“I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how people are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another. I see that the keenest brains of the world invent weapons and words to make it yet more refined and enduring. And all men of my age, here and over there, throughout the whole world see these things.
All my generation is experiencing these things with me” All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Remarque, is a classic anti-war novel about the personal struggles and experiences encountered by a group of young German soldiers as they fight to survive the horrors of World War One. Remarque demonstrates, through the eyes of Paul Bumer, a young German soldier, how the war destroyed an entire generation of men by making them incapable of reintegrating into society because they could no longer relate to older generations, only to fellow soldiers.
Paul believed the older generation “ought to be mediators and guides to the world to the future. / The idea of authority, which they represented, was associated in [their] minds with greater insight and a more humane wisdom. ” Paul, his classmates, and a majority of their vulnerable generation completely trusted their so-called role models and because of that trust were influenced and pressured into joining the war. They believed the older generation understood the truth behind war and would never send them to a dangerous or inhumane situation, “but the first death [they] saw shattered this belief. The death caused the soldiers to realize that the experiences of their generation were more in line with reality than those of the older generation and that created a gap between the two. “While [the older generation] continued to write and talk, [Paul’s generation] saw the wounded and dying. / While [the older generation] taught that duty to one’s country is the greatest thing, [Paul’s] already knew that death-throes are stronger. ” The older generation had an artificial illusion of what war is and although Paul’s generation, the soldiers, loved their country, they were forced to distinguish reality from illusion.
Because of this distinction, Paul’s generation felt terribly alone and separated from society outside of the battlefield. This separation from society is demonstrated when Paul goes home on leave. When he is reunited with his mother “[they] say very little,” but when she finally asks him if it was “very bad out there” Paul lies. In trying to protect her by lying, Paul creates a separation between his mother and himself. As Paul sees it, the tragedies and horrors of war are not for the uninitiated. Sadly, the true nature of war further separates the two generations.
While on leave, Paul also visits his father and some of his father’s friends, but does not wish to speak to them about the war. The men are “curious [about the war] in a way that [Paul finds] stupid and distressing. ” They try to imagine what war is like but they have never experienced it for themselves, so they cannot see the reality of it. When Paul tries to state his opinion, the men argue that “[he] sees only [his] general sector so [he is] not able to judge. ” These men believe they know more about the war and this makes Paul feel lost.
He realizes that “they are different men here, men [he] can not understand” and Paul wants to be back with those he can relate to, his fellow soldiers. Paul wishes he had never gone on leave because out there “[he] was a soldier, but [at home] he is nothing but an agony to himself. ” When Paul returns to the battlefield, he is excited to be with his comrades. When he sees his company, “[Paul] jumps up, pushes in amongst them, [his] eyes searching,” until he finds his friends. It is then that Paul knows that “this is where [he] belongs. The illusions held by the older generations perception of war differed from the reality of war that Paul’s generation experienced, and this difference made Paul feel that the two generations had separated. This feeling caused Paul to realize that he related only to the soldiers because they have had a strong bond since the beginning of the war and have grown together. Since the “rubbish” they learned in school has “never been the slightest use to [them]” they were forced to turn to each other for knowledge.
At boot camp, Himmelstoss abused Paul and his friends, yet the harassment brought them closer together and developed a strong spirit of support between them. In fact, in time the bond between the soldiers was so great that they were able to communicate with little or no words, “[they didn’t] talk much, but [Paul] believes [they] have a more complete communion with one another then even lovers have. ” Their ability to relate to each other also carried on to other soldiers, at times crossing enemy lines.
After Paul wounds a French soldier that stumbled into his shell hole, he feels a tremendous amount of guilt. As the soldier is dying, Paul befriends him by bringing him water and wrapping up his wounds. He doesn’t understand why war ” meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against each other” because he realizes that they are both very much a like. Paul’s generation felt empty and isolated from the rest of the world due to the fact that they never truly established any part of themselves in civilian life.
They joined the military straight out of school and never had a chance to start a family, secure a job, or make something of their life. It was because of this common factor that Paul’s generation found no belonging in civilization, but instead a brotherhood amongst fellow soldiers. Although this close brotherhood between the soldiers made the war bearable, it was an added obstacle that made reintegrating into society difficult. The narrow minded thinking that they could only get along with, and relate to, other soldiers who had experienced the true horrors of war made functioning in society difficult.
The soldiers themselves realized that reentering society and leading a normal life would be extremely difficult, and many soldiers would never fully recover from the devastation of war, which made them feel utterly at a loss. The terrifying reality of war, which was kept a secret to the older generations, is that when you enlist young men, straight out of school and place them in battle, you force them to grow up too quickly and the results are “a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by war. “