War corrupts the human soul. Erich Maria Remarque, whose novel 'All Quiet on the Western Front is set in WW1, is the first of its kind to depict the true nature and horrors of modern war. The message of this novel is portrayed with the extended use of horrific imagery. Narrated by the main character Paul Baumer; a young German soldier.
Committed to revealing the brutality of war, Remarque’s purpose for writing this novel is to bring the reader to the realisation that war is not something to be glorified. Therefore the Nazis, led by Adolf Hitler, burned the book in the 1930s. They disliked that the book contradicted their propaganda. Born in 1898, Remarque wrote this anti-war book from personal experiences that he endured in the war to end all wars, to convince the reader that war is horrific and brutal and not ‘Glorious’.
An example of the horror of war is when Franz Kemmerich dies after having his leg amputated from a gunshot wound. The orderly responded by saying 'We’ve got to move him right away, we need the bed, we’ve already got them lying on the ground out there.’ This event portrays the horrors of war, something no person should ever go through especially at such a young age. Shortly after his death, orderlies move him, to make another bed available. Death—something that should not be taken lightly—war rendered a mere statistic. There is no time for Paul to grieve for the loss of his best friend; Kemmerich’s death is just a number to add to the casualties. When it comes to war, practicalities are of only importance. For example food, clothes, shelter, water, and above all comfortable flying boots. Fredrich Muller was keen to take ownership of Kemmerich’s flying boots with Franz being reluctant at first eventually giving in to death and ultimately the horrors of war.
Furthermore, the visual imagery portrayed enables the reader to grasp the truly graphic sights the young soldiers were exposed to in the war. Paul talks of ‘Men living with their skulls blown open’ and ‘soldiers running with their 2 feet shot off as they stumble on their splintered stumps to the next shell hole.’ Having experienced these events before, the soldiers have come to normalise them. These images are seared into their brains. At the age of 18, the soldiers should be enjoying their young life, meeting girls, and living at home—not in the trenches. When Paul goes home on leave, he can’t relate to anything in his room anymore or fit into society. Going straight from school to the war meant he didn’t get a chance to put down his roots. Planted right in the thick of a raging war—Paul has grown accustomed to the horrors of war. This is his life now.
When Paul encountered a face-to-face killing of an enemy soldier, it rocked him right to the core, corrupting his human soul. His internal conflict distressed him very much. Wrestling with the idea of what that man’s wife and children will think, seeing their shared humanity, and horror of watching him die a slow and painful death, knowing he was responsible. Remarque personalises the victim by naming him-Gerald Deval. He does this for a reason. It shows that the enemy isn’t faceless—they are a person with hopes, dreams, ambitions, and a family. This is the horror of war—ordinary men killing one another as the governments require them to. When the war is ended, the only life experience the soldiers have will be killing people. Paul describes how to kill the enemy with an entrenching tool and bayonet; tools of war and death—in a very matter-of-fact manner. It is all he knows. But Paul’s experiences—brutal as they are—make more sense to him now than anything he’d ever known back home.
This essay has demonstrated how truly brutal and horrific war is. In Paul Baumer’s experiences, Remarque’s account of the horrors of war is displayed. Through the events of Kemmerich’s death, horrific imagery of injured soldiers, and Paul’s face-to-face killing, this theme is applied. Having proved conclusively war is horrific, we can see war corrupts the human soul. Though soldiers survived the war physically; they were destroyed by it mentally. This theme is still credible in our war-ravaged world today. After Russia declared war on Ukraine, we can clearly see this message is still extremely important in today’s world. There are no winners in war.