Title: All Quiet on the Western Front
Author: Erich Maria Remarque
On the Shelves: Fiction> Classics
One by one the boys begin to fall…
In 1914 a room full of German schoolboys, fresh-faced and idealistic, are goaded by their schoolmaster to troop off to the ‘glorious war’. With the fire and patriotism of youth they sign up. What follows is the moving story of a young ‘unknown soldier’ experiencing the horror and disillusionment of life in the trenches. (Goodreads 2014)
2014 is the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, The War to End all Wars- so they believed. The bloodiest warfare the globe had ever seen. I felt it was necessary to read something, even if just fiction, in memory of these events. I’m so glad I picked up Remarque. This is a classic which will stay with me,
Remarque himself served in the trenches in World War One, and this story later made him flee Germany in the late 1930s and cost him his citizenship as a German civilian (because the Nazis believed this story showed the treason and anti-war views of a German soldier.) I have a feeling that the experiences we follow through the eyes of “Paul” are not entirely fiction, and they will actually be a lot of Remarque’s own experiences- which humanises it a little more and brings the story across the safe boundary of “fiction” into “Reality.”.
All Quiet on the Western Front follows a classroom of German schoolboys as they leave the school from their final year, only to be persuaded to join up to serve the Kaiser in battle. After all, they all thought- much like the Allies, that it would be over by Christmas. It wasn’t.
The next four years are described in unyielding detail. The conditions of trench warfare, the fear, the comraderie, the bravery and the uncertainty of every day. I warn you now, do not go into this book expecting no gore- there is blood and guts everywhere.
As Remarque himself says, “Only a military hospital can really show you what war is”.
We normally only really see war stories and accounts from the perspective of the Allies. I like that this is from the point of view of a German. It helps to take away that “they were the enemy” mentality and actually see every single individual soldier as a human being, who is terrified, with a family who loves them and will miss them, for who they are. Rather than just a faceless person in uniform representing the opposing country. It’s easy to look back at these horrific events and just chant out statistics like “over 37 million deaths” and just a see a number, not the faces and emotions which come with it. But we need to remember those faces and those emotions. Because therein lies the tragedy of the whole thing. Thirty-seven million deaths in four years. In 2013, the population of the United Kingdom was at 64.1 million- that means that over half of the United Kingdom’s population was wiped out during the four years of warfare- just to put that into perspective for you. In the last two years of the combat, most of these guys were conscripted, underage- often ages 12-15 so still children, and possibly medically unfit through means of asthma etc- but it didn’t matter, they “needed more men”.
Obviously, and sadly, this happened again not even twenty years later. We need to learn from our mistakes. Never again. I realise I’ve ranted more about the actual events than the book itself, but I think that is a good reflection on the book- it made me think. It made me care (more). Most of all, it made me Remember.
“This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war.”- Remarque.