Essay, Research Paper
All Quiet on the Western Front – Overall Summary
All Quiet on the Western Front is an anti-war novel from the opening chapters. Many critics of the novel in the early days after the publication of the novel blamed Remarque for writing for shock value. They did not want to believe his novel represented the truth about World War I. In many ways, such people were like Paul’s schoolmaster, Kantorek. They wanted to cling to classical, romantic notions of war. However, Remarque wrote his novel specifically to shatter those idealistic illusions. Yes, he wrote to shock, but he also wrote to educate.
The young teenage men who enlisted in the army on both sides often never recovered from their horrific experiences. They returned home with shattered minds and shattered bodies to an impoverished, ravaged civilian population that often regarded them as unpleasant reminders of a war they wanted to forget. Many civilians were unable to believe that the soldiers suffered horrors far greater than what they had suffered. Many veterans could not talk about their experiences because they were so unspeakable. They were the victims, but they were also the killers. What had been done to them, they had done to others as well. There are a lot of reasons that the generation of men who entered their young adulthood during the war is called “the lost generation.”
The Great War seemed utterly senseless. Countries slid unknowingly into a conflict they thought would end quickly. They thought the conflict would follow the classical concept of warfare. They were utterly wrong. There was a strict disjunction between the romance of fighting for honor and pride and the nasty, unbelievable wholesale butchery that actually happened. Hundreds and thousands of men died to win a few yards of land only to lose it again in another battle. Once the death toll neared unbelievable proportions, the war continued because civilians and soldiers demanded some justification for the slaughter and the suffering. The stalemate lasted over four years.
It is difficult to estimate the scale of The Great War’s casualties. Many of the dead were never buried in marked graves. They lay and rotted in the trenches or in the No Man’s Land between the trenches. Historians estimate that between nine and twelve million soldiers died in action. Others died from complications from wounds or from disease. Millions more lost arms, legs, or suffered from disfiguring facial wounds. Millions of civilians were killed or starved to death. Many suffered disfiguring wounds from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Although World War II overshadows World War I, the first World War made the second possible. In some ways, the first war was worse than the second. Before The Great War, no one had any idea what modern warfare meant. The Great War heralded a different kind of fighting. Soldiers rarely saw their enemies face to face when they died. The very distance made the killing easier. On both sides of the conflict, propaganda denied the humanity of the enemy, thus making the killing and maiming more acceptable. Both sides raced to find new, more horrific ways to kill and maim one another. People had a better idea of what to expect when the second war started.
No one expected The Great War to be as terrible as it was. Powerful men with their pride and their honor at stake chose to throw away the lives of millions rather than call an end to the stalemate of The Great War. All Quiet on the Western Front is a protest against the betrayal by older, powerful men of the younger, naive generation. Young men enlisted believing they were embarking on an exciting adventure to fight for glory and honor. They thought they would be home by Christmas.