All Quiet on the Western Front-Erich Maria Remarque
Whether a war is worth fighting for is a hard question to answer. There are many factors that make a person either believe that it is beneficial or not. In one person’s opinion, such as the victor, it may be worthwhile but for another it may be a pointless loss of life’s beauty. All Quiet on the Western Front demonstrated how the horrors of conflict slowly destroyed the men and left them with painful memories. It presents war as being a futile struggle that made men lose hope and showed war as not actually beneficial when compared with the cost to the people involved.
War for the people fighting was an entirely different concept to that of the political man or woman. The political leaders that made the decisions about where and when the soldiers fought would have presumably believed that the final benefits outweighed the damage involved. Soldiers, however, had a totally different view. They saw war as gruesome carnage. In the hospitals there were men mutilated by battle, unable to do anything but lie in their beds and hope to recover or else slowly die.
Paul, the book’s protagonist, stated that if one really wanted to see what fighting was like ” a hospital alone shows what war is. 1 To them “war [was] a cause of death like cancer and tuberculosis, like influenza and dysentery. The deaths [were] merely more frequent, more varied and terrible. “2 The soldiers also believed that they were fighting someone else’s war. If the leaders had been subjected to the huge amount of needless pain and suffering, the war would be over very quickly. One private thought that the cost of war was so terrible that they easily outweighed the benefits. He believed he was fighting something that he should not.
His idea was to put in an “arena the ministers and generals of the two countries [arm them with clubs and let them] have it out among themselves… That would be much simpler and more just than this arrangement, where the wrong people do the fighting. ” 3 So for politicians war was beneficial but for soldiers, since they saw the real fighting and believed that it was not their war, the disadvantages were far greater. Life on the battlefield, from the soldier’s viewpoint, was really like an animals’ life, just concentrating on survival, killing before being killed.
War made the men change from human beings to savage animals. It took away their logic and their sense of consequences. This ruthlessness ruined the young men. In letting themselves become like animals they survived longer but were left with memories and pain which would be with them till death.
The war made them soldiers but in doing so destroyed their innocence. For them “on the borders of death, life [followed] an amazingly simple course, it [was] limited to what is most necessary, all else [lied] buried… esides [their] primitiveness and [their] survival. “4 It had “… transformed [them] into unthinking animals in order to give [them] the weapon of instinct. “5 This instinct made them able to survive in such a horrific environment yet made them so ferocious that even “if [their] own father came over with [the enemy, they] would not hesitate to fling a bomb at him. “6 The men that fought came into the war as young adults but because of the harsh conditions were transformed into weary ‘old’ men. This notion is displayed when Paul said “Iron Youth. Youth!
We are none of us more then twenty years old. But young? Youth? That is long ago. We are old folk. “7 All the ghastly atrocities that Paul and the others encountered made the youthful, enthusiastic attitudes of the men become old, unenthusiastic and weary. All Quiet on the Western Front established that the pain and anguish, the destroying of the man’s innocence was not worth the benefits. The war made Paul become weary and also destroyed his sense of hope. The animal instinct took away his thinking. He was left a broken man, without hope, only despair.
To him there were no other options, war was all there was, “Shells, gas clouds, and flotillas of tanks- shattering, corroding, death. Dysentery, influenza, typhus-scalding, choking, death. Trenches, hospitals, the common grave- there are no other possibilities. “8 Paul had lost many things that he had once relished from his childhood such as the joy of reading, “Words, Words, Words-they do not reach me. Slowly I place the books back in the shelves. Nevermore. “9
The ongoing memories that war left Paul with were only those of “despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. 10 He was a broken man existing in a living Hell. The future was something Paul just tried to survive for, though what it held he did not know. He was so ravished by war that he finally said “Let the months and years come, they can take nothing from me, they can take nothing more. I am so alone, and so without hope that I can confront them without fear. “11 All of this so powerfully affected Paul that when he died “turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come. 12
The war left the men broken and full of despair, to them the advantages of war were not enough to make it worth all the pain and suffering. For the soldiers, the war was a destructive force that took from them hope, innocence and youth. The only thing it gave them in return was despair, fear, sorrow, weariness and death. The word war encapsulates so much, and for the soldiers in All Quiet on the Western Front it was something that had such high costs involved with it that the benefits could never be worthwhile.