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All Quiet On The Western Front Book Review

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Introduction

In All Quiet on the Western Front, Remarque paints a clear and gruesome picture of the horrors and atrocities of war and the effects on those who fight the war. He tells the story of Paul Baumer and his comrades who, after being persuaded by their teacher Kantorek, patriotically enlist in the German army. The glory of being a soldier quickly fades and the true horror of war is soon realized. As the war continues, Baumer begins to forget his identity outside of the war; the war has both destroyed him and defined him. A theme strewn throughout the novel is that that Baumer and his comrades were fighting a fight in which they did not believe. This paper will attempt to portray the relevance of the events and themes in All Quiet on the Western Front with the just war theory, the current situation in Iraq, and the Israeli-Arab conflicts.

Plot Overview

The first chapter of the novel introduces us to Paul Baumer, a nineteen year old recruit in the German army. The recruits know little of the horrors of war yet; they have a bountiful supply of tobacco, double portions of food, mail from home, and time to sleep (Remarque, 1928, pp. 1-18). In Chapter two, we begin to see the disconnect from Paul's life before the war and his life during the war. He speaks of how he would often write poetry before the war but that part of his life had "become so unreal to me I cannot comprehend it any more" (Remarque, 1928, p. 19). Later in the chapter, we learn that Kemmerich, Paul's fellow recruit and friend, is near death in the hospital to do an infected wound on his leg (Remarque, 1928, p. 28). In this scene, the theme of the dehumanization of the soldier is perpetuated through the hospital staff's actions and attitude towards Kemmerich (Remarque, 1928, p. 32). The most important event in chapter three, I believe, is the scene in which the soldiers enact their revenge on Himelstoss (Remarque, 1928, pp. 48-49). It shows the soldier's growing disrespect for authority. In chapter four, as the soldiers face the grueling task of laying barbed wire, they are assaulted by a bombing raid. As the soldiers seek cover, they are confronted with the cries of wounded and dying from the bombings. It is at this point that many of the soldiers begin to question the war. They realize that because of the affairs of men, the horses were suffering terrible deaths. As the cries continue, the soldiers decide to put the horses out of their misery by ending their lives (Remarque, 1928, pp. 51-67). Chapter five shows how the younger men in the war no longer have any identity outside of the war. It shows that the older me who are fighting the war had a chance to establish lives before the war, and thus have something to hold on to and maintain an identity outside of the war. The younger men, however, never had a chance to establish lives for themselves, thus they have no identity to hold to during the war (Remarque, 1928, pp. 77-81).

Chapter six presents us with the grim reality of the new trench warfare. Food and supplies are scarce; there is little time to sleep (Remarque, 1928, pp. 106-108). The bombardments, however, prove nothing in comparison to the actual combat. The soldiers are forced to watch bodies pile up and listen to both comrades and enemies meet their demise (Remarque, 1928, p. 124). The highlight of chapter seven is Paul, Leer, and Kropp's "rendezvous" with the three French girls. For a moment, they are able to forget about the horrors of the war and escape to a place of bliss. They could not speak the same language of the girls, but they were still able to communicate with people who they should have considered their enemies (Remarque, 1928, pp 144-150). Chapter eight brings Paul to the training camp. The most important event in this chapter is Paul's connection with the Russian prisoners. Paul realizes that the only reason they are his enemy is that the leader of his country has declared them to be so. He realizes that under different circumstances, he could easily be friends with some of the prisoners (Remarque, 1928, pp. 193-194). In chapter nine, the most significant event and climax of the novel occurs. As Paul is returning from a reconnaissance mission, he is forced to hide in a hole in order to avoid an attack. As he is playing dead in the hole, a French soldier climbs in with him at which point Paul is forced to stab him. Unfortunately, it does not kill him immediately. At this point, Paul begins to speak to the soldier (Gerard Duval) and examine his belongings. He explains that he did not want to have to hill him. After finding a picture of whom he presumes to be Gerard's wife and daughter, he realizes the true horror of war. He had not just killed an enemy soldier, he had killed someone's husband, someone's father (Remarque, 1928, pp. 217-225). In chapter ten, Paul and his comrades are charged with guarding an abandoned village (Remarque, 1928, p. 231). They have an enjoyable time guarding the village until Kropp and Paul are wounded by a shell and have to go to the hospital (Remarque, 1928, pp. 241-244). In chapter eleven, it seems as if the soldiers might as well have given up. They no longer live for anything but the war (Remarque, 1928, p. 271). Near the end of the chapter, Kat dies due to a loss of blood; this causes Paul to lose all hope and "know nothing more" (Remarque, 1928, pp. 287-291). Chapter twelve recounts how Paul's life has truly been destroyed by the war. He speaks of how no other generation will ever understand his, he says that whatever comes at him in the future cannot take any more than the war has already taken. He has completely abandoned everything. The novel is concluded by Paul dying in October of 1918. He falls forward onto the earth, dying with a smile on his face, glad that the war was over at last (Remarque, 1928, pp. 293-296).

Just War Theory and the Situation in Iraq

All of the themes and events in the novel leave one asking whether or not war can be justified. If the answer is yes, under which circumstances is war just? If no, how can a nation maintain sovereignty when under attack? Michael Walzer is quoted in the article " 'Just War' Reconsidered" as saying

No one who has experienced, or reflected on, the politics of the 20th century can doubt that there are evil regimes. Nor can there be any doubt that we need to design a political/ military response to such regimes that recognizes their true character. Even so, I do not believe that regime change, by itself, can be a just cause of war. When we act in the world, and especially when we act militarily, we must respond

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