War is, at the same time, the most terrible and the greatest of human experiences. Is this the view conveyed in All quiet on the western front?
In the novel ‘All quiet on the western front’ by Erich Maria Remarque we see clearly that war is a most terrible experience, with its great horror and ability to destroy a human, not only physically but also mentally. However accompanying this horror is an extraordinary comradeship and friendship that is seen in both the sad and happy times bringing the soldiers together to cope with that horror of the war. This comradeship seen in the novel is the only value that has been retained by the soldiers on the front, despite the loss of all others. Towards the end of the novel it is clear that the only thing keeping the soldiers going is this comradeship, which seems to soften and break through the horror of the war.
The horror of war is seen right through the book from the beginning to the end, with a large emphasis on the destruction caused by war and the loss of humanity and innocence. An example of this horror is the graveyard battle scene in which a recruit, who only minutes before was described as being child-like, is hit badly in the hip which is graphically described as “one mass of mincemeat and bone splinters”. Just before the man is hit, a horse is hit causing it to cry, which is unbearable for the soldiers around it as it reminds them of the innocence of nature that is caught up in the war. However, the men near them who are wounded, are ignored as the soldiers are so accustomed to their sound of death, which shows the true role of the horse’s death to the reader. These are clear emphasises on the horror, shock and the loss of their innocence seen throughout this chapter, and the rest of the novel.
Throughout the book we see the soldiers lose faith in their values that have been drilled into them over the years from school to the army. They begin to realise that the values taught to them are merely tradition or words to encourage, and in fact serve little or no use in the front. An example of this is when the men have to return the new clothes given to them for the Kaiser’ inspection after being on the front: “rags are what’s real at the front”. This shows how the men no longer feel that there is need to dress up in the army, as it is against the point and deceptive by not giving the real horror of war and the army. Paul’s line of “It must be all lies and of no account when the culture of a thousand years could not prevent this stream of blood being poured out”, expresses this feeling clearly.
When it seems that the men have no reason to live with the great horror around them, they continue to fight on for one enduring value, friendship. This value binds the men together their whole lifetime. This value makes the war a great experience in a single aspect, and that is that it causes people to become extremely good friends that act much like family, which in other circumstances without the war would have never become friends, talked or even met. The war caused Paul to become extremely good friends with Kat, who seemed more like a father figure, so much so that when Kat died Paul could not believe it and felt hopeless: “The anguish of solitude rises up in me. When Kat is taken away I will not have one friend left.”
It is clear throughout the book that the men feel that the war is horrible and extremely destructive, beyond anyone’s imagination that has not experienced the death. Battle scenes especially emphasize the horror of the war, as they are descriptive and give much detail into death and destruction. By relating the death to that of nature, Remarque highlights the innocence of the victims of the terrible human experience. The values of the soldiers are reduced to one sole basic value after all the horrors of war, that is comradeship. The friendship of the men is increased dramatically, causing the men to continue and not give up. Many experiences with comrades in the war would be considered great as they brought about needed happiness, even amongst the horror of the war, seen in ‘All quiet on the western front’.