Wednesday, June 12, 2013

“All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque – No Winners in War

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (Book cover)
Throughout the twentieth century many breathtaking war novels saw the light of day, and I think we can all guess why (the two World Wars).

Though naming one novel above all the others ones would be foolish, many people hold All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque in much higher regard than other pieces of writing on the same subject. Indeed, the novel truly does offer a very powerful and moving meditation on the utter futility of war, through the eyes of a young German by the name of Paul Baumer.

To give a brief overview of what the story is all about, we basically follow Baumer from his beginnings in school all the way to his journey through the French trenches. At the start, Baumer is hopeful and filled with an immense sense of wonder; the authority figures back home have effectively brainwashed him into going to war for the glory of the Fatherland.

However, as soon as Baumer and his friends make their way to the frontlines, they see that they have been told nothing but lies. War is not a place where boys become men, nor is it a situation during which people earn eternal glory.

Instead, war is the destruction of all that is living and beautiful with extreme prejudice. As the war goes on and Paul’s friends depart from him in one way or another, he begins to question not only the purpose of war in general, but also the direction he must take his own life in. I think that apart from factual documentations, very few books out there are as effective at exposing the horrors and madness of war as All Quiet on the Western Front.

We get to see the dark and dirty side (as if there was another) of every aspect of war, from the boredom and lack of food during long waiting periods in the trenches, all the way to the uncontrollable zeal and brutality that takes over the hearts of men in the heat of battle.

We get to see the longings, needs, desires, hopes, dreams and thoughts that bounce around the heads of these men, doomed to fight each other for a cause they probably do not understand.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (Book cover)
Also, I particularly liked the fact that it portrayed the whole thing from the German perspective. In many cases, we are so preoccupied with dehumanizing the enemy that we forget that both sides of the conflict were populated by human beings, with thoughts, emotions, principles, fears and such.

In the end, as the reader, you realize that the soldiers who fight wars are nothing but victims of the schemes of greedy men. Those interested in a more philosophical approach to war should definitely read this classic.

Erich Maria Remarque  (June 22, 1898 - September 25, 1970)

Erich Maria Remarque
(June 22, 1898 - September 25, 1970)

Erich Maria Remarque was a German author whose best-known work to this day remains, without a doubt, All Quiet on the Western Front, though he certainly had other notable works including Three Comrades and Arch of Triumph.

His many experiences during the war have rather visibly fueled his many thoughts and ideas he developed in his writings.

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