed conflict. Withinthe army itself, the imbalance of power betweenthe common soldier and the officers furtherfacilitates the armed conflict’s prolongation.

From the top level of power down to the bottom,there are increasing degrees of suffering anddecreasing degrees of luxuries.Therefore, theimbalance of power allows very powerful leaders todeclare war without suffering the worstconsequences of their decisions. The commonsoldier must live with misery of the trenches andthe psychological horror of actual combat.However, Kat attributes an instinctive desire forpower and authority to man. He compares man to adog in his desire for authority.

As a civilian,Himmelstoss was a simple postman, and he snappedat the opportunity to enjoy authority over othersas a Corporal in training camp.The irony of thearmy is that all the pomp and circumstance meannothing on the front line.All the marching,bed-making, bowing and scraping cease to exist inactual combat. The drill has more to do with theability of a few men to luxuriate in the pleasureof demanding the submission of another.Himmelstoss’s use of authority to order recruitsto march, salute, and bow has nothing to do withcombat. It is only one of the perks of his greaterposition of power.Moreover, when Paul and hisfriends talk about enemies, they do not speak ofthe soldiers on the other side.

Instead, they viewfellow country-men as the origin of theirpointless suffering. They blame the petty power-hungry men like Himmelstoss and powerful leaderson their own side. The implication behind theirdiscussion of the origins of the war and thestructure of the army is that the common soldierson the other side are victims like they are.Oddlyenough, however, those other men are the ones theymust kill in combat.All Quiet on the Western Front- Chapter 4SummaryThe Second Company is assignedto the task of laying wire at the front. Everyonecrowds into trucks. The drivers do not risk usinglight, so the trucks often lurch when they hitdeep holes in the road. No one minds that they areoften nearly thrown from them.

A broken bone meansthey will not have to fight until it mends again.They pass a house, and Paul detects the cackle ofgeese. He and Kat agree to make a surreptitiousvisit later.The sound of gunfire and shells fillsthe air.The veteran fighters are not gripped withfear like the new recruits.

Kat explains to therecruits how to distinguish which guns are firingby listening to the blasts. He announces that hesenses there will be a bombardment later in thenight. The English batteries have begun firing anhour earlier than usual. The experienced soldierschange “imperceptibly.” In the roar of guns andthe whistling of shells, their senses sharpen.

Paulregards the front as a “mysterious whirlpool.”Already, he feels its pull. For the soldier, theearth takes on a new significance.He buries hisbody in it for shelter.

It receives him every timehe throws himself down in a fold, furrow, orhollow. Often, it takes him in forever. At thefront, a man’s ancient animal instincts awaken.They are a saving grace for many men who obey themwithout hesitation. Often, a man drops to theground just in time to avoid a shell he did noteven hear coming.

On the front, men transform fromsoldiers to “human animals.”The soldiers carrywire and iron rods to the front.Shortly beforethey arrive, they extinguish cigarettes and pipes.After they lay the wire, they try to sleep untilthe trucks arrive to drive them back. Kat’sprediction about the bombardment is correct.Everyone scrambles for cover while the shells landaround them. Paul attempts to replace a terrifiedrecruit’s helmet on his head, but the boy cuddlesunder his arm. Paul places it on his behind toprotect it from shell fragments.

After theshelling lessens, the recruit comes to and noticeswith embarrassment that he has defecated in hispants. Paul explains that many soldiers experiencethis problem at first.He instructs the boy toremove his underpants and throw them away.Theyhear the wrenching sounds of wounded horses.Detering is particularly horrified because he is afarmer and he loves horses. After the wounded menare gathered, those in charge of the job shoot thewounded animals. Detering declares with disgustthat using horses in war is the “vilestbaseness.”As the trucks drive them back, Katbecomes restless.

A flurry of bombs lands aroundthem. The men take cover in a nearby graveyard.Paul crawls under an uncovered coffin forprotection. Kat shakes him from behind to tell himto 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 andKropp join him. Paul takes a breath on the valve,hoping that the mask is air tight.

Sometimes theyare not, and the victims die, coughing up bloodclots from their burned lungs.Later, Paul climbsout and notes that one man not wearing his maskdoes not collapse. He tears his mask off and gulpsfresh air.

The shelling has stopped. Paul noticesa recruit lying on the ground with his thigh amass of flesh and bone splinters at the joint. Itis the recruit who defecated in his pants earlier.Kat and Paul know that he will not survive hiswounds.

Kat whispers that it will be more mercifulto end his life with a gunshot before the agony ofhis wound begins to torment him. They are not ableto complete their plan because other people areemerging from their holes. CommentaryDuring TheGreat War, laying barbed wire was one of the mostunpopular jobs on both sides.It was also anextremely dangerous job. After a period of massivebombing, soldiers had to return and lay wire whereit had been blown away. The job had to beconducted at night, and the darker it was, thebetter. If they were to lay the wire in daylight,they would be picked off by snipers or bombedpromptly by the other side.Even the drivers of thetrucks transporting the Second Company to thefront dare not turn on their headlights for fearof attracting attention.

Soldiers could easilysuffer a fatal accident during such momentsbecause the roads are so treacherous. The workitself is heavy and unpleasant, and it is made allthe more difficult by the darkness.The soldierdoes not even have the protection of the trenchesand a lit cigarette, or flash of light from anexploding shell, is enough to give away theirposition to the enemy.

Even though the darkness isthe soldier’s chief protection, it also gives riseto the psychological torment of not being able tosee the enemy. A soldier can never be sure asniper does not have a gun trained on him. He cannever be sure that a flash of light has not givenhis position away.

The only thing on which he canrely is pure animal instinct, throwing himself tothe earth when he senses danger. Paul’sdescription of the soldier’s relationship with theearth is full of the metaphors of sexual acts andthe child’s relationship with its mother. Theearth is a dense symbol representing all thearchetypal human relations: desire, love, need,and even death.It is shelter that saves his lifeas well as the final resting place for his deadbody.Paul’s description of the experiencedsoldier’s reaction to the front strips theromanticism out of the war experience.

He does notspeak of the honor and glory of fighting for one’scountry. The soldier does not really fight for hiscountry on the front. He fights for his life. Herelies on animal instinct to save him from bulletsand bombs, and he concentrates on acquiring food,clothing, and shelter, not on some abstract idealof patriotic duty to the fatherland.The recruit’sfirst trip to the front is a test of fire. If hecannot immediately shed his illusions about thewar, and the useless elaborate drills of thetraining camp, he either goes mad or dies.

Histraining camp can do nothing to prepare him forthe front. The real training begins with gainingexperience on the front. He must learn to copewith constant fear, uncertainty, bombardment, andviolence by becoming a “human animal.”World War Isoldiers had to face the possibility of newweapons for which they are not prepared. Poisongas was one of those weapons in The Great War.

Germany was the first side to use poison gas inthe war. The leaders of Germany claimed thatFrance had used chemical weapons first, so theyfelt justified in breaking the terms of the HagueConvention. The soldiers on the other side wereutterly unprepared for the chlorine gas that crepttowards their trenches.

England and her alliesquickly developed gas masks for it, but only aftera number of painful, agonizing deaths.Afterwards,chemists on both sides researched furiously tofind various gases and methods of delivery. Oftenthe winds blew the gas back into their owntrenches. By the end of the war, mustard gas,chlorine gas, and phosgene were being used. Theeffects on the victim were utterly unbelievable.Some fell where they lay and turned black. Mustardgas was odorless, and it did not take effect fortwelve hours.

Huge blisters rose on the victim’sskin, and he often suffered blindness.Chlorinegas destroyed the respiratory systems of manyvictims. Those who received a lethal dose notstrong enough to kill them faced a slow, agonizingdeath, coughing up blood clots from their damagedlungs while gasping for breath.In the early daysof poison gas, there was a delay between itsintroduction and the development of a mask toprotect soldiers against it. Before then, theycould do nothing other than flee the poisonouscloud. Snipers from the other side could pick themoff as they fled the trenches.

Because gas was anew weapon, soldiers learned how to avoid injuryand death only through experience. Masks were onlypart of this endeavor.They learned that gaslingered in the shell holes and trenches longeronly after seeing others make the mistake ofremoving their masks too soon.

All Quiet on theWestern Front – Chapter 5SummaryEvery soldier onthe front is constantly infested with lice.Tjaden, tired of killing them separately, scrapesthem off his skin with a wire into a boot-polishtin. He kills them by heating the tin with aflame. His lice have red cross on their heads, andhe jokes that he got the at a hospital where theyattended to the surgeon- general. Himmelstoss hasarrived, proving the rumor true. He was observedexcessively tormenting some recruits and sent tothe front as punishment.

Muller begins askingeveryone what they would do if the war endedsuddenly.Albert says the war will not end, butMuller persists. Kat mentions his wife andchildren. The younger men mention women andgetting drunk. Haie says he would become anon-combat army man since digging peat is such aterrible occupation. Tjaden states that he wouldconcentrate on getting revenge on Himmelstoss.

Detering would return to manage hisfarm.Himmelstoss approaches their group. Theirlack of recognition of his authority disconcertshim.He orders Tjaden to stand, but Tjaden moonshim in response. Tjaden rushes off to hide beforeHimmelstoss returns with the authorities. Mullercontinues with his questions. They calculate thatthere are only twelve men left out of the twentyfrom their class who joined the army.

Seven aredead, and four are wounded. One went insane.Theyrecite questions Kantorek shot at them in school.All of their schooling seems pointless now. Theywonder how they will get used to civilian jobssince they never had any before they went to war.Paul cannot even imagine anything.

Albertconcludes that the war has destroyed everythingfor them. They are not impetuous youths any more,but men perpetually on the run. They cannotbelieve in anything except the war.Himmelstossreturns with the sergeant-major. Paul and theother refuse to tell him where Tjaden is.

Thesergeant- major solves the problem by declaringthat Tjaden must report to the Orderly Room withinten minutes. They resolve to torment Himmelstossevery moment they get. Himmelstoss returns laterto demand they tell him where Tjaden is. Kroppremarks sardonically that men will rush to obeyhis orders on the front while they are beingkilled and maimed by the dozens.

Himmelstossstorms off.Later that evening, Kropp and Tjadenundergo trial for insubordination. Paul and theother relate the bed- wetting incident, and thepresiding lieutenant gives Tjaden and Kropp lightpunishments.He lectures Himmelstoss about hisbehavior. Tjaden receives three days open arrest,and Kropp gets one.

Paul and the others visit themand play cards where they are enclosed by a wirenetting, the confines of open arrest.Kat and Paulbribe a driver of a munitions wagon with twocigarettes to take them to the house where thegeese are kept. Paul climbs over the fence andenters the shed to find two geese. He grabs bothand slams their heads against the wall, hoping toavoid a commotion. The maneuver does not work, andthey cackle and fight with him furiously before hemanages to escape with one goose in hand.

Katkills it quickly, and they retreat to an unusedlean-to to cook it. They have to eat it quicklybefore the theft is discovered. They keep thefeathers to make pillows. Paul feels an intimatecloseness with Kat as they roast the goose. Theyeat their fill take the rest to Tjaden and Kropp.

CommentaryThe rate of infestation by lice in thetrenches was close to one hundred percent duringWorld War I. De-lousing was completely pointless,since a man was infested again within hours.Thede-lousing techniques rarely killed the eggs onhis body and clothing.

Besides the continualdiscomfort of itching and scratching, the licewere a source of typhus and Trench Fever. TrenchFever was rarely fatal, but it often removed asoldier from combat. If the soldier did notreceive medical leave, it weakened him and thusmade him even more vulnerable.

Soldiers oftenremoved clothing only to see it teeming withswarming lice. It seems that the cloth moved ofits own will.The sanitary conditions in thetrenches were terrible.

Soldiers rarely had anopportunity to bathe, so they learned variousmethods of de-lousing themselves for temporaryrelief. Picking them one by one and bursting thembetween finger nails was too tedious and it was alosing battle because there were so many. Theylearned to use candles and wire to scrape them offin large numbers, and it took no small amount ofskill and practice to avoid burningthemselves.Muller’s persistent questioning abouthis friends’ post- war plans reveals why the younggeneration of men who enlisted right out of schoolis termed “the lost generation.” Older men who hadpre-war jobs and families regard the war as aninterruption in their lives that will eventuallyend. They had concrete identities and functionswithin society. Younger men like Paul and hisclassmates had no such concrete identities.

Theyentered the war when they were on the threshold oftheir adult lives.None of them have definiteanswers to Muller’s questions.Many of the lostgeneration regarded the war as something thatcould not possibily end because they could notimagine anything else. They gained theiridentities as soldiers. Their experiences of thewar were so shattering that many could not imaginefunctioning in a peacetime environment. Haie givesthe most definite post-war plans, but even hisanswer involves remaining in the army.

He stillcannot imagine himself as anything but a soldier.Paul and his younger comrades cannot imaginefunctioning in civilian jobs after what they haveseen and done. Their curt answers to Muller’squestions betray a certain anxiety about the endof the war.It is almost as if they fear the endof the war as much as they fear the war itself.

Thinking and planning for the future requiresconcrete forms of hope. The horror of trenchwarfare does not allow them to have hope otherthan the desire to survive. They have noexperiences as adults that do not involve a day today fight for survival and sanity.Paul and hisyounger comrades’ only definite plan for thefuture is to exact revenge against Himmelstoss.Tjaden even defines his post-war plans in terms ofavenging himself against Himmelstoss.

Paulironically notes that their only goal is to “knockthe conceit out of the postman.” Their armyexperiences have infiltrated their thinking tosuch an extent that these experiences form thebasis for their only goals. School, learning, andtheir education seem completely useless now.Kantorek used to strike fear into their hearts,but now he seems ridiculous and superfluous totheir existence. The petty humiliations ofHimmelstoss loom much larger in theirminds.Moreover, peacetime social relations cannever approach the intimacy or intensity of asoldier’s bonds with other soldiers.Paul marvelsat the flood of emotion he experiences whileroasting the stolen goose with Kat.

He and Katwould never have known one another in peacetime,but the war brought their lives together in acrucible of horror. Their shared suffering makespeacetime concerns and friendships pale ….

Author: Guillermo Robbins


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