Another U.L.S. entry by Roberta Eaton Cheadle–All Quiet On The Western Front

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Roberta Eaton Cheadle, or Robbie, is an esteemed member of the U. L. S. — the Underground Library Society — and she is offering her thoughts on another book! Robbie, thank you so much!

Robbie has excellent blogs: Robbie Cheadle books/poems/reviews and   Robbie’s inspiration. Both are wonderful; please be sure to visit them.

Thoughts about All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Overview

This book is a first-hand account of the life of Paul Bäumer, who belongs to a squad of German soldiers on the  Western Front during World War I. Paul and his classmates enlisted in the army at the end of their high school career as a result of the impassioned patriotism and relentless coaxing of their teacher, Kantorek. 

All Quiet on the Western Front tells the story of Paul and his friends experiences in the trenches. There is a lot of fighting, death, and destruction in this book, but there are also scenes of comradery, friendship, and bravery that break up the ‘heaviness’ of this read and give the reader some short periods of lighter relief.

Among these lighter scenes is one when Paul and his friend ‘Kat’ decide to poach a goose from a local farm. They roast the bird and enjoy a midnight feast, even venturing to share some of their spoil with friends who are in prison for insubordination towards a senior officer.

There are also some interesting insights into life for the French civilians trying to survive amid the disruption and decimation of the war. Russian prisoners of war also feature in this story and their pitiful plight is almost too much to bear.

My thoughts

Why do young men volunteer for war?

I look at my two sons, and I wonder why young men hurl themselves into the teeth of the storm through voluntary subscription to the army. I read about this in The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, and I read about it again in this great, but disturbing, novel, All Quiet on the Western Front.

I have decided there are a few reasons that lead to this rash action. The first, is the expectation of parents and other older members of society that their sons throw down the gauntlet and risk all for “king and country”. Secondly, I believe there has historically been a terrible ignorance about the reality of war. War is glamourized and young men enter the fray with no concept of its harsh conditions or the horror of death.

I wonder if the young men of today would be as eager to take up the role of ‘cannon fodder’ with their greater knowledge of the world through internet access and better educational opportunities.

Leaders and war mongers pray on the passionate fervor of the young to achieve their ill-gotten ends when it comes to war. Wars are all fought either for purposes of greed and power or over religion. More recently, greed and power have trumped the possibly purer intentions of religion. Have recently explored in great depth the reasons behind the Anglo Zulu War and both Anglo Boer Wars in South Africa, as well as the First and Second World War, power and the gain of wealth have been the overarching reasons for placing young men in the line of fire and, often, ending their lives before they have even started.

All Quiet on the Western Front is a book that is written in a war setting and exposes with a sharp and unerringly accurate pen, the absolute horror of the First World War. The book is not, however, about the war, but rather about the loss of innocence the young soldiers experience and their inability to ever adapt back to civilian life afterwards. This is quite clear by the manner in which the story is told. Battles are not named and have so little relevance to the story that whether they are won or lost is not even revealed. Battles feature as a regular feature of the lives of Paul and his comrades; one during which death is a high possibility and survival is the only goal.

The obvious themes of war and patriotism that present in this novel are not the ones that resonated with me.

Given my status as the mother of two teenage boys, not much younger than the boys featured in this novel, it is understandable that the following themes are the ones that have stayed in my mind. I am sharing select quotations that explain these themes as they do so far better than I could.

Loss of innocence

“While they went on writing and making speeches, we saw field hospitals and men dying: while they preached the service of the state as the greatest thing, we already knew that the fear of death is even greater. This didn’t make us into rebels or deserters, or turn us into cowards – and they were more than ready to use all of these words – because we loved our country just as much as they did, and so we went bravely into every attack. But now we were able to distinguish things clearly, all at once our eyes had been opened. And we saw that there was nothing left of their world. Suddenly we found ourselves horrible alone – and we had to come to terms with it alone as well.”

Loss of individuality

“I can still remember how embarrassed we were at the beginning, when we were recruits in the barracks and had to use the communal latrines. There are no doors, so that twenty men had to sit side by side as if they were on a train. That way they could all be seen at a glance – soldiers, of course, have to be under supervision at all times.

Since then we’ve learnt more than just how to cope with a bit of embarrassment. As time went by, our habits changed quite a bit.,

Out here in the open air the whole business is a real pleasure.”

Home

“It gets dark. Kemmerich’s face gets paler, it stands out against his pillow and is so white that it looks luminous. He makes a small movement with his mouth. I get closer to him. He whispers, ‘If you find my watch, send it home.’

I don’t argue. There is no point any more. He is beyond convincing. I’m sick with helplessness. That forehead, sunk in at the temples, that mount, which is all teeth now, that thin, sharp nose. And the fat, tearful woman at home that I shall have to write to – I wish I had that job behind me already.”

Hopelessness

“But our mates are dead, and we can’t help them. They are at peace – who knows what we might still have to face? We want to chuck ourselves down and sleep, or stuff as much food into our bellies as we can, and booze and smoke, so that the passing hours aren’t so empty. Life is short.”

Primitiveness

“It’s a nuisance trying to kill every single louse when you’ve got hundreds of them. The beasts are hard, and it gets to be a bore when you are forever pinching them between your nails. So Tjaden has rigged up a boot-polish lid hanging on a piece of wire over a burning candle-end. You just have toss the lice into this little frying-pan – there is a sharp crack, and that’s it.”

Conclusion

All Quiet on the Western Front is a book we should never allow to be burned or removed from its place as a historical classic. Its primary role in literature, in my opinion, is that it illustrates the pointlessness of war which descends into a series of actions and day-to-day survival with no real meaning or even importance to those involved in the fighting. This sentiment is generally presented through the character of Albert Kropp, one of Paul’s previous school friends.

This book also highlights the destruction of young men’s innocence and their inability to ever reconnect with ordinary civilian life. It doesn’t mention post-traumatic stress syndrome specifically, but this is alluded to throughout the book.

All in, this is one of the most emotional and memorable books I have ever read.

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Again, thank you to Roberta Eaton Cheadle for this U. L. S. post!

Copy of Roberta Writes - independent pub 2 theme.

Robbie

68 thoughts on “Another U.L.S. entry by Roberta Eaton Cheadle–All Quiet On The Western Front

  1. This is an excellent discussion of All Quiet on the Western Front. I read it with a great deal of interest. When I researched my grandmother’s time at Dalhousie University in Halifax from 1914-1918, I read all of the weekly editions of the student newspaper for those four years. It was all fight for king and country until the letters from the front started coming in, along with the casualty counts. By the time commencement arrived, the class of 1918 had been decimated.

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  2. And may none of these lessons be lost – even as robotics (drones) and separation between those seeking power and riches/religious might and those who simply are trying to do ‘what’s right’ continue to evolve – – sigh – – I say this often – “may the lessons learned in yester year, never be forgotten” but, sigh, seems like they often are – or are not even heard – but excellent review! Within it I see so many ‘lessons to be reminded of’ in our own time – at war or not – on many fronts – around the globe – – power, riches, religion – – ahhh….how the same ole/same ole just trucks itself out over and over again, generation after generation – the ‘why/how’ may change, but at it’s core? Same ole- same ole – to my mind – thus, even if they never read, I do so hope many read this review and can manage to extrapolate the lessons ‘learned through fiction’ into daily life – – I’m not holding my breath, sadly – –

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  3. Reblogged this on and commented:
    I am over at Charles French’s blog today with a post for the Underground Library Society about All Quiet on the Western Front. Thank you, Charles, for hosting me. Charles has some terrific horror books and also books to help writers write better so do take a look around while you are there.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. An excellent post Robbie and as the mother of two sons of that age it must be a great concern. I think you are right that today there is so much information available for the younger generation that exposes the corruption and greed at higher levels that ‘fighting for King and Country’ is not the primary factor in enlistment.. Also today warfare and the machinery involved is very much more technically challenging and whilst there is a need for a show of force with numbers, much of the war is carried out from control centres and from the air. Unfortunately today it seems that whilst there is not an active global conflict there is a continuing series of skirmishes that threaten to escalate from time to time. Hopefully the fact that leaders are under such scrutiny will prevent that from happening..

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    • Hi Sally, thank you for joining in this conversation. The ages of my two sons definitely influenced how I felt about this book. I think it was Paul’s gradual realisation that he would never be able to fit back into a ‘normal’ society and the fact he embraced death at the end that made this such a difficult read. You are quite right that first world global conflict is conducted very differently now. There is still lots of hand-to-hand combat in Africa and other third world countries though. I have seen terrible and recent footage of gorilla warfare in Africa.

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  5. I read this book many years ago. It is an important classic, Thanks for your great review and insights. I agree, young people should read this book to be reminded that war is nasty. WWI was awful and then they did it all over again 20 years later.

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    • Hi Darlene, thanks for visiting and commenting. War is a terrible thing and young people were completely fooled by the glamour and excitement of it all. These young men almost rushed towards their deaths as a result of misguided loyalty and misconceptions of war.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I wonder if back in the time of WW1 & WW2 if many young men didn’t go to war simply to get away from the doldrums of their lives? The army glamorized the job, promising educations and even careers, along with trips to foreign soil. They may have even thought of people dying, but young men feel they are invincible, so probably didn’t associate with their own demise.
    This is a thought-provoking post, thanks, Robbie.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Jacquie, What you have said is true. The army did offer educations and careers and it still does. I am sure this aspect is still an attraction for young men. What you say about young people’s feelings of invincibility is also true and young people are very passionate about things like politics. They want to take a stand and fight for their beliefs in the purest form.

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  7. Vietnam was protested because of the draft. If we still had a draft, we would not have gotten involved in the Middle East. Our “volunteer” army is where young men and women without job prospects go to escape their desperate situations. Yes, some still enlist with patriotic intent, but most are young people who need a job or some direction to their lives. The children who have a chance to get an education and a decent job generally never serve. And the veterans who return from war zones still have trouble fitting back into the “normal” world. I believe that all should serve, then the educated parents would make sure we did not get involved in reckless wars. And the service could be something useful to help others instead of killing and dying. (K)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Kerfe, Jacquie also pointed out in her comment above, that a lot of young people go into th army as it provides educational and career opportunities. My cousin’s son is in the USA navy and I have blogging friends whose children serve. These are educated people who made a deliberate career choice. I don’t know if educated people can ever stop war, Kerfe. It seems that when the propaganda machines of an autocratic regime start to turn, the educated and academic are dispensed with so that they don’t cause trouble.

      Liked by 2 people

      • You may be right. My former babysitter joined the army after college because he didn’t know what he wanted to do. He didn’t count on being called up twice after he had served his time and being sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. Many members of his unit have committed suicide since they returned. He has been unable to settle down into civilian life at home and is now working for the UN in Thailand.

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  8. it is a shame that young men, and now young women, are sent to war not knowing the horrors of it or how pointless it is. Like you, I hope there is less and less interest by your young people in participating in war. I read this book a long time ago, seems like I need to read it again…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Jim, you are right about young people not appreciating the horror of war until it’s to late. They also don’t understand the impact of the horror they see on their future lives. Maybe people are moving forward and wars will become fewer in the future. Gen Z certainly have a different view to our generation, Jim. This is a great read.

      Liked by 2 people

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