The Horror of War

“Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it” (1 Peter 3:11). In the historical fiction novel All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque relates the life of a soldier struggling to do “seek peace” in the midst of a brutal, gruesome war. Remarque’s personal experience as a soldier in World War I validates the anti-war polemic he presents through the novel. The story juxtaposes the civilian’s misconstrued idea of war as a glorious, noble duty and the horror soldiers know it to be. It also addresses the problems encountered by a soldier trying to assimilate back into the life of a civilian because of the mindset he must adopt to survive in the war. Finally, Remarque questions the purpose of war and the civilian’s responsibility to participate in it. The novel All Quiet on the Western Front presents war—not at its best, nor at its worst, but at as it is, and therefore, most troubling.
The novel follows the life of Paul Bäumer, a young soldier in World War I. After joining the German army and experiencing the horror of the war first-hand, Bäumer struggles to reconcile the view of the war held by his friends and family at home with his personal experience of it. Before enlisting, Bäumer is “crammed full of vague ideas which gave … to the war … an ideal and almost romantic character” (25). He understands war to be glorious and desirable; however, these enthusiastic opinions are swept away after he witnesses a few of his comrades’ deaths. When Bäumer visits one of his friends, dying in a hospital, he is sorrowfully indignant, thinking, “There he lies now—but why? The whole world ought to pass by this bed and say: ‘That is Franz Kemmerich, nineteen and a half years old, he doesn’t want to die. Let hi...

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... desert, and if they stay but do not fight they will be killed in battle. “[Generals] become famous through war” (181), the soldiers finally conclude. Since they cannot think of anyone who desires the war, or anyone who it is of use to, even on the opposing side, they jestingly resort to the Kaiser and generals. According to their school books, “every full-grown emperor requires at least one war, otherwise he would not become famous” (181).
Remarque’s anti-war polemic rests on a few key themes: the juxtaposition of the idea that war is glorious and the horror it is in reality, the problems encountered by a soldier trying to assimilate back into the life of a civilian, and the unclear purpose of the war. The novel All Quiet on the Western Front presents war in disturbing reality, so that future generations may truly grasp the “horror of war” that Remarque experienced.
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