In the short story Soldier’s Home, Harold Krebs was an American soldier who went to fight with the British army. In this response, I will be comparing and contrasting Krebs to Paul Baümer, the main character in All Quiet on the Western Front.
Krebs and Paul, whilst they have many differences, are also alike in some ways. For example, both boys attended school, from there they were transferred to the war. However, Krebs left voluntarily, while Paul was signed up. Also, Paul was sent to battle as soon as the battle began. Krebs, on the other hand, only joined the war in 1917 when America did. However, one of the larger differences of the two is their parents. Paul’s mother is gravely ill, the cause of which is believed to be cancer. She didn’t care all too much about the war, she only cared about Paul surviving. Paul’s father on the other hand is very into the details. He wants to know what it was like in the frontlines, battling for your life. Krebs mother was intrigued about the war, but as Krebs was telling her stories and experiences, she lost interest easily. Krebs’ father was not non-committal, there were times where he would lean toward Krebs educating him on the war, and the next it would be the last thing he wanted to do.
“My mother is the only one who asks no questions. Not so my father. He wants me to tell him about the front; he is curious in a way that I find stupid and distressing.” P. 165 of All Quiet on the Western Front
“She often came in when he was in bed and asked him to tell her about the war, but her attention always wandered. His father was non-committal.” P. 2 of Soldier’s Home
While there is clearly many, many differences between these two gentlemen, there is one big similarity: They feel disconnected and out of place with their families and the rest of the world. In the short time Paul has at home with his family, he feels as though the old Paul was gone. It was only a couple of years ago that he lived permanently in his home. Back then, he felt like he was himself. However, the aftermath of years of fighting really caught up to him. He now feels as though his childhood is long in the past. Krebs on the other hand also felt out of place. He came back from the war a year later then everyone else, which gravely impacted him and his emotions. All the soldiers who returned home immediately were honoured and celebrated. But because Krebs was late, he was not honoured or celebrated. He now wasn’t able to talk about his feeling because everyone had heard the same stories over and over again. Krebs also felt disconnected for the fact that he actually enjoyed the fighting. He liked the adrenalin and the rush of war, which was unlike anyone else. This put him in a dilemma because he didn’t want to tell everyone he liked fighting, which would make him sound like a monster. So he had to keep his feelings bottled up inside which tore him apart.
“I breathe deeply and say over to myself: -‘You are at home, you are at home.’ But a sense of strangeness will not leave me, I cannot feel home amongst these things.” P. 160, All Quiet on the Western Front
“At first, Krebs, who had been at Belleau Wood, Soissons, the Champagne, St. Mihiel and in the Argonne did not want to talk about the war. Later he felt the need to talk but no one wanted to hear about it.”
This was one of the most tragic parts about the war. Even if you were lucky enough to survive the combat phase, there was a very good chance that you still die mentally. Surviving soldiers never would be the same again, which is very sad to even think about. It makes me feel so lucky to be in a safe country with no need for war.