Comradeship and the Horrors of War
“Only the dead have seen the end of war”
Books are just words, on endless pages that go on forever and ever. But when you read a novel one feels as if they are there with the character because novels bring out the true magic in literature. A good book engages our interests and a great book changes us profoundly. In All Quiet on the Western Front, one can feel the rumble of those big guns and a reader can picture it as if they were one of Paul's comrades because this book captures the true essence of the horror of war and the comradeship that’s made in the war to end all wars.
War breaks the human soul like nothing else. In All Quiet on the Western Front, we are shown the true horrors of war and what it does to the human mind. We see the gass and the shelling, the mud and the blood, the bullets and the bombs, and the true ferocity of humans.
Nobody that goes into war comes out the same. Such intense violence strips a man of all of his intelligence and makes him into one thing and one thing only, a killing machine driven by the gears of war. “Our thoughts are clay, they are molded with the changes of the days;—when we are resting they are good; under fire, they are dead.” This problem is not just something that Paul and his comrades face, it’s something that all men on all sides face and something that will never leave them for as long as they live. After being hit by shrapnel in the leg, Paul was sent to a hospital to recover. After spending some time there he got better and started walking around the hospital. He then saw the outcome of war. Blown off or shattered limbs of all kinds and injuries that the mind can’t even conceive. This carnage further disillusioned Paul and showed him that these men have had their lives taken from them for no good reason.
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.... 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….it was our first calling in life. Our knowledge of life is limited to death. What will happen afterwards? And what shall come out of us?
At such a young age these men have seen nothing in their adult life but violence. It has destroyed their view of life itself and makes living a civilian life almost impossible. In no way is Paul the same person he was when he joined the military. Which is not only Paul's problem, but is a problem for everybody who has seen combat. “But now I see I have been crushed without knowing it. I find I do not belong here any more, it is a foreign world.” At the hospital you can see how war is so pointless to these men who had their lives destroyed because of a war they had no business fighting. “A hospital alone shows what war is.”That also is why civilians can’t understand veterans, and why veterans can’t understand civilians.
Nobody’s life is ever the same after war. They are forever changed by the things they saw, the things did, and their memories of the war to end all wars.
Bonds made in war can never be broken. In All Quiet on the Western Front,we are shown the true bond of friendships that are created through conflict and how war cultivates true comradeship like no other thing.
Only in war can such a sense of brotherhood be created. Through the shared experience of combat these men form a bond. Through this great struggle they have come out of it as family. “But by far the most important result was that it awakened in us a strong, practical sense of esprit de corps, which in the field developed into the finest thing that arose out of the war—comradeship.” These men might not think fighting in the war is right, they will never give up on their fellow soldiers because they have adopted the notion that I am here to protect and fight with my brothers and he feels the same way towards me. In one battle, Paul is more scared than he has been in months; why, because he has been given the task of going out at night and has to cut the barbed wire to make way for a German attack. As he is out there crawling in the hellish landscape of no man's land, he is pinned down by French fire and forced to drop into a shell hole for cover. Unfortunately, he can’t make it back to the German lines because it’s too dark and the pressure of combat is getting to him. So he says his prayers and tries to go back to the German line with the help of the voices of his comrades.
At once a new warmth flows through me. These voices, these quiet words, these footsteps in the trench behind me recall me at a bound from the terrible loneliness and fear of death by which I had been almost destroyed. They are more to me than life, these voices, they are more than mother lines and more than fear; they are the strongest, most comforting thing there is anywhere: they are the voices of my comrades.
Even when all seems lost and this may just be the end, a man’s comrades are there to give him strength and help him make it through some of the worst situations imaginable. Paul's comrades were there for him. Only in war can such a bond be made. “Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us....and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony—Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?” Paul finds a sense of comradeship with the man he killed because it’s not just the Germans who went through the same struggle as Paul, but also the French, English and Russians. “When I see them here, in their rooms, in their offices, about their occupations, I feel an irresistible attraction in it, I would like to be here too and forget the war; but also it replies me, it is so narrow, how can that fill a man’s life, he ought to smash it to bits; how can they do it, while out at the front the splinters are whining over the shell-holes and star-shells go up, the wounded are carried back on waterproof sheets and comrades crouch in the trenches.”You can see this when he goes home and is disconnected with everybody, including his family but he can see more eye to eye with Russian POWs that can’t understand him yet understand him so much more. While wars come and go, the bonds made between men in combat are taken to the grave.
Don’t dare tread lightly while reading this book, for you will be swept under the waters of withering literature.