Essay, Research Paper: All Quiet On The Western Front

World Literature

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"All Quiet on the Western Front” is a novel written by Erich Maria
Remarque. It is a war novel that tells the story of a young man and his
experiences in combat during World War I. The title of the novel roots from a
phrase used to describe the silence between shellings and infantry attacks
during the battles fought on the western front ( Text, 895 ). Although World War
I was a very real event, the testaments of the main character in “All Quiet on
the Western Front” is purely fictional, but they are based on the accounts of
veterans of the war. In order to understand most of the events that took place
in the novel it is essential to understand how the war erupted. After Serbia
refused to apologize to Austria for the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand,
Germany pushed Austria to declare war. Germany’s desire to start a war can be
explained by the internal tensions that were increasing in the country at the
time. The assassination was a timely scapegoat to direct the peoples attention
and animosity to external sources. In short, on July 28, 1914, Austria declared
war on Serbia and the allies of each country joined in, starting this global
war. Paul Baumer is a young soldier who volunteered to enter into the German
army with a group of his schoolmates. All the events that take place in the
novel are seen through Paul’s eyes, they are described on the basis of the
perspective of this young soldier. In the first chapter, Paul recalls the
reasons for why he and his friends enlisted. He talks about their schoolmaster,
Kantorek, who would lecture them constantly on the fact that they should “join
up” (pg. 11). Another reason that played as a factor for many young men being
so enthusiastic to join the army was the propaganda of the time. Nationalism was
the theme in the propaganda that persuaded the men to enlist. It was taught to
young minds that it was their obligation to protect and to die for their country
if they loved their nation and their people. As the novel goes on, it depicts
scenes of combat that Paul lives through. It describes the type of warfare that
is used and the thoughts that run through Pauls’ mind as he sits in the trench
hoping he doesn’t die. As Paul and the other soldiers move closer to the
front, their chances for survival become slimmer. The front that is referred to,
is in Belgium, and it is the boundary that the Germans were invading. The French
and British were attempting to get the Germans out of Belgium and this is where
the fighting that Paul engages in and witnesses takes place. By the sixth
chapter of “All Quiet on the Western Front”, Paul has reached the front. He
describes it as being “...a cage in which we must await fearfully whatever may
happen...and live in a suspense of uncertainty” ( pg. 101 ). His description
of his time in the trench evokes emotion in the reader, in that they can get a
feel for the kind of trauma one endures in that situation. The death toll
resulting from the battles on the western front was enormous for both sides.
Germans would advance through the French lines of defense but the French would
hold their positions and slaughter Germans on a massive scale. Both offensive
strategies and defense plans on behalf of both the French and the Germans, were
often ineffective, resulting in casualties and injury. A lot of these strategies
and tactics are described in the novel. Trench warfare is illustrated as Paul
describes his narrow escape from death when a shell lands in the trench he is in
(pg. 106). This back and forth killing ended up as a stalemate that had a death
toll of millions. “All Quiet on the Western Front” also portrays the use of
the new weapons, never before used in any previous wars. New technology,
mechanization and new tactics of warfare were implemented in the battles of this
war. For the first time soldiers were ordered to dig ditches and fire their
machine guns from behind the walls of these trenches. This became known as
trench warfare and it was an unprecedented strategy that proved to be effective
for a defensive war. New weaponry emerged during this war such as the flame
thrower which was first used by the German army. Paul expresses concern over
this new weapon as he thinks to himself of what weapons the enemy might use (
pg. 105). Chlorine gas was first used in 1915 by the Germans, and Mustard gas,
which causes severe blistering, was introduced two years later ( Text, 891).
Both sides were capable of creating new weapons of destruction, so this constant
“progress” only resulted in increasing casualty rates, but no significant
victory. World War I was the bloodiest war that the world had ever experienced.
It came to an end when Germany surrendered in 1918, mainly due to the entering
of the United States on the side of the British. The impact that the war had on
the soldiers is told in “All Quiet on the Western Front”. Not only does Paul
describe the events that he goes through, but he also describes his
understanding that the war has changed him forever. He doesn’t believe that he
can ever return to normal life after having gone through what he has. Facing
death and killing has made him old beyond his years and he confirms that when he
says “...Youth? That is long ago. We are old folk” (pg. 18). Paul describes
his acknowledgment that the war has transformed him when he describes that the
soldiers have been transformed “...into thugs, into murderers, into God only
knows what devils...” ( pg.114 ). Naturally “a beast” is incapable of
returning to a civilian life. This is the unfortunate fate of the soldiers who
survived the war.

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