Horror of War Exposed in Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front
Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front is one of the greatest war novels of all time. It is a story, not of Germans, but of men, who even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war. The entire purpose of this novel is to illustrate the vivid horror and raw nature of war and to change the popular belief that war has an idealistic and romantic character. The story centers on Paul Baümer, who enlists in the German army with glowing enthusiasm. In the course of war, though, he is consumed by it and in the end is "weary, broken, burnt out, rootless, and without hope" (Remarque page #).
Through Baümer, Remarque examines how war makes man inhuman. He uses excellent words and phrases to describe crucial details to this theme. "The first bomb, the first explosion, burst in our hearts," (page #). Baümer and his classmates who enlisted into the army see the true reality of the war. They enter the war fresh from school, knowing nothing except the environment of hopeful youth and they come to a premature maturity with the war, their only home. "We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces. We are not youth any longer" (page #). They have lost their innocence. Everything they are taught, the world of work, duty, culture, and progress, are not the slightest use to them because the only thing they need to know is how to survive. They need to know how to escape the shells as well as the emotional and psychological torment of the war.
The war takes a heavy toll on the soldiers who fight in it. The terror of death will infest the minds of soldiers and bring about horrible images of death and destruction until they break down and go to pieces. "Every hour and everyday, every shell and every death cuts this thin [line of sanity], and the years waste it rapidly," (page #). In these dangerous moments, anybody would have gone mad, have deserted their post, or have fallen. it takes a special kind of soldier -- a soldier who will not go to pieces at the sight of a mutilated body -- to deal with this emotional abuse; it takes a soldier like Baumer.
Baümer has "grown accustomed to it. War is the cause of death like influenza and dysentery. The deaths are merely more frequent, more varied and terrible." He has rid himself of all feelings and thoughts. His emotions lie buried in the earth along with the soldiers who fell prey to them. His dullness protects him from going mad at the sight of a slaughtered comrade or butchered friend. He wants to live at all costs so "every expression of his life must serve one purpose and one purpose only, preservation of existence, and he is absolutely focused on that" (page #). The cost of life is the death of his emotions; his survival depends on it." Every shell that falls, every shot that fires, a soldier...