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Literature: World War

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"I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair,
death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how
people are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly,
obediently, innocently slay one another. I see that the keenest brains of the
world invent weapons and words to make it yet more refined and enduring. And all
men of my age, here and over there, throughout the whole world see these things.
All my generation is experiencing these things with me…" All Quiet on the
Western Front, by Erich Remarque, is a classic anti-war novel about the personal
struggles and experiences encountered by a group of young German soldiers as
they fight to survive the horrors of World War One. Remarque demonstrates,
through the eyes of Paul Bдumer, a young German soldier, how the war
destroyed an entire generation of men by making them incapable of reintegrating
into society because they could no longer relate to older generations, only to
fellow soldiers. Paul believed the older generation "…ought to be
mediators and guides to the world… to the future. / The idea of authority,
which they represented, was associated in [their] minds with greater insight and
a more humane wisdom." Paul, his classmates, and a majority of their
vulnerable generation completely trusted their so-called role models and because
of that trust were influenced and pressured into joining the war. They believed
the older generation understood the truth behind war and would never send them
to a dangerous or inhumane situation, "…but the first death [they] saw
shattered this belief." The death caused the soldiers to realize that the
experiences of their generation were more in line with reality than those of the
older generation and that created a gap between the two. "While [the older
generation] continued to write and talk, [Paul's generation] saw the wounded and
dying. / While [the older generation] taught that duty to one's country is the
greatest thing, [Paul's] already knew that death-throes are stronger." The
older generation had an artificial illusion of what war is and although Paul's
generation, the soldiers, loved their country, they were forced to distinguish
reality from illusion. Because of this distinction, Paul's generation felt
terribly alone and separated from society outside of the battlefield. This
separation from society is demonstrated when Paul goes home on leave. When he is
reunited with his mother "[they] say very little," but when she
finally asks him if it was "very bad out there" Paul lies. In trying
to protect her by lying, Paul creates a separation between his mother and
himself. As Paul sees it, the tragedies and horrors of war are not for the
uninitiated. Sadly, the true nature of war further separates the two
generations. While on leave, Paul also visits his father and some of his
father's friends, but does not wish to speak to them about the war. The men are
"curious [about the war] in a way that [Paul finds] stupid and
distressing." They try to imagine what war is like but they have never
experienced it for themselves, so they cannot see the reality of it. When Paul
tries to state his opinion, the men argue that "[he] sees only [his]
general sector so [he is] not able to judge." These men believe they know
more about the war and this makes Paul feel lost. He realizes that "they
are different men here, men [he] can not understand…" and Paul wants to
be back with those he can relate to, his fellow soldiers. Paul wishes he had
never gone on leave because out there "[he] was a soldier, but [at home] he
is nothing but an agony to himself." When Paul returns to the battlefield,
he is excited to be with his comrades. When he sees his company, "[Paul]
jumps up, pushes in amongst them, [his] eyes searching," until he finds his
friends. It is then that Paul knows that "this is where [he] belongs."
The illusions held by the older generations perception of war differed from the
reality of war that Paul's generation experienced, and this difference made Paul
feel that the two generations had separated. This feeling caused Paul to realize
that he related only to the soldiers because they have had a strong bond since
the beginning of the war and have grown together. Since the "rubbish"
they learned in school has "…never been the slightest use to [them]"
they were forced to turn to each other for knowledge. At boot camp, Himmelstoss
abused Paul and his friends, yet the harassment brought them closer together and
developed a strong spirit of support between them. In fact, in time the bond
between the soldiers was so great that they were able to communicate with little
or no words, "[they didn't] talk much, but [Paul] believes [they] have a
more complete communion with one another then even lovers have." Their
ability to relate to each other also carried on to other soldiers, at times
crossing enemy lines. After Paul wounds a French soldier that stumbled into his
shell hole, he feels a tremendous amount of guilt. As the soldier is dying, Paul
befriends him by bringing him water and wrapping up his wounds. He doesn't
understand why war "… meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation
but different uniforms against each other" because he realizes that they
are both very much a like. Paul's generation felt empty and isolated from the
rest of the world due to the fact that they never truly established any part of
themselves in civilian life. They joined the military straight out of school and
never had a chance to start a family, secure a job, or make something of their
life. It was because of this common factor that Paul's generation found no
belonging in civilization, but instead a brotherhood amongst fellow soldiers.
Although this close brotherhood between the soldiers made the war bearable, it
was an added obstacle that made reintegrating into society difficult. The narrow
minded thinking that they could only get along with, and relate to, other
soldiers who had experienced the true horrors of war made functioning in society
difficult. The soldiers themselves realized that reentering society and leading
a normal life would be extremely difficult, and many soldiers would never fully
recover from the devastation of war, which made them feel utterly at a loss. The
terrifying reality of war, which was kept a secret to the older generations, is
that when you enlist young men, straight out of school and place them in battle,
you force them to grow up too quickly and the results are "…a generation
of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by
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