All Quiet on the Western Front (book review)

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All Quiet on the Western Front


All Quiet on the Western Front is a story of a German soldier involved with World War One. The soldiers’ name is Paul Baumer, a nineteen-year-old student who is convinced to join the German army by his schoolmaster, Kantorek. Some of his classmates are also convinced to join by Kantorek. While in the service, Paul meets many others who play an important part in his life. The time frame of this story is from 115-118.


Kantorek is a small man who is said to be stern. Kantorek believes in nationalism and patriotism. Paul refers to Kantorek as being of similar stature as Corporal Himmelstoss, “the terror of Klosterberg”. He finds men Kantoreks size to be the cause of a lot of unhappiness in the world. Although Kantorek preaches patriotism to all of his students, he never would enlist. As Paul receives letters throughout the story, he and his classmates laugh at the irony of the man who writes letter about the “Iron Youth”, yet stays safe enough to write letters from home.


Corporal Himmelstoss is Paul’s commander. He is very strict and finds Paul as well as his comrades to be defiant. He does not treat Paul very well as is seen by the drills they are made to do in the mud and cold. Himmelstoss is not a deep thinker. He once tried to cure two men who wet the bed by placing one over the other in a hammock style bunk. The result was one would lay in filth and the other would stay dry. The next night they would swap. Eventually one man would sleep on the floor and the other in the hammock. Paul and a couple of others planned revenge for the night before they were sent to the front. Paul, Tjaden, and Haie ambush Himmelstoss that night after the Corporal has left the bar. They inflict not only a painful blow to Himmelstoss, but also an embarrassing revenge. The Corporal is stripped of his britches and whipped; yet the only remorse from the attackers is that he got away with a bed sheet.


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Haie Westhus is a described as a larger man who can “hold a ration-loaf in his hand and say Guess what I’ve got in my fist”. He is what Paul calls a “peat digger”. Haie collects the parachutes from the French star shells. Because they are made of silk, he sends them to his girlfriend to make clothing with. Haie eventually is shot in the back, which punctures his lung, and dies.


Detering was a man described as a peasant who thought mostly of his wife and farm. He reminisces one night with Paul after finding a cherry tree in full bloom. He brings back a couple of branches and begins acting mysteriously. Two days later he is missing and was said to have been captured by the German military police. While he is gone, Paul says the German military police could have no idea that Detering’s disappearance “was only homesickness and a momentary aberration. But what does a court-martial a hundred miles behind the front-line know about it”? That is the last they hear of Detering.


Tjaden is one of the men who had a bed-wetting problem. He held a special grudge against Himmelstoss for what he did to him. He is a cunning man who likes to eat. He is one of the men who persuaded the cook to feed 80 people 150 peoples worth of rations because many of them did not return from the battle. A bullet wound to the stomach later ironically kills Tjaden. Kat had told him that they should not overeat since a bullet wound to the stomach on an empty stomach was bad enough, but a bullet wound to the stomach on a full stomach was much more dangerous.


Franz Kemmerich was one of Paul’s classmates that enlisted in the army with him. He landed in the hospital and had his foot amputated. While in the hospital, an infection sets in and he catches a fever. Paul bribes an orderly to give Franz morphine for a few cigarettes Kemmerich later gives Muller his prized boots. Muller is a good friend of Kemmerich’s and feels he deserves the boots more than the orderlies who will surely take them. He is not the first of Paul’s classmates to die, but he is the first that struck a chord in him. Paul reminisces about the days gone by in school when he used to copy from Franz. He remembers how gifted Franz was as an athlete. He is also present when Kemmerich dies. The orderly has Paul gather Franz’ possessions so that they can use the bed. This would be a tragic reminder of how fragile and unpredictable their lives are.


Albert Kropp is another classmate and close friend of Paul’s. At one point they are both wounded in a battle and end up in the hospital together. Before going to the hospital, Paul makes up his mind not to get chloroformed because of his fear of amputation. He bears the pain as a doctor pulls shrapnel out of his leg. In order to be put on the train together, Paul bribes a sergeant major with some cigars. While on the train, Albert is to be dropped off at the next stop. In order to stay together, Paul feigns an illness and is dropped off at the same hospital as Albert. Paul spent the majority of his time at the hospital in a cast, while Albert was having difficulties healing his leg. Albert’s leg had been broken just above the knee, but would not heal. Eventually after a few surgeries, the doctors decided to amputate his leg at the thigh because of a spreading infection. This placed Albert in a state of depression that was only complicated by Paul’s healing.


While they are in the hospital, they meet a man named Lewandowski. He is a man of about forty. Lewandowski’s wife has saved enough money to make a trip to visit him. They and the other people in the room decide they will distract others from entering the room so that Lewandowski and his wife can have some “private time”.


Paul is eventually healed enough to get convalescent leave. Albert is almost healed enough to get a prosthetic leg. That is the last time they see each other.


The last character to talk about is Stanislaus Katczinsky, or “Kat”, for short. Kat is the oldest of the group. He is the person that the group listens to and follows. Kat lives the longest out of the minor characters in this book. Paul once said of Kat that if he spoke he had thought about it. Kat was held in high regard as far as the troops went. If anything was needed, Kat was the one who could find it. They said it was as though he had a sixth sense about him. He could find hay to sleep on or food to eat no matter where they were. Unfortunately, Kat was injured. Paul carried him to the nearest dressing station, which took a toll on him. They would stop to rest every few minutes to make sure Kat was feeling all right. As they were crossing into friendly territory, Paul stumbles into the dressing station and falls with Kat. He has enough sense to drop his friend on his good leg. The orderly tells him Kat is dead. In disbelief Paul tells the orderly that he must have passed out. When he brushes Kat’s hair back, he finds his hand covered in blood. A small fragment entered Kat’s skull and killed him. Although his hands were still warm, Kat has had the random luck of catching a stray “splinter”. “Then I know nothing more”.


Kat’s death is by far the most tragic to Paul. Kat has been with him the whole time. Although they have seen death every day, and even caused death, there is no way for Paul to understand this war. Kat was his inspiration for many of his adventures. Paul was a follower and saw Kat as a true man. Kat was his mentor and pseudo-father in the senseless war.


Throughout this story, it becomes apparent that the perspective of Paul is a realistic viewpoint for many soldiers at the time. In this war not one of the people doing the actual fighting has anything to do with the cause. Inside the regiments of soldiers are many believers. These believers have been bred from a politician’s point of view. This was a major cause of World War One. Many different nations were breeding a strong patriotism within their own countries. Each country wanted to be better than the other. Within time these walls seemed to get closer and closer until a hatred for other nationalities started becoming evident.


Paul is sent into this war believing the French to be the enemy. He holds this belief until one night when he is caught in a trench and thinks to himself what would happen if a French soldier were to fall into the same trench as him. His fear is realized when a French soldier does fall into the same trench. In his mind he envisions a man of hatred who could kill him in an instant. In the instant it took Paul to think of his thoughts, he panicked and stabbed the French soldier three times. It is only after the attack; Paul realized this man that he stabbed was no more vicious than himself. Because he lost his revolver when he fell into the trench, Paul is forced to listen to this soldier gasping for breath. He spends the final minutes of this French soldiers life consoling him and apologizing for his actions.


In the after death of the French soldier, Paul swears to the dead man that it will never happen again. He understands that he is not much different from the man he just killed except that this man had a wife and family. He realizes that those on the opposite side have the same people waiting for them at home; the only difference is a nationality. I believe that at this point Paul has decided that he won’t kill anymore. It was much worse since he had to spend an extended time in the trench with this man until it was safe to come out.


When Paul finally emerges from the trench, you can tell he is a changed man. He is no longer as eager to be in the battle, although he carries on to the best of his abilities. Each time a friend of his is killed, he takes the burden upon himself to write to their families. It is not a task that is expected of him; rather he does it as a way to ease his guilty conscience. His guilt stems from being alive beyond his friends. He is a man of moral judgment and does what he can to ease the burden from others. Paul is a decent man who was talked into a war he knew nothing about. Even the generations prior to him had no idea the scope of this war. This war was supposed to end quickly, and yet Paul never sees the end.


Those events that transpire in front of Paul are imbedded in his mind forever. , Paul finds himself caught in a war that could end with reason. The problem is not with the soldiers fighting, but with their command. He describes the war in detail by the faces he sees and the death that marks time. He talks about a soldier who held the artery in his arm in his teeth for two hours to keep from bleeding to death. The battle they fight only allows the French to take a few hundred yards, but “on every yard there lies a dead man”. Words like these describe most of the wars ever fought.


Today’s war is not fought the same. More political views are imbedded into the minds of the modern soldier than military tactics. Battles are fought from a greater distance and killing becomes computerized. We have special tactics units to infiltrate enemy lines, but most of our information comes from satellites with enough technology to cover almost every square mile of this planet. This may be how we minimize our casualties, but the war is no less filled with hatred for an unknown man.


In order to better understand Paul’s point of view completely, you would have to fight by his side. By describing these battles in words, he is saving the reader the actual experience of war. Being a member of the military only breathes a small glimmer of worry into a soldier compared to those who are there. Because of some mans small way of thinking, soldiers like Paul are drafted to kill a defending army based on the pretense that they are doing the right thing. It takes courage to pull the trigger on another man, but it takes ignorance to cause the war.


I believe that this war was fought in vain as have other wars. I have been a member of the military and believe in defending freedom. The problem lies with those who threaten freedom for the chance to become richer. Every single war boils down to a dollar sign for somebody and generally they are the cause of millions of families’ grief. Individual soldiers have a family or friend who will miss them dearly. Their death brings a lifetime of loss that can never be explained no matter how patriotic they are. Every man believes in the power of freedom, yet many leaders are willing to risk a generation’s life on the hope of ensuring freedom. Although our leaders are supposed to be the best of our society, it would seem that sometimes we should all look at the larger picture and decide what is best for us all, not just the elite.


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Paul dies in the end, most likely a death he looked forward to. An expression of calm was on his face as though he had waited for this day. This is only one life story told and it has moved many readers. It would be wise to think about those soldiers who have fallen, or will fall, and think about their individual stories. If this one mans life told in the words of an author who never knew him can move you, there may be a better way to solve differences between countries without sacrificing unknown lives.


Those soldiers who have fallen around us had unknown talents and achievements waiting for them. Some man in an office believed it best to send these children to war in a place to grow up too quickly. It is difficult to think of these men as youth when the horrors and fear that they have seen in one-week equal what many others would never see in a lifetime.


Paul’s story is different in a number of ways. We have all grown up in America and been thought of as the cream of the crop. We hear stories and read books about American heroes, yet in this book we are rooting for a man who fought against us. Although we may see them as the enemy on the battlefield at the time, we now see them as an equal in this world and are not afraid to help them. The same goes for the Japanese. At one point in time, we were mortal enemies. Now we learn from them. Tell me again please, at what cost have our war losses helped? Have we accomplished our goals or have we only smoothed things over until the “Big One”?





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