My Personal Response on ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’

To live in a world free of safety, blinded by finding the good in everything and in search desperate search of hope but finding despair instead, this is the true horror of living as a soldier in WWI. It wasn’t until I picked up a certain book where I learned the truth. War can be many things to different people, to banks and the arms industry, it is a gold mine. To the many soldiers who fought long and hard and wanted to make the greatest deal of service to their country, it is much different. At first, I viewed war as a bland topic as it may include many things. I thought at first, that to become a soldier was to put your nation before everyone else in risk of dying a ‘glorious’ death and being honored in the many years to come, or perhaps survive through the great challenges of war and tell your story to your descendants. But as it turns out, it is nothing of the sort.

When I picked up the book, I was placed in the shoes of Paul Bäumer, a young man who joined the military with his schoolmates to fight in The Great War. He and his friends were influenced by his teacher Kantorek, who gave the suggestion to everyone in the class. When he joined the army, he was trained by Sargent Himmelstoss, who worked as a postman prior to becoming a Sargent. Himmelstoss had a bad reputation among Paul and his Friends due to constantly abusing his power and punishing them in harsh ways for very minor mistakes. During chapter three, we find out that Tjaden fell victim to one of Himmelstoss’ worst punishments due to him urinating on his own bed frequently. We later find out that Himmelstoss used to find another soldier who would also urinate his bed frequently and put them together in the same bunk and switch them every night. This would mean that whoever slept in the lower bunk would then have no choice but to sleep in the floor where it is cold. To Tjaden it was torture, but to Himmelstoss, it was a cure for laziness. Paul believed that the plan was not ill-conceived but that it was still rough. The friends get together and decide on a plan to get their revenge on Himmelstoss at night by beating him up and shoving a bed cover over his head. Tjaden and the others were satisfied knowing they got their long-awaited sweet revenge. Reading this chapter knocked me off a bit, but I was not surprised. I then realized that the author was communicating to the anti-German audience how German soldiers were not blood thirsty murderers, but they were patriotic human beings who would give anything for their country. Even for me, I wouldn’t imagine how much these soldiers were like us, not just how they feel emotion, but also the way they think, and all the rough times they had to go through. Chapter three was especially significant for me, because it’s how I saw (even if it their way of handling it was to the extreme) how soldiers can feel anger towards people who are very mean to them especially at a relatively young age.

Change may come as a shock to anyone who experiences it, but it wouldn’t affect anyone nearly as much as a soldier. To become a soldier means that you would put your country before anything else including your own family. In chapter seven, we come to realize certain differences between the army camps and civilian life which Paul experiences when he is off on leave. Once he gets off the train, he visits his mother and his sister once he arrives home. Immediately, he starts to notice something different as if he didn’t fit there, or if he didn’t belong there. He is treated with a warm welcome from his sister who announces his arrival. Paul is then alerted to his mother calling for him which his sister notifies him that she is sick. Paul greets his sick mother who is desperately concerned for him, searching him for injuries and later inquires about his leave. Paul reassures her that he is fine, and he is simply let off as a break. He is then offered potato cakes by his sister as she knows that it is his favorite dish. Paul later heads to his room and realizes that something is not right, taking his emotional state in consideration. He reads through his books in his bookshelf trying to feel like himself before he joined the war but is met with disappointment when he realizes that the books words mean nothing to him. This is a clear indicator that Paul is experiencing trauma from the war without him clearly noticing it. He is frequently asked by his father to tell him about his experiences in the war but is constantly neglected by Paul due to him not wanting to remember his separate life as a soldier. During his leave, he remembers that he must do something very important to him, visit the mother of his best friend Kemmerich who died in combat. As soon as he meets Kemmerich’s mother, she comes to him sobbing, asking him how Kemmerich died. As he did not want to carry the burden of telling her his long and painful death, he replied saying that he was shot and killed instantly without mentioning any details. Kemmerich’s mother, quickly seeing through him asked him several more times until she believed him due to Paul not mentioning the details of his death. It was a very sad scene, seeing how a remorseful mother mourning her son’s death would act towards someone who could’ve been very close to her. It shows that the German soldiers had mothers, siblings, and families who cared for them. They weren’t soulless human beings; they were beloved sons of many parents who feel the trauma of their passing just like the families of soldiers from opposing countries were like. The focus of All Quiet on the Western Front was to communicate how much alike we can be no matter how much we can loathe each other, but also that people are people, and nothing can change the fact that everyone’s actions are influenced based on past experiences and the environment they grow up in.

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