The novel All quite on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque was one of the first novels in modern European literature to present another side of the war which was rarely disclosed earlier in literature. Earlier war was mostly presented as a heroic glorious and patriotic event, described with inspiration and proud, glorifying such virtues as self sacrifice, patriotism, love to motherland, bravery and courage.
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The All is quite of the Western Front is written in the opposite way, anti war-protest and appeal to humanism is clear from the first pages, as it’s obvious that the narrator is tied by horrors of war and is disillusioned about it’s core. The All is quite of the Western Front is a requiem for the whole systems of social and international relations and ideologies which existed in prewar period starting from the 19th century, epoch of nationalism rise in Europe.
The WWI is known today to be a war for domination in European politics at the beginning of the 20th century and war for the colonial expansion and for raw material colonial markets for industrial European superpowers: Great Britain, France and Germany. Each country has its own mercantile interests in this 4 year long bloody conflict. If purposes of this war were clear for ruling elites of France, Great Britain and Germany, than material and political dividends were unclear for the rest of society. France and Great Britain mainly wanted to insure their positions in Middle East and Balkans as well as they wanted to weaken Germany, which in quite a short period of time turned in European industrial leader and dominating power in continental Europe. Germany wanted colonial markets for its rapidly developing industry.
The only way to gain approval of war among civilians was rise of nationalism and propaganda. All social life of Germany was saturated with ideas of patriotism and nationalism, with ideas of German domination and superiority. These ideas were spreading in press, politics and school education. Due to the fact that militarist model of German education and social life had a long tradition starting from Frederick the Great of Prussia, these ideas were successfully cultivated among German youth.
Blind patriotism and nationalism was cultivated starting from school years by Paul’s teacher Kantorek, who inspired Paul and his school friends to join army. They were called “Iron Youth”, brave, strong and firm citizens of their country, who volunteered to army in order to support efforts of German nation for better future, etc. These ideas were shared by everyone those days, including their family members, who inspired their sons who became soldiers to fight for the sake of motherland, Kaiser and German nation.
Even hard realities of the wartime, which shacked German economy and caused mass poverty didn’t change opinion of civilians about war as we can see observe it when Paul returned home for recovering after hospital. Yet, attitude of soldiers quickly had changed radically and their patriotism disillusioned after they saw death and horrors of warfare.
Another very important issue which created gap in perception of war between soldiers and civilians is that Germany had relative success during early years of war, war mostly wasn’t fought on its territory and civilians didn’t witness warfare. All these factors contributed to the blind patriotism of civilians, and attitude to those soldiers who wanted to deliver the truth of the warfare as to cowards and weak people, who betrayed national ideals. Yet, the seeds of disillusion were growing slowly in the minds of German civilians.
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The change of attitude towards war was very quick and sudden for Paul and his friends. The starting point was the death of his comrade Kemmerich and later deaths of his other comrades and friends. Remarque shows, that being subjected to constant danger of being killed, young soldiers were under permanent stress and psychological pressure, which made them to act relying on their instincts. The war substituted their patriotism by the simple human instinct of surviving; they were fighting not for the sake of their nation, by for the sake of their lives.
The nmethods described in the novel used in the war were inhumane by its nature, showing the real purposes for which the war was fought. Use of tanks, machine guns, gas attacks and trenches to fight the war, gave no space for personal bravery, heroism and courage. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers were fighting on the battlefields for months, these scales left no space for personal bravery, undervaluing everything which was propagandized during civil life.
Soldiers had to live under unbearable conditions of trench war, sleeping in trenches full of water, mud, trash, together with corpses, rates and lice. Often there was lack of provision, medical care and ammunition. Transportation, supplying and medical care were poor and disordered, as well as military tactics in general. Such facts show that soldiers were left on their own, and the only way for to survive was suppression of their emotions and accepting situation.
Suppression of feelings led to serious physic disorders of Paul and his friends, as they were losing humanity and ability to live normal life without war. This becomes a very serious issue for Paul as he is not able to rehabilitate even at home. The only feeling which did not disappear was feeling of brotherhood and friendship. This is the only humanity virtue which is romanticized in the novel by Remarque.
The most tragic in the war for Paul was that he did not feel hatred towards Germany’s enemies: Frenchmen, Englishmen or imprisoned Russians. He understood that those poor people and he were alike, that their situation was equal and they were fighting for other people’s interests. The truth of the war becomes clear for Paul, after killing French soldier Gerard Duval: “Comrade, I did not want to kill you…. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony—Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?” (Chapter 9)
This injustice and horrors of wartime ruined everything which he believed in and considered to be his ideals. Nationalism and patriotism as a result appeared to be empty ideology required to recruit soldiers and keep the entire population in obedience during war years.
Making a conclusion it’s important to say that only death and horrors of one of the most brutal wars in the world history made people to look on reality with sober mind. When poverty cased by wartime and death of close people became realities for the most of Germans, they started to think of system being wrong. Latest war years led to disillusionment, which later resulted in economical and moral decline of Germany in after war years.
Erich Maria Remarque All quite on the Western Front.