The Horrors of the “Great War”…
Author: Erich Maria Remarque
Although I’m no authority on world history, I think there are few who will dispute that World War I constitutes one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century. While leading to the death of over 16 million soldiers and civilians, the “Great War” was awful for more than just its monstrous death toll. It also introduced a host of new and horrible ways for humans to kill and maim each other. While much has been written of this war, All Quiet on the Western Front remains an undisputed classic of the war novel genre, effectively capturing the dreadful experience of life and death on the front lines. Despite the fact that I was well aware of the horrors that were trench warfare and mustard gas, I was surprised by how deeply this book affected me.
Written by German novelist Erich Maria Remarque, who fought in the trenches of northern France and Belgium in 1917, the book tells the story of Paul Baumer, a frail 19 year old who enlists with his classmates and quickly ends up on the Western Front, ill prepared for the horrors that await. Befriended by “Kat”, an older veteran who teaches him countless survival skills and frequently lightens the mood, Baumer describes the tedium and terror of trench warfare. The constant shelling, machine gun fire, stench of decay and well fed rats. There are no named battles and each day is pretty much like every other, as the mindless and repetitive skirmishes accomplish nothing. Death is a constant presence as Baumer witnesses the deaths of friends and enemies, finds himself stranded alone in no man’s land, and struggles to hold his mind and body together. Slowly, he realizes the futility of the war effort, when even a coveted trip home while on leave fails to rejuvenate his spirit.