Erich Maria Remarques All Quiet on the Western Front describes the experiences of the young German soldiers during World War I. It differs from other war novels because it is not a heroic soldiers story, but rather depicts the gruesome reality of war and effect on the soldiers who witness it. Remarque asserts that the book was intended neither an accusation nor a confession, but the lost generation that emerges out of the war cannot help but blame other for the lives they end up losing. Through the first person narration, he expresses his feelings of hypocrisy of those who preached to the German youth the necessity of defending ones country.
The lost generation is born from the men who experience the atrocities of war and cannot reacclimatize to life afterwards. The first person narration of Paul Baumer gives the reader an insight to the thoughts of his uncertainty about his future after the war when he describes his return home in chapter 12: now if we go backwe will not be able to find our way anymore (294). The violence and horror they witness first hand matures the young men very quickly. They joined the army when they were 18 years old, not even adults yet, and were subjected to the new warfare technology of the era including explosive shells, the flamethrower, and chemical warfare. The gruesome deaths they saw stunts their development into adults: through the years our business was killing;--it was our first calling in life. Our knowledge of life is limited to death (264). In this statement, Paul believes his future will never be the way it had been prior to the war. Teachers and parents strip the world he knows from these men by calling their nationalism and bravery into question and Paul blames these people for the pain he endures.
The lost generation feels alone and betrayed because they do not share the same values as the older generation. Parent pressured their children to sign up and fight for Germany by calling their bravery into question: at the time, even ones parents were ready with the word coward; no one had the vaguest idea what we were in for (11). The older generation has no idea what these men end up experiencing and justify joining by the importance of defending ones country. Kantorek, Pauls schoolmaster, is the main source of the pressure Paul and his classmates face to join up and fight and an example of the ideals of the generation before him. Even though the think they are acting for the best, they do it in a way that doesnt cost them anything. This leads to Pauls resentment and distrust of those who forced him into battle. Paul recalls how his world changes after the first bombardment: [it] showed us our mistake, and under it the world as they had taught it to us broke into pieces (13). While his parents taught him how the duty to ones country is the most important thing in life, Paul learns that avoiding death is far greater.
Death becomes a part of everyday life and reveals the inhumanity of man and the world that surrounds Paul and his friends. Paul sees some of his own men who had their noses cut off and their eyes poked out with their own sawbayonets with their mouths and noses stuffed with sawdust so that they would suffocate. This shows the inhumane nature of the war because this grotesque scene was completely unimaginable to Paul before the war began. After experiencing it, however, he realizes that he must do whatever it takes to survive, regardless of how inhumane it may seem. In chapter six, he describes his preference for the sharpened spade over the bayonet because it is a more handy and many-sided weapon (104). Death is the nature of the war Paul and his friends join up for. The older generation betrays them because the war they described involved heroics and German nationalistic pride. The lost generation cannot help but blame them for ruining the lives they had before the war.
While All Quiet on the Western Front was not intended to point fingers, it does an excellent job of showing the inevitable nature of ground warfare. So much violence occurred during the trench warfare of World War I because technology gave birth to new weapons that killed men in an entirely different way. The soldiers commit these acts of violence on people who are just like them. The fact that the opposition is so similar to Paul and his friends takes a serious mental toll and them over the course of the war. The lost generation is not born in Germany alone, but grows across Europe in every man that survives the trenches. The invention of all these new and more effective weapons led to an urge to put them to use, but in the end they are way too torturous and inhumane to use in battle. Paul and every soldier knows that these weapons will be killing people and may end up dying at the hands of one of these weapons. That would drive anyone mad.
I think there was no way for them to avoid going to war because they didnt want to be cowards and they did love Germany as much as anyone else. Its bothersome to Remarque how pursuant everyone was in sending in the troops because it made enlisting sound like an obligation that everyone has to do. They would have never chosen to give up their lives to go off and fight, but it seemed like it was their duty. Its sad that an entire generation of men were thrown into battle without having any say in it. Remarque uses All Quiet on the Western Front to tell of his story and has helped change mans eagerness to engage in war.