The revolutionary war novel All Quiet On The Western Front was written by the German soldier Eric Maria Remarque and published in 1928, ten years after the end of WWI. The book revolves around Paul Baumer, who is a German soldier of the age of 19, that fights amongst his comrades in the trench warfares against the French army in WWI. The soldiers had soon came to realize that the war isn’t glorious or romantic at all. They were taunted from it as their past lives were torn away from them and they were left with the agonizing experiences of the war. In chapter 4, the second company soldiers took cover during a bombardment after placing barbed wires at the front. When the attack was over, they had heard the taunting cries of the wounded horses. They found it unbearable and the horses’ sufferings came to an end when they were killed.
Detering walks up and down cursing: “Like to know what harm they’ve done.” He returns to it once again. His voice is agitated, it sounds almost dignified as he says: “I tell you it is the vilest baseness to use horses in the war.” (p. 64)
This quote shows that Detering sympathizes more with the horses than for humans. They have witnessed countless gruesome deaths as soldiers, and have grown more immune to it so long as they don’t think about it too much. However, they have failed to do so when they heard the wounded horses. Remarque described it as the “moaning of the world”. (p.62) The screams of the innocent and humble creatures are the most penetrating, and though they were referred to as “beasts” (p. 63), this was only because of the pain inflicted by the war.
This part of the book was very impactful for me. Humans were known to have a strong link with (domestic) animals since the Stone Age. Soldiers were typically said to have a strong bond towards warhorses, the same with the police with guard dogs, and the disabled with the service animals. Unlike humans, animals have no particular idea of why the pain has been inflicted on them. Because of their innocence and obliviousness of the situation that not even the soldiers themselves could explain, they are pitied and sympathized with. Later in the story, Paul wonders why exactly are they fighting in the war. Just like horses, they have no particular reason to fight, as they hold no personal grudge towards the enemy soldiers. Most of the soldiers enlisted were persuaded by nationalism or propaganda. However, the death of the horses still seemed more impactful for me. It is the human’s war after all.