All Quiet on the Western Front Essay: Effective Criticism of War


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All Quiet on the Western Front:  Effective Criticism of War            


 All Quiet on the Western Front was a sad tale of Paul Bäumer, a lad just entering adulthood, who

fought in a war that he did not even believe in. Erich Maria Remarque wrote this novel to show the

war through the eyes of Paul, who saw everything that happened; every death, every horror, and

all the bloodshed. Remarque denounced war by showing how it destroys human lives and, more

 importantly, how it devours the human soul. World War I was pointless to the young soldiers

who did not even seem to know why a war was being waged. Paul showed how war affected

an entire generation, of people, which he represented through Paul. Altogether, All Quiet on

 the Western Front was a powerful and moving criticism of the war.

 

Every character in the novel was a tragic character and a sad loss in the war. This includes Paul,

whose eyes Remarque used to show the atrocities of war to the world. All the events were shown

without heroism, or at least without what was officially determined to be heroic by the people. Paul

watched people die and killed people, something that tore him apart emotionally, but for which he

would be considered a hero for. "We reach the zone where the front begins and become on the

instant human animals" (56). The humanity was taken away from these soldiers, a horrible and

mournful thing, and completely unwarranted. These were students like Paul, farmers like Detering,

and other ordinary men who were enlisted and taken to the front, not really knowing what they

were fighting for, stripped of even their humanity. At one point Paul even said "[i]n many ways we

are treated quite like men" (91). However, they were men, even though they were made to feel

like animals. They were still men. Remarque effectively used Paul's experiences to illustrate his

criticism of World War I, showing the destruction to humanity and human emotion. There was

already the mention of the soldiers becoming animals when at the front. He described this further:

"The blast of the hand-grenades impinges powerfully on our arms and legs; crouching like cats we

run on, overwhelmed by this wave that bears us along, that fills us with ferocity, turns us into thugs,

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into murderers, into God only knows what devils" (114). This is how Paul felt about himself as a

soldier. He had no choice but to fight and kill and run for his life, yet he felt like a murderer, a

soulless devil. It was hard to remember that Paul was just a 20-year-old kid. Remarque showed

Paul's sadness at the death of his comrades, first of all with Kemmerich. Paul sympathetically saw

the suffering of his friend, and many other friends that came and went. Paul had decisions in some

of the sufferings as well, such as with the "youngster": "Every day that he can live will be a howling

torture. And to whom does it matter whether he has them or not--" (72). Here this soldier suffered

unbearable torture, yet no one cared but his comrades. The public did not realize these horrors, as

Paul's mother did not. When Paul was on leave, she asked him how things were out there; she had

no idea of the sufferings, and Paul didn't tell her the truth at this point either. However, Remarque

purposely told the truth to the people who read his novel.

 

Not only did Paul feel for his own comrades, but also for the "enemy," the French and Russians.

Paul saw the Russians who were prisoners and said of them "their life is obscure and guiltless;-- if I

could know more of them, what their names are..." (193). Paul did what a soldier isn't supposed

to do, he saw the enemy as human. Furthermore, he had sympathy with the enemy and considered

himself very like him. It certainly wasn't Paul who should have been fighting, it should have been

the officials who started the war. Paul had no grudge against his fellow man. One of the most

touching scenes of humanity was the scene in which Paul killed the Frenchman in the trench. Paul

felt awfulfor killing him while in his animal state, but afterwards let his human sympathy show

through. He wondered about the man's family, and took his address to write and tell them he had

died. Again, Paul was not a very good soldier, but that made him a better human being. Paul said

once "after all, we cannot afford to be anything but matter-of-fact. So matter-of-fact, indeed, that I

often shudder when thought from the days before the war comes momentarily into my head"

(232). This is what Paul was forced to be, despite his sensitive nature, as many other young men

had done.

 

Remarque described these physical things Paul saw, as well as how it affected him. When

Remarque showed this, he also showed Paul as the symbol for the entire generation of

shell-shocked soldiers. Most importantly, the aforementioned loss of humanity of the soldiers.

Next, there was the loss of hope for that generation, even for what was to happen after the war

was over. Paul said "we are forlorn like children, and experienced like old men, we are crude and

sorrowful and superficial--I believe we are lost" (123). Sadly, this could be a description for the

entire generation of soldiers who fought in the war. There was no hope for them after what they'd

seen; there was no way they could ever be the same, and this quite obviously a change for the

worse. Paul said "through the years our business has been killing,-- it was our first calling in life. . .

What will happen afterwards? And what shall become of us? (264). There was no future for this

generation. Paul said "I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair,

death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow" (263). How could Paul

possibly have had any hope, especially when he wasn't allowed to show this "abyss of sorrow" he

suffered?

 

Remarque clearly did not blame the soldiers for the war; however, he was vague as to who he

accused. Perhaps it is most accurate to say he blamed it on the ignorance of the decision-makers.

The soldiers had a discussion about what the purpose of the war was. Albert said that it was

started "mostly by one country badly offending another" (204). Tjaden then answered "then I

haven't any business here at all" (204). This was exactly Remarque's point; why did these innocent

young men suffer so horribly when it wasn't their war? The answer is that those who were higher

up, those vague "county-running" people were the cause. And they must have made the decision

without really knowing the atrocities it would entail. It was easy for them to fight for an ideal when

they were not the ones physically fighting for it and seeing what Paul and his comrades saw

everyday. That is why Remarque wrote the novel: to show everyone, once and for all, how

horrible war is under any and all circumstances.

 

Remarque effectively criticized war in the novel and showed the public the truth about the horrors

of it. Seen through the eyes of young Paul, the war was real and atrocious. Besides the simple

bloodshed and loss of human life, there was the destruction of humanity and human emotions; in

effect, the human soul. Sensitive young men were forced to kill and be automatons for reasons

they didn't even know. They fought for ideals that others believed in, ideals that they couldn't see

worthwhile enough to go through what they did.

 

 

Work Cited

Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front. New York: Fawcett Crest, 1928

 


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