Describe at least one idea that changed your perspective (point of view) in the written text. Explain how this idea changed your perspective.
Our perception of war is glorified, not realistic. The landmark novel, ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ (AQWF), by Erich Maria Remarque, puts the reader into the perspective of a young German soldier named Paul Baumer. As our narrator, Paul exposes the ‘Horror and Pointless Nature of War’ through his own experiences and changes the reader’s initially romanticised perspective.
Based on Remarque’s experiences in the First World War (WWI), AQWF showcases the cruel reality of war in the most brutal and honest way. Happening between late June 1914 to early November 1918, WWI was known to be ‘the War to End all Wars’, but when the NAZI party rose to power in 1933, WWII happened and the world was still in conflict. As such, an anti-war book like at that time AQWF was burned as it discouraged the concept of war.
Firstly, Paul discloses the dehumanising nature of the military. Movies and stories show soldiers as heroes; people whose deeds lead to a better future. In reality, Paul shows that a soldier in an army is merely a tool in the eyes of the superiors—not a human person. This is shown when Paul recounts his ten weeks of basic training. “We learnt that a polished tunic button is more important than a set of philosophy books… intellect apparently wasn’t the most important thing, it was the kit-brush; not ideas, but the system; not freedom, but drill.” In war, there is no such thing as an ‘individual’, instead, you are just a statistic. Remarque uses this list of contrasts to show that individuality is denied in war and that the moment you step onto the path to war, you are no longer ‘you’. This changes the reader’s perspective of war as we find that it’s like a game where the soldiers are just the equipment. Thus showing the ‘Horror and Pointlessness of War’.
Secondly, Paul provides descriptive scenes of a harrowing battle. Unlike the heroic display of soldiers fighting in battle with cool postures and terrific skills, Paul shows that in reality, soldiers are nothing but helpless. They don’t have control over anything and can only rely on luck with the possibility of dying in a gruesome way. This is shown when Paul describes the death of a fellow soldier when fighting on the front lines. “A lance-corporal gets his head blown off. He runs for a few paces more with blood shooting up out his neck like a fountain.” During war, skills, talent, and status are useless against weapons. It is a matter of luck and chance of whether or not you can avoid a bomb or be blown into bits. Remarque uses imagery here to shock the reader and get rid of their rose-tinted glasses. This changes the reader’s perspective of war as we begin to realise that soldiers are not invincible but powerless men who face gore and death repeatedly. Thus showing the ‘Horror and Pointlessness of War.’
Thirdly, Paul shows that he had lost his innocence and blames it on propaganda. Paul’s teacher, Kantorek, was his main source of propaganda as the man had many ‘inspiring’ speeches and had called Paul and his classmates the ‘Iron youth’. Because of this, Paul and his classmates went to war and ultimately lose their innocence. This is shown when Paul and his classmates walk back to camp and talk about Kantorek’s letter. “That is what they think, those hundred thousand Kantoreks. Young men of iron. Young? None of us is more than twenty. But young? Young men? That was a long time ago. We are old now.” Remarque uses repetition here to emphasise the word ‘young’ which relates to the ‘Iron youth’ label Paul and his classmates were given. Combined with the contrasting words ‘We are old now’, this gives a sense of irony as instead of becoming the ‘Iron youth’ Kantorek had so confidently stated, Paul and his classmates became older than their teacher in experience and mentality. This changes the reader’s perspective of war as the truth of propaganda and how it affects Paul shatters the romanticised image of war. Thus showing the ‘Horror and Pointlessness of War’.
And lastly, Paul contemplates the need for war. When thinking back to the propaganda and his experiences, Paul finds that the patriotic idea of being the ‘Iron youth’ is false and that he and his fellow soldiers were not fighting for glory but for survival. The so-called ‘enemy’ was actually just like them and the real enemy was those in authority. This is shown when Paul is stationed to guard the Russian prisoners of war. “An order has turned these silent figures into our enemies; an order could turn them into friends again.” To him and his fellow soldiers, they’re sacrificing their lives for the ‘pride’ of the superiors—not for the good of their nation or of the people. Remarque uses oxymoron here to emphasise just how useless war is as it could’ve been solved with a simple order from the superiors. This changes the reader’s perspective of war as our initial thoughts of the war being something prestigious becomes a lie. Thus showing the ‘Horror and Pointlessness of War’.
'All Quiet on the Western Front’s theme of the ‘Horror and Pointlessness of War’ changes the reader’s perspective of what war truly is. Its purpose glorified and its aspects romanticised to fit our expectations, war is a concept full of lies that massively affect soldiers like Paul Baumer. Through him, we begin to truly realise that our perception of things can vastly differ from their reality.