Eternality of War

Perhaps nothing is more frequent in the pages of history books than wars. Since the beginning of time, men have fought to hold their ground and conquer more. Yet the images of war are not always the trumpeting, flag-flying, fresh-faced recruits that they are painted out to be. The reality of war is dark, desolate, and harrowing, with conditions detrimental to mind, body, and spirit. The realities of war and the terrors experienced there are documented and told by authors throughout time, including Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, Tardi’s graphic Goddamn This War!, and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. What the three men allude to is the idea that perhaps the true brutes are not the ones on the defense, but the offense, and that the disease of imperialism and the contagion of power are what turns men into savages in the end.

The most graphic and raw depiction of the war is told by Jacques Tardi, who in his collection of drawings portrays a bitter and brutal state of perpetual violence. His short captions are paired with images of dismembered men and bloody faces, the worst of the quotes being “I’d have liked to see the wise guys right there, in the heart of the inferno: Joffre, the president, the Kaiser, the ministers, the priests and every last general. And my mother, too, for bringing me into this world” (Tardi 18). The cynicism and general weariness of the unnamed narrator leaks from every angle in the story, leaving nothing up to the imagination. The very definitive anti-war message the comic sends couples the horrors of the war with the mental scarring of the men who witnessed it.

Remarque approaches the war from the perspective of Paul Baumer, young, promising, full of the fire of his fellow friends and soldiers as they fight for their home country of Germany. Pumped with patriotism and nationalism, Paul and his friends soon realize that war is not what they expected, or even what they wanted; it is what they feared. The physical, emotional, and psychological stress forced upon the young men proves to them that patriotism and nationalism are but myths, some clichés to mask the actual terror of the war. The excerpt provided portrays a scene in which Paul and his friends visit Kemmerich, an old classmate and now-amputee. Muller, a “really quite sympathetic” character, asks Kemmerich for his boots, which obviously he’ll have no need for anymore (Remarque 20). This bitter but realistic scene painfully displays the loss of emotional morality through the brutality on the front. Though Muller meant no harm in asking for the boots, the scene simply proves the survivalist nature of the men and the dog-eat-dog mentality they must have to survive. Corporal Himmelstoss, brutal, tyrannical, and strict, forces them to perform meager, demeaning tasks, like making and re-making beds, sweeping snow, crawling in mud on all fours, and bayonet-fighting with heavy iron rods (Remarque 23-25).

Though Himmelstoss is cruel, he teaches the naive men the reality of war without the rose-colored lenses of nationalism that they learned through in school. The scene about Kemmerich in the hospital is particularly poignant in showing man’s moral lineup still in the face of terror; Paul refuses to leave him alone, and holds him until he dies. This heartbreaking scene is swiftly made cold by the doctor, who says, “You know, to-day alone there have been sixteen deaths – yours is the seventeenth. There will probably be twenty altogether” (Remarque 32). Paul is sickened by the doctor’s carelessness, and collects his friend’s belongings. He unties his friend’s identification disc, and delivers the boots to Muller. This very brief scene of friendship and love is pulled away almost as quickly as it comes, strategically in Remarque’s writing to juxtapose the reality of the war with the naïveté and the innocence of Paul and the men on the front.

Marlow of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness experiences a similar rawness of death. Marlow is Conrad’s Paul in this story, honest, headstrong, but also cynical, skeptical, and weary. He travels in the Belgian Congo to find Kurtz, who he is told harbors great ideals and ability (Conrad 28). When he first sees Kurtz in the second part of the story, Marlow tells us that he is only ever referred to as “that man”, and never by name (51). His station, is “desolate”, and we quickly discover that Kurtz not some genius or guru, but in actuality a heartless megalomaniac, described by Marlow as “hollow.” As he dies he gives Marlow a packet of documents, one of which ends with the words “Exterminate all the brutes!” When he dies in the last part of the story, his last words are “The horror! The horror!” (116). His final moments exist in some vision that Marlow cannot see, in which Kurtz cries out in a look of “intense and hopeless despair.” When Marlow journeys to Kurtz’s home later on in the story, almost a year has passed since his superior’s death. The departed’s fiancée tells of her late lover’s talent, humanitarian works, political experience, and leadership qualities. Marlow lies to her and tells her that his last words were her name.

It is important to note that even through Kurtz’s power-hungry, bloodthirsty ways, he is the one that dies first. In his own station, there are severed heads on the fence posts, but his own body betrays him; he is the one that dies. He is ill with jungle fever, his own body conquered by the land he is trying to own. It is as if the land itself is fighting back because its people cannot. As Marlow comes into contact with people from Kurtz’s past, he is forced to doubt his own memories of the man, as the only things he is hearing are good. This brings to light the truth that war changes people. Perhaps Kurtz was this extraordinary man before he came to the Congo. However, it is also the exact theme that Conrad is trying to portray: that in the European perspective, interference in the African colonies was a good thing – humanitarian work, even – but if they saw the heads on posts, and the extreme brutality that is not only fostered but implemented by their people, Europeans would think differently of the entire situation.

Perhaps it is not a single person or an actual occurrence that forces these men to fight. Rather, they are driven by an extreme sense of duty towards their countries, pushed by an unseen force of patriotism that quickly fades and fizzles as the true horrors of war set in. The three different yet overlapping stories of Tardi’s narrator, Paul, and Marlow depict the dichotomy between the expected nature of war and the reality of it. Each provides a staunchly anti-war dialogue. Yet they are written in ways that avoid shining the spotlight on any particular person; note that Conrad’s novel takes place, not in a colony of his homeland England, but one of Belgium. This creates the exact absurdity and hypocrisy that he writes about: the idea that the true “brutes” are the white men in Africa, while not being specific enough to make British readers find parallels between themselves and the evils of the novel. Each author attempts to and succeeds in illustrating the fact that the real darkness and the real evils happened under European control, but far from European eyes.

Works Cited

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. N.p.: n.p., 1899. Print. Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print. Tardi, Jacques, Helge Dascher, Kim Thompson, and Jean-Pierre Verney. Goddamn This War! Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics, 2013. Print.

First Person, Singular: Fiction as a Vehicle for a Deeper Truth

The map is not the territory, the sculpture is not the subject, and the sequential arrangement of black marks on a white page or screen (or red ochre on a cave wall) is not the reality it attempts to depict. Every recorded human experience has been changed by transmission through the human medium, simply because with every passing letter the author must select—and permanently record—one symbol and not another. Meanings of some words have changed over time, acquiring and losing symbolic and allegorical meanings until the literal interpretation of a poem or story differs substantially from the symbolic one. (1) Yet, when an author finds le mot juste and strings enough of them together, he or she can do three very important things. First, the author can take a snapshot of a specific character’s perspective and context in an authentic “realistic” environment. This, while doctored somewhat with the literary equivalent of PhotoShop, is still the best technique for capturing a generic person’s experience, because it allows an author to agglomerate the experiences of many people so as to create a more complete depiction of reality. Second, the author can depict themes and images that illustrate deep and permanent truths that transcend individual situations. Finally, the author can express feelings, ideas, and emotional responses that are simply not possible to convey using conventional historical analysis. It is impossible to know what a long-dead person truly thought or felt without speculating or extrapolating ideas based on primary sources. This essay will show how Erich Maria Remarque achieved all three of these objectives in All Quiet on the Western Front.

Remarque, by allowing one of the characters in the story to narrate the story complete with his own feelings and thoughts, has access to more than just his personal experience of the war. Remarque (born Erich Paul Remarque) did in fact serve in WWI, having been conscripted in 1916 and having reached the front on June 26, 1917. He was wounded about a month later and finished out the war working in the hospital. (2) His main character in the novel, Paul Bäumer, carries the author’s discarded middle name, lost his mother at about the same time Remarque’s mother died, and is also a writer of sorts. However whereas Remarque was conscripted, Paul and his classmates volunteered. With only one month in the trenches, Remarque could not possibly have personally experienced a winter there or personally lived through all of Paul’s experiences. So, athough Remarque is known for drawing on personal experience in his character and setting descriptions, Paul is not Remarque’s literary alter ego. (3) Yet it is entirely plausible that Paul’s adventures may have been based on the recollections or fantasies of other soldiers in the hospital where he served.

The rules of the first person singular necessarily limit the narrator’s awareness to what the character personally experiences. This might have presented a big problem had Remarque not condensed the experiences of many real people into the story of one. By condensing reality this way, a more complete picture of the front is presented without sacrificing emotional realism. Is the book a truthful description of one real person’s experience? Absolutely not. Is it an accurate portrayal of what was actually going on? Well, according to other readers who lived through the same trench war, and to the critic Walter von Molo, it was convincing and universal enough to be “unser Weltkriegsdenkmal”, (5) or “our monument of the World War”.

Remarque uses episodic structure to capture the fleeting, disconnected emotional state of Paul and the other soldiers, and he uses symbolic language to encourage the reader to look for deeper and more allegorical meanings. Consider this example, which depicts the earth as mostly (but not entirely) a feminine entity. This passage anthropomorphizes the earth both as a poetic device and because of the structure of the German language, which requires a feminine pronoun for the word Erde, or earth:

To no man does the earth mean so much as to the soldier. When he presses himself down upon her long and powerfully, when he buries his face and his limbs deep in her from the fear of death by shell-fire, then she is his only friend, his brother, his mother; he stifles his terror and his cries in her silence and her security; she shelters him and releases him for ten seconds to live, to run, ten seconds of life; receives him again and often for ever. (4)

Had Remarque been limited solely by the constraints of journalism, the type of editorializing seen in the above passage would have been extremely inappropriate. As part of a memoir, Remarque might have described his own thoughts or feelings, but he could not have generalized this way without entering into the realm of speculation. But, as a general conclusion drawn by a fictional character, the Earth characterization is not only acceptable but poignant.

Because of the intimate nature of “Paul’s” narrative, the reader has access to all the character’s emotions, thoughts, and opinions. Some of the conclusions Paul and Kat draw, such as the reasons behind the arbitrary, capricious orders given by officers during training or away from the front line, are solely the product of the characters’ reasoning. They might be accurate, or not. Paul definitely matures over time: he even forgives Himmelstoß. But the emotional immediacy, and the contrast between Paul’s worries about his cold hands in Chapter 2 versus his apathy in the final chapter, bring the characters to life and provide ways for the readers to identify emotionally with them. Although most people have never survived an artillery bombardment or starvation, everyone has experienced fear and loss of control.

Compared to relying solely on objective facts about what people have provably said and written, having access to Paul’s inner world creates a far more accurate illustration as to what a human being in his situation might experience. Even Paul does not always say or express what’s on his mind, and neither do real human beings. So capturing the total experience, from the inside as well as the outside, is only possible through fiction. Remarque, in All Quiet on the Western Front, delivers a whole-person experience instead of conjecture about what an infantryman “might have” felt. He makes liberal use of metaphor and poetic language to encourage deeper, universal interpretations of the work, and he condenses the experiences of multiple human beings into a more universal Everyman. These factors, together, allow him to create a more accurate and universal depiction of life in the trenches than would have been possible if he’d been limited to his own memoirs. Thus, although the voice of Erich Maria Remarque has been quieted by the grave, Paul Bäumer will live forever.

END NOTES

(1) “There is no concept which is not embroiled in an open-ended play of signification, shot through with the traces and fragments of other ideas.” Terry Eagleton, expounding on ideas attributed to Jacques Derrida. Eggleton, Terry. Literary Theory, an Introduction. Copyright 1983 by Terry Eagleton. University of Minnesota Press, Page 131.

(2) Remarque, Erich Maria. Im Westen Nichts Neues. Brian Murdoch, editor. Methuen Educational Ltd., reprinted 1996 by Routledge. Page 2.

(3) Remarque, Erich Maria. Im Westen Nichts Neues. Brian Murdoch, editor. Methuen Educational Ltd., reprinted 1996 by Routledge. Page 4.

(4) Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front by A. W. Wheen, Fawcett Press. Online version (no page numbers, chapters only.) Chapter 4, third scene.

(5) Ullstein, quoting von Molo, in the pamphlet Urteile über das Kriegsbuch von Remarque, Ger. Pamph. F. 8, Taylor institute, Oxford.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory, an Introduction. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 1983. Print.

Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front. A.W. Wheen, translator. London: Fawcett Press, 1929. Online.

Remarque, Erich Maria. Im Westen Nichts Neues. Murdoch, ed. Oxon: Routedge. 1996 (reprint). Print.

Ullstein, Urteile über das Kriegsbuch von Remarque, Ger. Pamph. F. 8, Taylor institute, Oxford.

Isolation Created By War in All Quiet on the Western Front

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its stupidity” (Eisenhower 1). These are words written by Dwight Eisenhower, a Five Star General in the United States Army, and a veteran soldier from the Second World War. Eisenhower reveals how, although he did not die in the Second World War, he never really survived; the horrific events he endures form memories that stay with him for his entire life. Eisenhower’s inner feeling portray the thoughts of the fictional character Paul Baumer, the protagonist in All Quiet on the Western Front. Isolation is a key reason soldiers kept their hearts closed during the First World War. Through the eyes of Paul Baumer, Erich Remarque, the author of All Quiet on the Western Front, illustrates that along with the isolation from others, soldiers experience isolation from their families, and even themselves during the First World War.

The isolation from others is the most common form of isolation depicted in the novel, and occurring in the First World War. Soldiers train to be detached killing machines, having sympathy for neither comrades nor enemies. After stabbing a French artilleryman, Paul Baumer is forced to watch the enemy soldier die next to him. Baumer talks to the man and in doing so gains sympathy for him. When the artilleryman eventually ends up dying, Baumer is filled with dismay. “I do not mention the dead printer” (Remarque 228). Baumer does not tell his comrades about the encounter with the enemy soldier, as he knows that he is ridiculed and punished for sympathising with the enemy. Soldiers are instructed to not trust anyone. The First World War ruined soldiers by causing them to lose the ability to love. Another side effect that soldiers in the war experience is loneliness and the feeling that nobody could relate to them. Towards the end of the novel, Baumer says, “Let the months and years come, they can take nothing more. I am so alone, and so without hope that I can confront them without fear” (Remarque 295). War, particularly World War One, desensitizes soldiers from the world around them. When his final comrade “Kat” dies, Baumer feels as though there is nobody left who can relate to him. Furthermore, being isolated from someone as close to you as your family is far worse than being isolated from non-family members.

Soldiers returning home from the war are destined to experience isolation from their families. They feel as though nobody can relate to them, aside from other soldiers. Therefore, when soldiers are removed from the front, they have nobody to which they can relate. Regular townsmen are unable to grasp the horrors of war. In chapter seven of the novel, Paul Baumer is awarded a temporary leave from the front to go “home”; however, Baumer implies that he is unable to feel at home in his house. “I breathe deeply and say to myself: ‘You are at home, you are at home.’ But a sense of strangeness will not leave me, I cannot feel at home amongst these things” (Remarque 160). Even though Baumer has spent his entire childhood in a house he calls “home” and with people he calls “family”, the house feels unfamiliar and the people seem like strangers. Later in the chapter, Baumer says “There is my mother, there is my sister…but I am not myself there. There is a distance, a veil between us” (Remarque 160). The war creates a permanent barrier between soldiers and the rest of society, depicted in the microcosm of Baumer and his family. Soldiers feel isolated from everyone around them, including their families. Above all, the worst form of isolation that soldiers experience is isolation from themselves.

In the First World War, soldiers felt desperation and loneliness to the point where shooting themselves to leave the front lines felt necessary. Committing suicide was very common during the First World War as a way to escape the horrors of the war. “He gropes for the fork, seizes it, and drives it with all his force against his heart” (Remarque 261). Paul Baumer refers to a soldier he is with in the hospital. The soldier disregards physical pain and tries to kill himself with a blunt fork to escape the mental and emotional torture that fills his life. Soldiers feel isolation from themselves, causing them to think with this mindset. When Baumer contemplates reading a novel at his house, he hopes that it can take him out of reality. “The breath of desire that then arose from the coloured backs of books, shall fill me again, melt the heavy, dead lump of lead that lies somewhere in me and waken again the impatience of the future, the quick joy in the worlds of thought, it shall bring back the lost eagerness of my youth” (Remarque 171). In the First World War, the perfect soldier is one who feels no emotions; a destructive killing machine that has no remorse. In becoming isolated from themselves, soldiers are transformed into emotionless, blank-faced, solitary people.

Through the isolation from others, family, and especially themselves, war destroys soldiers mentally and emotionally before they are inevitably killed physically. Isolation from others is the first form of isolation that soldiers experience, and they feel segregated from society as a result. Furthermore, soldiers experience isolation from their own families and have nobody to talk to about the tortures of war, causing them to feel alone and unable to relate to anybody. The final form of isolation that soldiers experience is isolation from themselves, resulting in tragedies such as self-mutilation and suicide. Not only do soldiers feel isolated from others, they feel isolated from their families and even themselves, as portrayed by Paul Baumer’s perspective in All Quiet on the Western Front. “This book will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war” (Remarque, Prologue). Long before Paul Baumer physically dies in the war, he dies emotionally and mentally through the isolation from others, his family, and from himself.

Works Cited:

“Eisenhower Presidential Library.” Eisenhower Presidential Library. Presidential Libraries System, n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.

Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front. New York: Ballantine, 1982. Print.

Subverting Misconceptions about the Great War: Henri Barbusse’s “Under Fire” and Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front”

Writing towards the end of the twentieth century, German literary scholar Hans Wagener reflects on the deep resonance of war literature, stating: “When we think about certain periods of history, epoch-making books come to mind that capture the spirit of those times most vividly”. Indeed, literary expressions of the Great War have performed a crucial role in shaping our perceptions of modern warfare, as evidenced by the wide acclaim of Henri Barbusse’s Under Fire (1917) and Erich Maria Remarque’s retrospective novel, All Quiet on the Western Front (1929), two episodic accounts that claim to present the reality of combat from either side of the conflict of 1914-18. Both writers seamlessly interweave fiction and autobiography in order to dismantle romanticised ideals of patriotic glory and adventure, with their narratives veering from the grindingly monotonous to the gruesomely horrific aspects of trench life. Moreover, their position as spokesmen – for soldiers either unwilling or unable to speak for themselves – has led to both writers additionally gaining the status of “moral witness”, suggesting that their work may have been driven by an unrelenting sense of loyalty and duty towards the soldiers besides whom they fought. However, it has been argued that the writers’ use of fictitious accounts alongside authentic ones undermines their critique of romanticised misconceptions about the war, and certain aestheticised elements of their texts may even contribute to the mythologizing of the war that they appear to so vehemently oppose. Therefore, while these texts have undoubtedly influenced modern conceptions of military conflict, they also raise pertinent questions relating to the function and integrity of the literature of the Great War. The late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century was an age of growing nationalism across Europe, with every man in France and Germany undergoing varying degrees of military training. As such, the notion that making war was a noble enterprise was commonly held, and, by 1914, both the mass media and teachers had fostered a firm sentiment of patriotism in the young by telling militaristic tales of honour, bravery, and conquest. The enthusiastic mindset of youth at the outbreak of war is reflected in Rupert Brooke’s 1914 sonnet, “Peace”, which berates those that do not believe in war as “sick hearts that honour could not move”, and invokes the powerful imagery of baptism by presenting a vision of young men embarking on a restorative mission of cleansing, “as swimmers into cleanness leaping”. Interestingly, Barbusse begins Under Fire with a similar allusion to a pre-war sickness, setting his opening chapter in a sanatorium in the Alps. He uses the dialogue between patients to explore popular beliefs about the conflict, namely that the prospect of war offers an opportunity for renovation: “Perhaps it is the war to end wars” [5]. Foreshadowing the devastation of France during and after the conflict, Barbusse therefore adopts the motif of an inward wound as a platform to detail the common hopes and expectations surrounding the onset of the Great War.However, the text swiftly deconstructs these fallacies of hope and renewal, as Barbusse recounts the French soldiers’ experiences in impassioned, violent prose. Written in serial form in 1916, a year that saw French troops slain in unprecedented numbers at the Somme and Verdun, Under Fire exposes the madness of public misconceptions of the war by detailing the grotesque horrors of combat: “I saw his body rising, upright, black, his two arms fully outstretched and a flame in place of his head!” [154]. Far from affirming the romantic ideal of patriotic glory in battle, the text paints a hellish vision of terror and butchery, with Barbusse’s narrative continually lingering on the mutilated bodies of his fallen comrades (“his head was completely flattened, like a pancake”) [46] and the senselessness of the death and destruction brought about by the war. These vivid scenes of bloodshed and carnage are interspersed with periods of crushing monotony, striking a stark, but hardly desirable, contrast to the relentless terror of artillery barrage. Passages detailing seemingly endless episodes of inactivity skilfully subvert the idealised representations of the French soldier excitedly embarking on bold, militaristic escapades:“We are waiting. We get tired of sitting down, so we get up. Our joints stretch with creaking sounds, like warped wood or old hinges: damp rusts a man as it does a rifle, more slowly, but more profoundly” [18]. Rather than lauding the soldiers as representatives of youthful vitality, Barbusse describes how the men have become old before their time; their “creaking” joints signifying that they have been reduced to mere “machines for waiting”. This bleak sense of purposelessness is augmented by the confusion and lack of direction that permeates the narrative, starkly illustrated by an instance when the soldiers mistakenly enter the German trenches (“Where are we? God Almighty! Where are we?”) [275]. Over the course of the novel, therefore, the myths of honour and glory that prompted many to become recruits are rendered meaninglessness, and are subsequently replaced by Barbusse’s harrowing narratives of soul-destroying terror. Influenced by Barbusse’s wartime account, and doubtlessly alarmed by the efforts of some to sanitise the Great War over the course of the 1920s, Erich Maria Remarque published his retrospective narrative on the experience of the common German soldier, All Quiet on the Western Front, in order to shock the wider reading public out of indifference. Indeed, Remarque’s manuscript was initially rejected by the publishing house S. Fischer Verlag, who believed that the German public were no longer interested in reading about the war. Using a third-person narrative to imbue the text with degree of detachment, Remarque deftly subverts the myth of the “noble” soldierly experience through the harrowing impressions of a young German recruit, Paul Bäumer. The incongruity between the romantic ideals of patriotism and bravery and the stark reality of life in the trenches is made especially apparent through Bäumer’s experiences of witnessing the aftermath of deadly gas attacks: “I know the terrible sights from the field hospital, soldiers who have been gassed, choking for days on end as they spew up their burned-out lungs, bit by bit” [48]. Ruthlessly dismantling the belief that the German soldiers were stoic and fearless, Remarque describes the young men being routinely stripped of dignity, recounting an occasion in which a young soldier soils himself (“I understand at once: the barrage scared the shit out of him”) [44] out of sheer terror during a bombardment. Furthermore, the episodes recounted in Remarque’s text are contextless; he does not disclose the names, dates or locations of the battles, thus echoing the pervasive sense of futility prevalent in Under Fire. . Driven by desperation to steal the boots of their dead comrades, the wretched actions of the young soldiers poignantly demonstrate how the war turned men from either side of the conflict into “human animals”, forever alienated from civilian life. Rather than engaging with the dominant discourse of hostility and fear of the “other”, Barbusse and Remarque’s ire is almost exclusively reserved for the “home front”, comprised of civilians who remained in France and Germany throughout the war. The inanity of authority figures from back home in All Quiet on the Western Front is embodied in the form of Paul’s schoolmaster, Kantorek, who inculcates his students with bellicose illusions of honour and patriotic duty: “I can still see him, his eyes shining at us through his spectacles and his voice trembling with emotion as he asked, “You’ll all go, won’t you lads?”” [8]. Kantorek’s ardent rhetoric and pompous belief in the infallibility of the young soldiers – at one point he refers to them as “young men of iron” [13] – appears preposterous and deceitful, consequently forcing the reader to reassess their own assumptions of the nature of modern warfare. Likewise, Barbusse’s text is scathing of those who speak with authority about the war without experiencing it, particularly the “trench-tourists”, who exacerbate romanticised notions of war being an exciting and honourable endeavour. In a darkly humorous passage, the author describes a group of journalists visiting the French soldiers in the trenches:““Oh! Oh!” says the first gent. “Here are some poilus… And real ones, too.”He comes a little closer to our group, rather cautiously, as in the zoo at the Jardin d’Acclimation, and holds out his hand to the one nearest to him, with a certain awkwardness, like offering a bit of bread to the elephant.“Aha! They’re drinking coffee,” he observes.“They call it “juice”,” says the magpie man”. [33]Carrying umbrellas and binoculars, the journalists’ appearance in this hellish wasteland appears farcical and inappropriate, and the condescending manner in which they address the soldiers (“Is it good, my friends?”) mark them clearly as figures of contempt. Barbusse’s text therefore functions as an attack on the ill-informed preconceptions of the somnolent “home front”, with his account repeatedly demonstrating how actual experience fighting in the trenches is a requisite to truly understanding the realities of warfare. This exposes an additional dimension to the intentions behind these novels, explicitly set out by Remarque in the epigraph to All Quiet on the Western Front, where he claims to “give an account of a generation that was destroyed by war – even those of it who survived the shelling”. As a spokesman for soldiers who were either physically or mentally destroyed by the war, Remarque feels an acute sense of duty towards his fallen comrades, which largely manifests itself in his determination to prevent the perpetuation of myths surrounding warfare. His narrative is preoccupied with the challenges faced by young soldiers when attempting to return to civilian life, with Paul anxiously reflecting that, “Our knowledge of life is limited to death. What will happen afterwards? And what can possibly become of us?” [186]. Paul and his young comrades feel robbed of the experience of growing up in peaceful times, and Remarque underlines the tragedy of their stolen youth through the reiteration of the word “young” throughout the text. Consequently, Remarque’s novel speaks for those forever silenced by the conflict, and, on their behalf, exposes the war as a wasteful and retrogressive enterprise. Similarly, Barbusse’s Under Fire sees the author take on the mantle of “moral witness”, with the narrative voice of the text resounding with the sobering authority of direct experience. Barbusse incorporates military slang and coarse colloquialisms into the dialogue of the novel in order to additionally explore the motif of unsayability, illustrating how many aspects of trench experience defy description in conventional novelistic terms. For example, the soldiers’ frustration at the ineptitude of the “catering corps types” is expressed in their own vernacular, rather than flowing prose: “They do bugger all, and with them it is: “I don’t give a bugger.” Buggery-muggery, that’s them!” [20]. By both capturing his comrades’ distinctive style of speech and using it to testify on their behalf, the author is undertaking an act of comradeship best epitomised by the words of a fellow soldier who wrote to Barbusse after reading Under Fire: “You have cried out with the voice of truth… we thank you for avenging us”. In this way, both Barbusse and Remarque could be said to romanticise the hostile brutality of war, imbuing into the carnage typically “heroic” values of loyalty and duty. For example, when Paul puts his own life at risk in a valiant but unsuccessful attempt to a save his friend, Kat (“I take him on my back and carry him to the rear, to the dressing station”) [202], it is not difficult to identify a novelistic sentimentality that may have led to Remarque’s text being swiftly adapted to a film in the year following its publication. Indeed, literary scholars have identified certain embellished elements of the novels that suggest that even Barbusse and Remarque are not immune to an aesthetic appreciation of war. In addition, the two writers’ use of “documentary fiction” – a seemingly paradoxical term – has proved a point of contention, with Frank Field suggesting that Barbusse’s combination of authentic detail and undisguised rhetoric only serves to diminish the impact of the author’s message. Consequently, while Barbusse and Remarque certainly shock their readership into reconsidering their perceptions of trench warfare, questions relating to the integrity of their accounts threaten to undermine the authors’ critique of the mythologizing of the Great War. However, it could be argued that the skilful fusion of authentic and fictionalised accounts serve as both texts’ greatest strength. Rather than limiting their narratives to their own experiences, or attempting to take an overly broad and detached approach to life in the trenches, Barbusse and Remarque poignantly detail the collective fate of those involved in trench life by focussing on an ever-diminishing group of comrades, all united by a shared knowledge of the horror of war. As a result, they achieve an effective synthesis of documentary and fiction, the harmonizing effect of which is articulated by the literary theorist Victor Brombert: “Fragmentation and continuity, innocence and experience, time lived and time retrieved are here locked in a contrapuntal relationship”. By combining authentic accounts with fictitious episodes, Barbusse and Remarque simultaneously give their personal experiences perspective and objectivity and enabling readers to identify with the characters of the novels, thereby firmly establishing their accounts as quintessential representations of trench life during the Great War.In conclusion, Barbusse’s Under Fire and Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front are strikingly powerful in conveying both the moments of hellish terror and the periods of extreme monotony experienced by both French and German soldiers during the Great War. Their purpose in writing these accounts are twofold; they desire to expose the horrific reality of trench warfare, and, additionally, give a voice to those who have been silenced by the conflict, either by psychological trauma or by death. Although some have questioned the integrity of the writers’ use of fabricated accounts alongside authentic ones, both novels effectively expose the overarching truths of life in the trenches, with the writers’ harrowing deconstructions of the misconceptions of war reverberating in the reader’s consciousness decades after the conflict.

A Universal Loss of Innocence: Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front”

Title: A Universal Loss of Innocence: Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front”Author: Katherine PerryWords: 1,139Written: January 23, 2009Paul Bäumer lives in a world where killing is the only way to live, memories are as foreign as the enemy himself, and a single bombardment can age a man fifty years. He lives in a world of ceaseless violence and tragedy and yet he is numb — too estranged from his past to seek solace in recollections of his youth and too hopeless to fathom the possibility of escaping the hellish reality of his present. Paul Bäumer is lost, but he is not alone. Erich Maria Remarque’s novel All Quiet on the Western Front is a harrowing account of the human face of war and the poignant psychological wounds that inflict an entire generation. Remarque’s novel tells of a universal loss of innocence that left an entire demographic estranged, dehumanized, and disillusioned.In the novel, Remarque describes a core of men who know how to play cards, swear and fight – something he says is “not much for twenty years — and yet too much for twenty years” (89). When Paul and his comrades joined the army they were mere teenagers, unaware that the war would strip them completely of their youth. “We are none of us more than twenty years old,” he says. “But young? Youth? That is long ago. We are old folk” (18). The “damnable business” of war, as Paul puts it, has completely estranged him from his past. Memories function only as “soundless apparitions” that cannot be relived or fully comprehended. “They are past, they belong to another world that is gone from us,” he explains (121). This sentiment comes to the forefront when Paul is granted a two-week leave from the battleground. Home among all that is native to him, he feels alienated and alone. Remarque writes: “We [soldiers] could never again regain the old intimacy with these scenes. It was not any recognition of their beauty and their significance that attracted us, but the communion, the feeling of comradeship with the things and events of our existence, which cuts us off and made the world of our parents a thing incomprehensible to us…” (122).When Paul puts on his civilian clothes, he feels “awkward.” When he looks into his mother’s eyes or scans the volumes of books on his bedroom shelf, a “sense of strangeness” and a “terrible feeling of foreignness” come over him. “I cannot feel at home among these things,” he says. “There is a distance, a veil between us” (160). The distance Paul speaks of also describes the generational divide between soldiers his age and those who have already carved out adult existences prior to the war. The older generation’s background is “so strong that the war cannot obliterate it” (20). Paul and his former classmates differ in that they have no adult lives to which they can return. They have no occupations, no wives, no foundation on which to rebuild their lives. “We had yet taken no root,” he explains. “The war swept us away” (20). For the thousands of men who transitioned from the classroom to the battleground, the post-war era presented an insurmountable identity crisis.Estranged from past and future, Paul desperately holds on to the present: “I am a solider, I must cling to that.” (173). But being a solider does not provide a true identity. Instead, the subsequent dehumanization only erodes his generation’s sense of self even more. “The column marches on, straight ahead, the figures resolve themselves into a block, individuals are no longer recognizable, the dark wedge presses onward, fantastically topped by the heads and weapons floating on the milky pool. A column – not men at all.” (57)The essence of a solider is that he must represent the antithesis of an individual. He must obey command and act in accordance of the group. Yet, as Paul soon learns, the calm and orderly image of a marching column falls apart amid the chaos of battle. Every man must fend for himself. He must kill to live. This primal necessity of warfare brings out the beast in each soldier. “We march up, moody or good tempered soldiers,” says Paul. “We reach the zone where the front begins and become on the instant human animals” (56). Paul refers to this transformation as “seeing red”, and the dehumanization that renders the soldiers “hardly distinguishable from Bushmen” (274) causes Paul and his comrades to reconsider the meaning of the war to which they have given their lives. “The idea of authority, which [the leadership] represented, was associated in our minds with a greater insight and a more human wisdom. But the first death we saw shattered this belief.” (12)The reality of war transforms the soldiers’ faith in their leaders into a marked disillusionment. At one point Paul and his comrades ponder the reason for the war. One soldier suggests a new type of warfare that would pit a few representatives from each country against each other in battle, so as to spare the mass bloodshed like that they have seen thus far. They agree that their reason for killing is quite arbitrary. “A word of command has made these silent figures our enemies, a word of command might transform them into our friends.” (193) To Paul and his comrades, the war is a senseless force. There is no grand plan – luck is all that determines a man’s survival or death. “It might easily have happened that we should not be sitting here on our boxes today; it came damn near to that. And so everything is new and brave, red poppies and good food, cigarettes and summer breeze.” (10)Paul quickly realizes that each day he lives marks another narrow escape from death. “It is just a matter of chance that I am still alive as that I might have been hit,” he says after one especially violent bombardment (101). The daily brushes with death wear on the young soldiers. They soon (in Paul’s words) become hard, suspicious, pitiless, vicious, and tough – more than anything; however, they become disillusioned. “The war has ruined for us everything,” says Albert (87). For them, the past holds no comfort and the future holds no hope. Using Paul as his mouthpiece, Remarque beautifully describes the essence of this newly “lost” generation: We are forlorn like children, and experienced like old men, we are crude and sorrowful and superficial — I believe we are lost (123). Remarque’s commentary on the human face of war transcends boundaries of time and space. His philosophies and his conclusions, though specific to World War I, are universal in meaning. The “common fate” of Paul’s generation is indeed the common fate of all generations who experience the vile reality of war at such a malleable age. The shells and bullets irreparably destroy both memory and hope, creating wounds that cannot be seen but are perhaps felt deeper than any other.

Dehumanisation, Death, Destruction

Remarque’s account of the horrors of the Western Front in World War I, from the common German soldier’s perspective, is a poignant reminder of the horrors of war. Dehumanisation, death and destruction are the key themes are relayed through the eyes of Paul Baumer, a soldier in the Great War of 1914-1918 and the narrator of All Quiet on the Western Front.Dehumanisation is a key central theme in the novel, as the characters are transformed from young men into old men, from idealistic, patriotic youth into a coarse, violent group of state murderers who kill others mercilessly for their own survival, and, ultimately, from men with hopes and dreams to men with nothing to look forward to. Indeed, the balmy and gentle influences from parents, teachers and “the whole course of civilisation from Plato to Goethe” (16) are brushed away and hardcore, militaristic values of “saluting, eyes front… bloody-mindedness” (16) are instilled into the young men, who are sent off to confront the stark realities of war after their short training. There is therefore a disjuncture between how the soldiers view the war and how those who do not participate in it view it. Kantorek, the schoolteacher, loudly extols the virtue of patriotism but does not see firsthand – as his students do – the consequences of that patriotism in war. The teacher is craven in blithely sending the students to their deaths while extolling empty virtues that are not reflected in the frontlines. The civilians at the home front are also unaware of what the front is like, yet call for the brave lads to win the war and bring back good news from Paris. They have absolutely no idea of what war is. Baumer’s response to civilian ignorance is to realize that the civilians and soldiers actually live in two separate worlds. “We have turned into human animals,” (40) he states, suggesting not only that he and his fellow soldiers are no longer fully human but also that war turns all its participants into beasts. Later, Baumer and his comrade Detering witness horses become severely wounded during an attack. Detering, who deeply values horses, comments that “It is the most despicable thing of all to drag animals into a war” (45) because they are innocent of crimes and must suffer for human causes. If soldiers become like animals, as Baumer had stated, it is just as wrong to drag them into war as to bring horses into it.Death is ever present in the novel, and there is massive physical and psychological destruction throughout the trenches. Soldiers die every day during prolonged shelling made especially lethal by poisonous gases. Death permeates all the novel’s scenes, including that in the hospital, whose occupants will not leave alive. The artillery attack on a graveyard, where the lives of the soldiers depend upon the coffins holding dead people, represents total destruction of respect and normalcy. Corpses there figuratively died more than once.Destruction extends to the characters’ individual lives. The older men had jobs and occupations before the war, but the younger soldiers did not have anything to attach themselves to then. They have nothing to look forward to except torn and destroyed dreams, with no hope of progress or a future. They have no more “desire to conquer the world” and are “refugees… fleeing from ourselves” (63). Many of them, like the famous war veteran “Kat,” who survives everything only to die finally from an unnoticed shrapnel wound, do not make it out alive. Death and destruction do not spare even Paul Baumer himself. Baumer dies as the dispatch declares “All quiet on the western front,” which calls to mind the desolation and sense of futility that accompany Baumer’s death. The destruction that Baumer and his comrades witnessed deprived them of life and hope. Thus Remarque’s novel, through its depiction of dehumanization, death and destruction, is a poignant lesson about the horror of war and its impact on generations. Remarque, Erich Maria (2005). All Quiet on the Western Front. London: Vintage.  

Ordinary Men and Women: What We Can Learn from Non-Traditional Sources

History, always open to interpretation, is not merely limited to the traditional sources. It can be viewed through forms such as fiction, autobiography, or journalistic memoir, as demonstrated by Erich Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz, and Timothy Garton Ash’s The Magic Lantern, respectively. These diverse platforms of portraying history and demonstrating historical memory allow for views of history’s effect on the individual and prevent the glorification of historical events in contrast to more traditional sources. Remarque is a master of demystification: in his classic All Quiet on the Western Front (1928), there are no great heroes, no men bravely going into battle in the style of German nationalist war novels like The Storm of Steel (1920). Instead, through characterization and intimate details, Remarque unflinchingly shows the brutality of the First World War. But there is more than Remarque’s graphic war descriptions: we learn about the surprising tedium and the agony of anticipation, where our narrator, the young and once idealistic Paul tells us that “the days go by and the incredible hours follow one another as a matter of course.” In just one paragraph, there is a fixation with the concept of the day: be it “14 days,” “last night,” “on the last day” or just having the narrator, Paul, overjoyed to have “enough for a day.” Remarque shows the reader that time becomes tedious and oppressive in war. The young men Remarque shows us are also injured by brutality; they have become so dehumanized that at the death of their friend Kemmerich they only feel a desire to take the dead man’s boots, for the men “have lost track of all other considerations, because they are artificial.” As a novelist, Remarque can use symbols to make his point; the boots are more than objects, they represent the cheapness that human life acquires in an environment, which teaches men to slaughter each other. Throughout the novel, Remarque works to preserve historical memory to prevent a terrible past from reoccurring. It is not Paul who works for such a cause, for he is as he describes his own lost generation, too indifferent to care. Again and again Remarque reinforces the idea of the lost generation in a starkness that could not be replicated except by fiction; one thinks inherently of Septimus Smith in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (1925), wounded by shell-shock after WWI. A brief reference in Palmer to “cultural pessimism” could not drive the point home as ably and memorably as when Remarque writes “It is the common fate of our generation… the war has ruined us for everything.” Everything Remarque writes is a warning not to romanticize or glorify war. All of the novel’s characters that we grow to love die or are maimed, even the bright and resourceful Kat. And the battles that claim them are unnamed; to Remarque the war and the glory associated with its famous battles such as the Marne and the Somme mean nothing in comparison to the deaths of so many innocent boys. The more traditional textbook provided by Palmer gives us an extensive military history, chronicling battles with abstract language; instead of Remarque’s grotesque image of the men (“the belly of one is ripped out, the guts trail out”,) we have the detached “the Germans attacked Verdun in February.” By the end, the need to withdraw from the horrors of battle has extended to the novel itself. Paul’s death, the close of the novel, could be treated with nationalistic fervor as martyrdom for the country, but instead a coldly anonymous third-person narration takes over, putting more distance between the novel and its readers than Paul’s own first-person perspective. Remarque gives no chance of romanticizing war with Paul’s tragic and inexplicable death. Writing a novel forces the readers to sympathize with characters that could in traditional sources become caricatured or, at worst, forgotten and turned into an anonymous death toll. Remarque literally puts a human face on the unknowable suffering of war, writing, “a man cannot realize that above such shattered bodies there are still human faces.” We cannot see the young men dying as martyrs for the nationalist cause, rather, they are humans going through incredible suffering, and to see characters suffering is to resent the war that causes this suffering. Characterization in a work of fiction allows for not only an intimacy with the boys dying in a meaningless conflict but also the potential for grand allegories and symbolism. Rather than explaining the cause of the war by saying, like Palmer “nationalist ideologies should be emphasized,” Remarque gives us Kantorek, the physical embodiment of the German nationalist sentiment behind World War One. Introduced as one of many “convinced that they were acting for the best – in a way that cost them nothing,” Kantorek tells his pupils to enter war for reasons of base nationalism. Remarque makes no claims to the distant objectivity of the historian in saying of Kantorek and other German nationalists like Houston Chamberlain and Johann Fichte that “they let us down so badly.” Remarque, as a novelist, is allowed to be perfectly forthright with his emotions in a way that a traditional source, under obligations of objectivity, cannot. Later, the revelation that Kantorek is “an impossible soldier” only shows how empty all the demands of the warmongers truly are: they ask the young to die and fight when they cannot, for beliefs that the young do not possess. Similarly, the cruel Corporal Himmelstoss is revealed as “a raging book of army regulations,” showing Remarque’s utter lack of sympathy for the butchers behind war. Ultimately a work of fiction is more trustworthy than a traditional historical source because it is not indebted to historical conventions of authority and accuracy. We know that a novel is fictional, and that the story it tells should not be taken at face value. This is why the novel is so valuable: a historical work can sneak in its own biases and prejudices and they will be assumed as authority, because the historical source has the dubious honor of being assumed to be factual and impartial. A novel makes us question its own intentions for it is openly subjective, and thus allows for examination of a problem that, with a source like Palmer, might be assumed to have easy answers. Unlike a textbook which might have portrayed the determined Allies against the malevolent Axis powers and be taken as authority, Remarque’s novel forces us to confront the “other side,” and ultimately engage in an internal debate over morality and culpability that would not have occurred with the answers a traditional source, especially a textbook, presents. If the winners write history, then both sides write novels. Primo Levi’s haunting Survival in Auschwitz (1958) functions as the exact antithesis to the Lager system it portrays. We get a first-hand glance into Hitler’s concentration camps and the warped, racist-nationalist logic that they thrived on. The Lager is dehumanizing towards all its prisoners, especially Jewish ones. Levi, an Italian Jew, learns that he is “deprived of everyone he loves…of everything he possesses.” He and his fellow Jews are reduced to numbers, and start thinking of fellow humans not by names but instead as “high numbers.” Historically, these camps were supported by the logic of the dehumanizing Nuremberg Laws (1935), which stated, “A Jew cannot be a citizen of the Reich.” The Laws defined what made a citizen and a human being, and a Jewish person was considered neither. But Levi, though the form of his memoir, is able to subvert the Nazi dehumanization and depict the atrocities of the Holocaust in a more memorable way than any traditional historical source. Through first-person point-of-view, Levi gives us a horrifying glimpse into the Lager system. He rebels against the German attempts at dehumanization in the mere act of writing so human a memoir, one filled with determination to survive. Levi refuses the German attempts to silence him merely by writing his book. The novel’s first-person view gives us access into Levi’s mind and puts a human face on the Holocaust. There is no cold, authoritarian narration as seen in Palmer and other historical sources. Rather, there is the incredibly human voice of Levi himself; by growing with Levi we suffer with him and see the Holocaust in terms of the destruction of individuals. The small-scale nature of great tragedy comes into play often in Levi’s work, and in Survival in Auschwitz it is through the prisoners we meet there; Levi’s goal is to work on an individual level for “no human experience is without meaning or unworthy of analysis.” Instead of learning in Palmer that there were “extraordinary acts of courage and human ill among the prisoners”, instead we hear on the intimate scale from Levi of “Alberto, my best friend,” in a phrase so honest and simple as to be almost childlike. He gives us the stories of inmates, not of “seducers” or “madmen” or “criminals,” but rather the men who bear those descriptions in the Lager; rather than a clinical explanation, Levi decides that “we will try to show in how many ways it was possible to reach salvation with the stories of Schepschel, Alfred L., Elias, and Henri.” The human face is impossible to avoid, because unlike Palmer’s work which mentions only that at Auschwitz “12,000 victims a day were gassed to death,” Levi tries to tell the stories of as many individuals as possible, be it his friend Albert or the distant acquaintances of Elias and Henri. Levi is able to work on two different levels: he tells the big story of a people, of the twentieth century’s great atrocity, but with an eye for the small details of a pair of boots or an unmade bed. Levi works to tell epic tragedy on the small scale, to see if the suffering for the entire Jewish people can be explained through giving the reader a tiny view into the Lager. In this he reaches heights that traditional sources cannot aim for, giving us heartbreaking precision in the face of historical generalizations. Levi is able to tell the readers more than any source could because of his eye for details, for putting a human face on what could otherwise become a distant tragedy of historical memory, something studied and mourned but not really experienced. Like Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Levi puts us right there, and his conclusion that “to destroy a man is difficult…but you Germans have succeeded” is all the more poignant because we have been there. We have shared Levi’s moments of hope, the final destruction of the soul where, even upon hearing of the Russian liberation of the camp, Levi can only confess “I had no longer felt pain, joy, or fear, except in that detached and distant manner characteristic of the Lager.” In The Magic Lantern (1993), Timothy Garton Ash provides an eyewitness report of the fall of the Soviet Empire. Much like Remarque and Levi before him, Ash is able to give us a glance behind the men who made history; we see the revolutionaries of 1989 in Eastern Europe not as iconoclastic leaders but human beings, with both greatness and flaws. In this way Ash works to demystify the current of historical memory. He does not wish to create any grand legacies or historical portrayals, especially in soviet Europe still reeling from the cult of personality surrounding Stalin and his kind. Rather, Ash wishes to give us an intimate portrayal of revolution. He forsakes early on any pretense of authority with self-dismissive lines like “My contribution to the velvet revolution was a quip.” He admits that he is no hero, and the men he describes, revolutionaries like Vaclav Havel and Miklos Vasarhelyi, are just as human. Because Ash is working on the ground, because he is able to speak closely with the men he interviews. He is able to give us an honest and direct portrait that prevents any kind of mythmaking, and in that respect Ash is a more trustworthy source than any supposedly objective textbook which, due often to a need to address many topics in a short time, could easily caricaturize the revolutionaries as mere benevolent heroes. It is natural to, when reading a source weighted with assumed authority, to see Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa arbitrarily described as “a national symbol of protest”, or simply state that there were doubts about Walesa’s democratic goals, without ever getting a sense of the man behind the legacy. Yet Ash is able to show us, with an almost mocking enthusiasm, Walesa’s insistent pleas of “I like democracy, I love democracy,” for as a journalist he has observed the speeches and actions of the era first-hand. Thus we learn of Walesa’s occasionally dictatorial techniques directly from his own words, thanks to Ash’s reporting. We see Czech opposition leader Vaclav Havel beyond his own writings; there is more than the poetic Havel of “The Power of the Powerless” (1979). Instead we find also a fun loving, genial man who is “a Bohemian in both senses of the word.” Ash does not show the “cult of personality” that surrounded even repressive soviet Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, but rather implies that great men like Havel and Walesa are just as human as the ordinary people tearing down the Berlin wall. Ash is allowed not to have all the answers. He is no historian, no fountain of assumed knowledge. He uses the intimacy of the journalist, observing on the front lines with no preparation, only the realization that a great revolution is taking place. Ash can say “like all arguments about historical causation, this one can never be resolved” and the reader does not feel cheated. Instead there is a kinship, a sense of sustaining a great change in human history and being only able to report the feelings that change elicits, rather than a clinical explanation of the reasoning behind it. As Ash himself admits when discussing the Civic Forum in Prague “a political scientist would be hard pressed to find a term to describe the Forum’s structure.” But he continues on in his writing, never providing answers but instead the glimpses into the men and women behind revolt and reform. Also, because Ash is a journalist and not a historian, he can make assumptions and look towards the future. He invents a theory for “the ingredients of the new model revolution” according to the mass peaceful revolution he witnessed. Ash provides an intensive analysis, which may have its own biases, that ascribes the success of these revolutions to the “elites” because “their countries had been historically, closer to the West, with Western Christianity, a developed civil society.” He is allowed to make these assumptions and interpretations, in fact encouraged to do so, because a journalist is different from a historian. A journalist is on the field, in the heat of the present, rather than fixed in the past. A journalist is focused on the future, even Ash’s sequel to The Magic Lantern, A History of the Present (2000) is named for that particular obligation of the journalist: a study of now. A journalist is supposed to tell us something about the future based on what he ha observed with his own eyes, rather than what he has studied. Ash, by listening to the stories “told by ordinary men and women” is able to show something deeper than the effects of the failed soviet economic system or the lack of democratization. He can show the moral problems and failures associated with the Soviet regime. He can draw our attention to the small details of Soviet semantics, and as Havel himself said, the “devastated moral environment” these semantics caused. Ash gives us a concrete example of the abstract depiction in Havel’s “The Power of the Powerless,” of the idea of “revolt is an attempt to live within the truth.” The problem with Soviet rule in Eastern Europe was not merely a crisis of the distribution of material goods or a bloated and inefficient soviet bureaucracy; it was also the inequity and moral pain of a situation that required its citizens to live a lie. Ash makes us realize “what it feels like to pay this daily toll of public hypocrisy,” and that the damage done occurs also on an individual level, something that could be lost by a source that can only tell the big picture in generic and impersonal terms, like Palmer’s claim that dissidents desired to “live their lives free from the dictates of the state.” Ash gives us psychology and emotional relevance, while Palmer is necessarily distant. Ultimately, these three diverse works tell us something impossible to articulate. They are at their most powerful when telling the stories of ordinary men and women put into extraordinary circumstances. Because they function on so intimate a scale, they tell us something that traditional sources, with their assumed authority and tendency to retell only the great events of history, will never be able to communicate.

The Lost Generation

In the novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque demonstrates, through the character of Paul Baumer, how war has obliterated almost an entire generation of men. Because these men no longer retain a place in life and are incapable of relating with former generations, they are collectively referred to in history as the “lost generation.” Remarque emphasizes Paul’s leave and the linguistic differences between the two generations to show how Paul comes to the realization that he is part of this lost generation. Ironically, Paul’s leave is unfortunate, yet serves an important purpose in showing how far apart Paul has grown from his family and past youth. During his leave, Paul learns of his incapability in communicating with former generations due to his war experiences. Remarque shows that Paul no longer feels any relation with civilian life as soon as Paul enters his hometown. For example, when Paul gets off the train, he encounters a redcross sister who calls him “comrade,” but he thinks to himself: “…I will have none of it” (156). Paul replies in this negative manner because he feels angered by her attempt to associate with him by calling him a “comrade.” Paul knows that only soldiers at the front can call each other comrades since they have experienced the brutality of war together. By calling Paul a comrade, she represents the former generation’s misuse of language because she does not know the true meaning of camaraderie in war, but tries to use it anyway. This lack of association with civilian life Paul feels carries over into his house. When his mother greets him, he immediately realizes he cannot say anything: “We say very little and I am thankful that she asks nothing. What ought to I say?” (159). This serves as a sign showing Paul’s loss of communication with former generations, for even when his mother then asks him about the front: “Was it very bad out there, Paul?” (161), he replies with compassion by saying: “No, Mother, not so very. There are always a lot of us together so it isn’t so bad” (161). However, the main reason he does this is not to protect his mother from fear, but because he is aware that the effort in trying to explain to her the horrors of war would be useless. If he tried to describe what he has experienced on the front to her, she could not possibly comprehend his descriptions of his pain and suffering. Also, putting these experiences into words provides a challenge to Paul, as the language of war would be meaningless and empty to the former generation. However, by not telling the truth, he deepens the gap between him and his mother. During the course of his leave, Paul is also reluctant to speak to his father about the war. This shows a further movement away from the past and more into his isolated and lost generation. Remarque also uses even the smallest incidents on Paul’s leave to show how Paul notices the generation gap. Paul’s father asks Paul to keep his army uniform on, but Paul refuses because he sees no purpose in doing so. When Paul puts on his “civilian” clothes, he notices they have grown too tight and that he cannot fit properly into them. These clothes represent his old civilian life, and, similarly, just as he cannot fit into his clothes, he also cannot fit back into his former social role. Because of these various incidents, Paul realizes that things will never be that same again with both his parents. Paul faces similar difficulties when he encounters other members of his hometown: “They are different men here, men I cannot properly understand…” (169). Again, he cannot relate to these people, who have been disillusioned by the war because, he suggests, they have not truly experienced it as Paul has. He realizes that their language contains nothing but emptiness; thus, it serves no purpose to his generation since it does not accurately portray the reality of war and the inner experiences of those who have lived it. In addition to not being able to communicate with his family, he also loses a connection with his youth. Remarque develops the idea of how Paul has also lost his youth through the butterfly collection and old books. Paul recalls his old butterfly collection: “Above me on the wall hangs the glass case with coloured butterflies that once I collected” (158). The hard glass case keeps the butterflies, which symbolize Paul’s youth and innocence, preserved. However, he cannot reach in and touch the butterflies just like his youth because of the hard case around the butterflies. War has created a similar hard case around Paul, which holds him back from being able to integrate back into his former self and society in general. He also attempts to seek his youth through books: “I want that quiet rapture again. I want to feel the same powerful, nameless urge that I used to feel when I turned to my books. The breath of desire…shall fill me again…it shall bring back again that lost eagerness of my youth” (171). The books also symbolize the older, more peaceful time, in which the innocent Paul possessed hopes and goals to lead a happy life. However, he realizes that his efforts to relate to his past are abortive because of how much war has broken him apart from his former youth, so he turns away despondently. The books are now useless because the words in them are empty and meaningless to Paul and his generation. The pre-enlistment world becomes even more alien to Paul, as when he thinks to himself: “A terrible feeling of foreignness suddenly rises up in me. I cannot find my way back, I am shut out though I entreat earnestly and put forth all my strength” (172). Even with full effort, he cannot engender any sort of connection with his past youth due to the recent experiences with the horrors and other realities of war. Paul feels further lost as the days proceed one another during his leave. Near the end of his leave, Remarque creates a very significant scene between Paul and his mother as Paul sadly pleads: “Ah! Mother, Mother! how can it be that I must part from you? Who else is there that has any claim on me but you? Here I sit and there you are lying; we have so much to say, and we shall never say it” (184). This is the ultimate scene where Paul gives a final farewell to his mother and her generation. Paul feels as if there is so much he has to say to her, but he cannot because she can no longer relate to his language. Paul’s generation has lost its dreams, hopes, youth, innocence, and everything else it may have possessed in its former life. It dreads the times during war just as much as the thought of what to do during post-war era because of the generation gap. Paul realizes that life will never be the same again and that he does not belong anywhere because of the brutal war. Remarque’s use of Paul’s leave shows how Paul learns that he is part of the lost generation. Through the interaction with his family members, Paul realizes that he no longer fits in with them and never will be able to. Because of the war, Paul’s generation has lost the idea of a meaningful world in which compassion exists for the individual. This entire generation of men is incapable of integrating back into society and no longer retains a place in collective life; thus, it is referred to in history as the lost generation.

The Greatest Loss of All: Soldiers’ Loss of Themselves in All Quiet on the Western Front

War is widely regarded as a time of devastation, death, and destruction. Many times, the brave souls that go nobly into war come out completely different, scarred and changed by the horrific events they have witnessed, if they survive. In All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, Paul Baumer and his comrades experience just this, being degraded less than human, and disrupting connections to life at home, both major things almost every soldier loses to the battle. Throughout the war, the soldiers on the front experience extremely trying situations, causing them to fight for basic necessities, rely on primitive instincts, and become separated from normal life, adding to the destruction they face when fighting in the war.

Throughout the novel, the men on the front are constantly forced to battle for even the most fundamental of essentials, causing them to be reduced to below humans. The soldiers do not have everything a normal human wants or needs during a normal course of time, like basic necessities, and this causes them to be dehumanized. An example of this is when Paul recounts the scene of the German camp, depicting how little food there is to feed such a big army: “Everything gets eaten, notwithstanding, and if ever anyone is so well off as not to want all his share, there are a dozen others standing by ready to relieve him of it. Only the dregs that the ladle cannot reach are tipped out and thrown into the garbage tins,” (189). This quote shows how unbearably depleted the military’s food supply was, forcing soldiers to struggle for any food they can find, in order to prevent themselves from starving. When Bäumer talks about the “dregs that the ladle cannot reach” he is talking about the parts of the pot of food that contain edible material but are impossible to reach, saying that is the only part not eaten. Normal soldiers would typically need lots of food to replenish after going through the intense battles that becomes everyday, normal life for them after a long time. The stereotypical image of a soldier that is a strong, hearty man that is not afraid of anything, is quickly scrapped, as these weak frail soldiers are fighting for any little piece of remaining food they can get. By having to battle for such a basic human necessity, these soldiers in the camp are diminished to less than people. Another example is while Paul and his fellow soldiers are being heavily shelled when they are trying to make food for themselves and the building they are in continues to get heavily hit. During this, Paul tells of his experience in the building, saying: “Whenever I hear a shell coming I drop down on one knee with the pan and the pancakes, and duck behind the wall of a window. Immediately afterwards I am up again and going on with the frying…” (235). To put food over one’s own life in a tough situation shows the reality of the level of dehumanization these soldiers have reached. Paul is willing to risk his life and take cover only for a few seconds when a shell hits, just for a batch of pancakes that the soldiers are so desperate to eat, they are willing to risk their lives to get it. Overall, the soldiers’ frequent need to fight for the most essential of necessities to help them survive truly shows the amount they have lost to the war, emphasizing the devastation of the war.

Often in the novel, the soldiers find themselves in extremely tough situations, and must rely on their own basic instincts in order to survive. When Paul is describing what happens to the soldiers when they feel they are in danger, he says: “By the animal instinct that is awakened in us we are led and protected. It is not conscious; it is far quicker, much more sure, less fallible, than consciousness. One cannot explain it. A man is walking along without thought or heed;–suddenly he throws himself down on the ground and a storm of fragments flies harmlessly over him;–yet he cannot remember either to have heard the shell coming or to have thought of flinging himself down. But had he not abandoned himself to the impulse he would now be a heap of mangled flesh. It is this other, this second sight in us, that has thrown us to the ground and saved us, without our knowing how,” (56). In this passage Paul tells how a man’s impulse takes over when he is in danger, and how often times it ends up saving their life. To do something consciously is to think about it before doing it, so to do something not consciously is to do something without thinking about it. This is what soldiers have to rely on to survive, as many times they don’t have time to think and react, and instead must rely on instinct. The primitive instincts that many of the soldiers rely heavily on to get them through everyday war shows the level of dehumanization that the soldiers experience. Another example is after Paul and his friends have collected some extra bread, he tells of how repulsive the rats in the trenches were, and how they often had to fight them off to remain in control of their own food supply: “After a few minutes we hear the first shuffling and tugging. It grows, now it is the sound of many little feet. When the torches switch on and every man strikes at the heap, which scatters with a rush,” (102-103). In this passage, Paul tells of how the soldiers must resort to using their primitive instincts to keep them alive, in this instance fighting off rats. With weapons found around their bunker, the soldiers fight off the rodents trying to steal their food. The soldiers literally take on the mentality to defend their food at all costs. This is done in a very primitive way, resembling animals fighting off a kill, showing the basic instincts they have resorted to in order to survive.

In the novel, the soldiers, being extremely accustomed to violent war on the front, lose contact with normal life at home. One example of this is shown when Paul goes back home on leave to visit his mother, he recalls a conversation between the two, saying: “‘Dear boy,’ says my mother softly. We were never very demonstrative in our family; poor folk who toil and are full of cares are not so. It is not their way to protest what they already know. When my mother says to me ‘dear boy,’ it means so much more than when another uses it,” (159-160). Paul, being virtually destroyed by the events he has seen at war, is very strongly affected by the words his mother uses, especially when she calls him ‘dear boy’. The words ‘dear boy’ are often used in an affectionate way, and Paul has not felt affection like that since leaving for the war, and after all of the traumatizing things he has seen, the love of his mother almost drives him to tears. Some of Paul’s innocence is also captured, as the words are used in a child-like manner. Another example of this is while he is narrating about his life as a soldier, Paul says: “First we are soldiers and afterwards, in a strange and shamefaced fashion, individual men as well,” (272). Many of the soldiers fighting in World War I, including Paul, became so accustomed to war during the four years it went on, knew nothing else except for how to kill and avoid being killed. This makes many of them soldiers before even themselves, as they don’t know what else they would do with their lives if they aren’t in war. World War I was the cause of much loss, and one thing many soldiers lost was a connection to normal civilian life at home, making them a part of the Lost Generation.

Throughout the novel, Remarque shows the soldiers as being dehumanized and becoming a part of The Lost Generation, caused by the horrible things they have seen during the duration of the war. Many soldiers are forced to resort to lower desires and using primitive instincts in order to avoid being killed by the enemy, or the war itself. The soldiers also experience the forming of a rift between life as a soldier, and life as a civilian, oftentimes to an irreversible point. In All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, the main character Paul Baumer, along with his fellow soldiers, experience this as they fight to survive one of the bloodiest wars in history, World War I. The soldiers that fight in this terrible war lose two crucial things that make them individual, their humanity and their connections at home. Even if the soldiers get away alive, one thing almost every single one lost during the war was themselves, as they all became dehumanized and lost contact with civilian life during such a destructive war.

Bonds of War: Soldier bonds in “All Quiet on the Western Front”

In stressful situations, people use connections with things to help them overcome the horrors in the situations. In the Military, many soldiers experience very stressful and intense situations. They use connections with cigarettes, fellow soldiers and music to help them get through these situations. In society, people use drugs, alcohol, and friends to help get through intense situations. Paul uses the connection with soldiers on both sides to help him overcome the horrors of war. In the novel, “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque Paul Bäumer experiences the German front of World War One. Through the devastation of the war, the author conveys that Paul’s strong bonds grow as his pity for the enemy’s misfortune grows, Paul’s relationship with soldiers as it is his only thing to hold on to in the horrors of war on the front reflects the author’s negative view on the war.

The bond between Paul and his fellow comrades strengthen throughout the novel, this conveys a negative depiction of war. After they return from the front, Paul’s comrade Kemmerich is slowly dying and is in pain, Paul and his friends get the attention of a medical assistant to ease the pain, “he refuses…I press a few more cigarettes into his hand…Well, all right, he says…Kropp goes in with him. He doesn’t trust him and wants to see” (17) Comradeship is an extremely strong bond between people. Paul knows that Kemmerich will die soon and it does not matter if he helps him or does not help him. Paul is willing to give the desirable items to ease a fellow soldier’s passing at his cost. Someone who gives valuable items to cause that does not really matter shows a strong bond between people. (it doesn’t really matter because Kemmerich will die soon) Further, Kropp goes in to see that he actually gives the medicine to ease the pain. Kropp really has the intentions for Kemmerich to have an easy passing, otherwise he would not make sure the medicine is given. The bond between the men is evident but a luxury, the comradeship is nice to have but not needed for survival. In this case, it was nice for Kemmerich to have an easier passing but not needed. This shows a negative depiction of war because Paul’s comrades is slowly dying depicting a very painful death. Paul is trapped in a shell hole and without hope when he hears Kat talking, “at once a new warmth flows through me…they are more to me than life, these voices, they are more than motherliness and more than fear, they are the strongest and most comforting thing there is anywhere, they are the voices of my comrades.” (212) Comradeship is an extremely strong bond between people. This quote shows comradeship because Paul’s connection to his fellow soldiers is stronger than his connection a mother has to their child, universally known as an extremely strong connection. Further, Paul comments that just the voices of his fellow soldiers are the most comforting thing anywhere, too have voices be the most comforting thing shows the strong bond between the soldiers. The bond between the men is more or less necessity for survival. In this case, it is the voices of the comrades who comfort him in a distressing situation. This shows a negative depiction of war because he is trapped in a shell hole a desperate and dramatic situation. It shows depiction because the comrade is more comforting than anything shows pure negatively. Paul comments on the stress of war, “then the muffled roar of the battle becomes a ring that encircles us…our only comfort is the steady breathing of our comrades asleep, and thus we wait for morning.” (275) Comradeship is an extremely strong bond between people. This quote shows comradeship because Paul is comforted by the breathing of his fellow soldier despite the extreme conditions and sounds that remind him of death and traumatizing events. Generally, someone would not be comforted with shelling and the background noise of the battle, knowing that death was occurring. Paul being comforted by the comrades shows that his bond between his comrades is so strong that it overcomes traumatizing events. This shows the negative viewpoint on the war because the bombs circle the total miserly, that the situation is so bad that Paul has to have the comfort of people who is he completely friends with. Paul’s friend Kat is hit and Paul says, “I am very miserable, it is impossible that Kat, my friend Kat…with home I have shared these years…couldn’t I just shoot myself quickly in the foot so as to be able to go with him” (289) Comradeship is an extremely strong bond between people. Generally, people do not inflict harm on themselves. Paul wants to and considers inflicting serious harm by shooting himself with a gun, an action that could possibly lead to his death to stay with his fellow soldier. Someone who would risk their life to stay with someone shows an extreme strong bond. This shows negative depiction because Paul is so desperate that he wants to almost kill himself to stay with someone. Kat is hit and Paul carries him when an officer comments that Kat is dead. Paul, “…the sweat breaks out on me again, it runs over my eyelids. I wipe it away and peer at Katkat…fainted, I say quickly.” (290) Paul does not believe or even think that Kat is dead. He starts to become very scared and does not believe that Kat is dead. Paul starts to sweat an indicator that he is extremely scared. He becomes very scared as he does not know what he can do without the strong bond. He does not believe the fact, he does not want to believe the fact showing that the strong bond proceeds through factual evidence. This shows a negative view on war as Paul cannot believe that his friend died. It shows that the situation is so bad that Paul cannot believe factual evidence.

The protagonist’s pity for the opposition because of their situation strengthens throughout the novel this conveys a negative depiction of war. “Under one of the helmets a dark pointed beard and two eyes that are fastened on me. I raise my hand, but I cannot throw into those strange eyes; for one mad moment the whole slaughter whirls like a circus around me, and those two eyes alone are emotionless.” (113) This shows comradeship. The sympathy for the enemy is brief. Paul cannot initially throw the grenade. The sympathy for the enemy exist for a second but nothing other than that. Paul does not know what to do. The sympathy for the enemy does not massively extend beyond the instant. Paul’s interactions with real enemies and he already starts to feel sympathy for something that is just recent. Paul This shows a negative view on the war because the tension and the traumatic events on Paul. We have become wild beasts, We don’t fight, we defend ourselves against annihilation. It is not against men that we flight our bombs, what do we know of men in this moment when Death is hunting us down…” (113) This shows comradeship through that it is not men that they are fighting. This is Paul’s first interaction with the real enemies. Paul does not think of them as beast or something degenerative that is typical for one to say at the opponent. He merely puts them in the same category but does not comment on sympathy or not sympathy it is simply neutral. This shows a negative depiction of war as death is hunting down, a completely negative image. It is not positive at all. On guard over the Russians, Paul notices the terrible conditions that they are in. He takes out his cigarettes and, “…break each one in half and give them to the Russians.” (194) Sympathy for the enemy is a feeling of pity at the opposition’s misfortune. Paul feels bad for the Russians as he notes earlier it is distressing to watch the Russians. Generally, if one feels bad for someone in a bad situation, they try to contribute something that would help the bad situation. Paul expresses his feeling of pity for the opposition’s misfortune by giving the enemy a desired item. Furthermore, cigarettes are universally known as substances that are used to calm people down. Paul knows this and gives them the substance to help them deal with the terrible situation. Someone who gives something useful to deal with the bad situation expresses immense sympathy for someone, in this case the enemy. Paul shares valuable resources for comfort with the Russian prisoners. This depicts a negative view because the conditions are so bad for all the prisoners that Paul feels bad and wants to make the conditions better for all. Paul deeply sorry and filled with regret comments to the dead french soldier that he killed, “comrade, I did not want to kill you. . . . But you were only an idea to me before, an abstraction that lived in my mind and called forth its appropriate response. . . . I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late.” (223) Paul feels a huge amount of sympathy for the enemy as he comments to the dead man. The man that Paul comments to is already dead, it is not needed for Paul to even look at him. Generally, someone who talks regret to someone who is already dead feels pity and sympathy for that person. Paul goes completely further by comparing the the enemy to a comrade, a person who he as a very strong bond with. He feels desperately regretful. He compares his action as an instinct, something that he didn’t really come up with, the action was done before he could do anything about it. This depicts a negative view about war because the conditions and the terror is so bad it causes man to react in irrational ways. Man cannot really deal with the traumatic situations. Paul is filled with pity for the opposition’s misfortune, “I will write to your wife, I say hastily to the dead man, I will write to her , she must hear it from me, I will tell her everything I have told you, she shall not suffer, I will help her, and your parents too, and your child-” (224) Paul feels a huge amount of sympathy for the enemy as he comments to the dead man. Paul feels as though he owes the man something that happened. He feel immense sympathy that he feels he wants to make the situation better. He feels as though that making it better will help ease the pain and suffering. Generally, one only does this to people that feels as though someone who is filled with sympathy. This depicts a negative view of war because it shows that someone who has experienced war as experienced the terrible and horrific depictions of war and how they cope with it.

Paul’s relationships with soldiers demonstrate the horrors of the war. Paul’s strong bonds show the effect the war can have and the only way to really deal with the war. Society needs to find ways to avoid traumatic situations like war so that bonds are not a necessity rather something that is nice to have. War comradeship is looked as such a good thing and sympathy for the enemy is looked as bad because it shows weakness. Rather, both should appear as negative as they are forced, outcomes of a negative situation.