Thursday, April 23, 2009

All Quiet on the Western Front

Written by Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front, was first published in German in 1929. Like the narrator of this novel, Remarque had enlisted in the German army at the age of eighteen. Years later, he noticed that he and his friends who had also been soldiers, were still being negatively affected by their war experiences. On that same day he began to write this novel, and finished it in six weeks. Like A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry (see blog for March 16), All Quiet on the Western Front focuses on the humanity of these young, young men as they are forced to confront the horrors of warfare. It is a tough book to read, but read it you should!

In the novel, the narrator tells us that his schoolmaster, Kantorek, had persuaded all the boys in his class to enlist.
Page 8
There was, indeed, one of us who hesitated and did not want to fall into line. That was Josef Behm, a plump, homely fellow. But he did allow himself to be persuaded, otherwise he would have been ostracized. And perhaps more of us thought as he did, but no one could very well stand out, because at that time even one's parents were ready with the word "coward"; no one had the vaguest idea what we were in for.
There were thousands of Kantoreks, all of whom were convinced that there was only one way of doing well, and that way theirs.
And that is just why they let us down badly.
For us lads of eighteen they ought to have been mediators and guides to the world of maturity, the world of work, of duty, of culture, of progress - to the future. We often made fun of them and played jokes on them, but in our hearts we trusted them. The idea of authority, which they represented, was associated in our minds with a greater insight and a manlier wisdom. But the first death we saw shattered this belief. We had to recognize that our generation was more to be trusted than theirs. They surpassed us only in phrases in cleverness. The first bombardment showed us our mistake, and under it the world as they had taught it to us broke in pieces.
While they continued to write and talk, we saw the wounded and dying. While they taught that duty to one's country is the greatest thing, we already knew that death-throes are stronger. But for all that we were no mutineers, no deserters, no cowards - they were very free with all these expressions. We loved our country as much as they; we went courageously into every action; but also we distinguished the false from the true, we had suddenly learned to see. And we saw that there was nothing of their world left. We were all at once terribly alone; and alone we must see it through.

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