The book All Quiet on the Western Front, is a powerful reading written by Erich Maria Remarque following World War One. The story encompasses the stories of German soldiers fighting on the western front around the year of 1928. Instead of just portraying the details of war, the fighting, and the grueling details associated with such combat, the book goes much further in looking into the theme of militarism that led to the war in the first place, and how this significantly affected the soldiers psychological emotions and lives not only during the war, but also moving forward, even after the war was over. We see such hatred against foreign (in this case enemy) countries from these soldiers, which can be viewed as one of the direct driving sources for the war being so disturbing and taking such a toll on these soldiers. We see many themes throughout this book, but none is more president than the argument against war and how the reading challenges some of the newly found ideologies from the 20th century that we live in today.
Since the first chapter of the book, we see just how realistic and perceptible the novel was going to be. The soldiers early in the book find themselves on the front lines, and Remarque says: “As if something is inside us, in our blood, has been switched on.” Such rigid literature really strikes deep into one’s psyche; the reader can directly feel the fear and change of emotion in the soldiers the second that they realize how real war really is; it is so vivid the reader can almost place themselves in the soldiers shoes. Such clear details about their surroundings are present throughout the novel; the bullets flying by, the smells, and human but also animal deaths (as we see with the horses) to name a few. A huge emotional shift the reader can really feel is when Franz Kemmerich dies. “I tremble with rage as I go along with the orderly”… “I become faint, all at once I cannot do any more. I won’t revile any more, it is senseless, I could drop down and never rise up again”. This was fairly early in the novel, and this is one of the first times the reader can distinctly see militarism and its role on affecting human emotions. Here Bäumer realizes how real the war really is.
The second clear example of militarism found in the novel is when we look deeper into the way the soldiers were trained, and how Bäumer talks about it on page 56; “We march up, moody or good tempered soldiers –we reach the zone where the front begins and become instant animals”. We can see the distinct change in the characters; this is not how they were born and raised to be. This is the direct effects of being a soldier and how significantly the theme of militarism can directly influence an individual or group of individuals actions based on the situation they find themselves in. Instead of thinking twice, they now act like animals fighting of predators and catching prey in the wild. They act upon each decision without hesitation; and things start to become life or death. The reader might acknowledge the soldiers do not even think for themselves anymore, and rely mainly on instinct and their militarism training to stay alive.
Another example of militarism found in the book was a little farther into the story when Paul takes a moment to reflect on what the soldiers were becoming. “We are not youth any longer. We don’t want to take the world by storm. We are fleeing. We fly from ourselves. From our life. We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces.” This was one of the more powerful quotes that really struck the reader. Here, Paul acknowledges that the soldiers his age have had their youth years swept from underneath them. Instead of enjoying their young years, being with friends, building a family, making a name for themselves, they find themselves on the front line facing life and death almost daily. Such ideologies today would be more or less unfathomable as far as social customs are concerned; today’s views would not be to be ready to go into such aggressive combat, expelling such young forces to fight for the country’s interests. Instead, now the views have to look beyond the scope of just the national interests, but the worlds interests as a whole, and raises the ethical question of who else will be affected by these actions? Is it really worth putting all of these young lives at risk?
In conclusion, it is apparent how the theme of militarism is present throughout the novel All Quiet on the Western Front. The reader directly can clearly watch Paul and all the young soldiers fighting alongside him turn from young men, into war ‘machines’, who no longer think, but act upon what they were taught to do. Today, the way these men were taught to hate other countries and fight clearly challenges many of the ideologies we see in the early 20th century and even more clearly, the ones we have to have today. If such ethical boundaries were broken, who knows what other wars would ensue going forward.