All Quiet on the Western Front By Erich Maria Remarque Book Review
In the World War I novel All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque writes about the resentment that soldiers have towards their superiors and the older generation, who are oblivious to the realities of the war because of militarism (a fallacy of a perception that glorifies war), as portrayed through the interactions that Paul and his friends have with those people. In the beginning of the novel, we obtain an insight of the motives of Paul and his friends for joining the war. It is evident that they were coerced into joining the war, as they were sarcastically laughing off the trauma they experienced during the war while making fun of their old teacher who coerced them, Kantorek, the conversation goes as follows: “‘What has Kantorek written to you?’” Muller asks him. He laughs. “‘We are the Iron Youth.”” We all three smile bitterly, Kropp rails: he is glad that he can speak. Yes, that’s the way they think, these hundred thousand Kantoreks! Iron Youth! Youth! None of us are more than twenty years old. But young? Youth? That is long ago. We are old folk”(18). Paul and his comrades express their dislike towards the older generation through the action of laughing ‘bitterly’ at a quote that his old school teacher, Kantorek, would’ve said. Kropp goes on to digress into how even though they’re young in age, they are old folk already, implying that the experiences faced during war are horrible enough to wither the hearts and souls of young men . In a later section in the novel, we see how the superiors/old generations’ insensitivity negatively impacts the relationship that they have with the soldiers. While Himmelstoss is yelling at Tjaden to follow his commands, we see that Tjaden is resistant and actually pokes fun at him by saying and doing the following: “‘Anything else you would like?’” asks Tjaden. “‘Will you obey my order or not?’” Tjaden replies without knowing it, in the well-known classical phrase. At the same time he ventilates his backside”(83).
Tjaden’s resentment towards Himmelstoss represents a feeling that all soldiers have towards their superiors at the time. However, only he has become bold enough to express in such a manner that would go on to agitate Himmelstoss and lead to him being locked up temporarily. Moving forward, as the book progresses, the oblivion that superiors have towards the war becomes overwhelmingly apparent as we see the way Himmelstoss reacts to trench life and how it’s being fought. Paul, searching for Himmelstoss in the trenches finds that, “His face looks sullen. He is in a panic; he is new to it too. But it makes me mad that young recruits should be out there and he here”(131). Paul’s observations of Himmelstoss’s body gestures makes it evident to the reader that he is nervous, frightened for his life. The same superior who has the audacity to shout at Tjaden for being defiant and strict enough to deal with Paul and his friends harshly, is now found at the front-line in the trenches curled up, nervously shaking as new recruits are out in the battlefield fighting for their lives. Himmelstoss’s performance at the frontline exemplifies an oblivion and fear that many superiors and people of the older generation have yet to realize and experience for themselves. From this experience, Himmelstoss learned to be gracious and kind to Paul and his friends, but he is only one of the many members of his generation who Paul and his friends would implore to learn and experience the war for their own sake. The concept of challenging authority is one that Remarque makes evident and justified in the book, as he saw the ignorance of the older generation towards trench warfare that came as a result of militarism.