All Quiet on the Western Front

What qualities make ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ considered by many to be the best anti-war novel so far written?

Official reason and real reason

What is your country? How can ‘France’ insult ‘Germany’?

Dehumanisation – training of soldiers; how can they be ‘untrained’?

To protect ‘civilized’ values, soldiers are asked to kill without compassion and obey without question, thus renouncing empathy and free will, two essential qualities that define our humanity.

Brutality and horror – World War 1 – the first ‘industrial’ war. Slaughter on a massive scale.

‘Big picture’ and ‘little picture’. The novel argues that every human life matters, yet the only way to survive a war is to become numb and indifferent to human suffering.

Necessity of lying: about how the war is going, the horrors you have witnessed; Paul lies to Kemmerich’s mother about how her son died. ‘may I never come back if he wasn’t killed instantaneously’. The only truth is to be found on the Front.

Reintegration into society: impossible after 4 years of an animal-like existence.

Paul’s ‘failings’ as a soldier: he is compassionate, sensitive, and intelligent. Oellrich the sharpshooter has no empathy, no imagination, and enjoys killing: he will get a medal.

‘Band of Brothers’: there is shared comradeship and a deep bond between the soldiers because civilians can never understand what soldiers have endured; ironically, for Paul, this comradeship extents to enemy soldiers like the Frenchman he kills…NB Christmas 1914: German and English soldiers declare a one day unofficial truce, which horrifies their ‘superiors’.

Dulce et decorum est….there is no glory or honor in war; every heroic act in the book is ultimately futile. The idea is simply to kill the enemy and stay alive yourself. Life consists of being bombarded for hours in trenches, living in mud, having the stench of the dead continuously in your nostrils, little food, no sanitary facilities, then going ‘over the top’ – charging towards machine gun posts which are still fortified by barbed wire.

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