WWI Lit: Oct. 28 (All Quiet on the Western Front)

In All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, the story follows a group of young men who were enlisted into the army. When reminiscing on their enlistment, main character Paul Bäumer talks about how only one boy, Joseph Behm, hesitated in joining up.

But he did allow himself to be persuaded, otherwise he would have been ostracized. And perhaps more of us thought as he did, but no one could very well stand out, because at the time even one’s parents were ready with the word “coward.” (p. 11)

To me, the idea that even parents would want to send their children off to war is astonishing. I can’t imagine my mother or father ever encouraging me or my brother to go off somewhere so far away and dangerous, let alone berating either of us for declining to do so. I understand that it was a different time, but still I don’t see how parents would willingly send their young kids into war to be bombed, gassed, and shot, no matter the era. You can tell when Paul returns to his hometown on leave, his mother is extremely glad to see him again, and very worried about his safety and his returning to the front. This seems like a direct contradiction to me.

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