Blurb from Goodreads
One by one the boys begin to fall…
In 1914 a room full of German schoolboys, fresh-faced and idealistic, are goaded by their schoolmaster to troop off to the ‘glorious war’. With the fire and patriotism of youth they sign up. What follows is the moving story of a young ‘unknown soldier’ experiencing the horror and disillusionment of life in the trenches.
“I am young, I am twenty years of age; but I know nothing of life except despair, death, fear, and the combination of completely mindless superficiality with an abyss of suffering.
I see people being driven against one another, and silently, uncomprehendingly, foolishly, obediently and innocently killing one another.
I see the best brains in the world inventing weapons and words to make the whole process that much more sophisticated and long-lasting.
And watching this with me are all my contemporaries, here and on the other side, all over the world – my whole generation is experiencing this with me.
What would our fathers do if one day we rose up and confronted them, and called them to account? What do they expect from us when a time comes in which there is no more war?
For years our occupation has been killing – that was the first experience we had.
Our knowledge of life is limited to death.
What will happen afterwards? And what can possibly become of us?”
There are no victors in war.
What ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ does is it shows the humanity behind the inhumanity of war.
It doesn’t speak to sides, to enemies or to divisions of perceived rights or wrongs. Instead it tells the story of young men, barely more than children, and the horrors that they saw, the horrors that they carried out, and all that they endured during World War I.
My words are meaningless here.
Anything I try to write feels trite.
There is an afterword in the edition I have read written in 1994 by the translator, Brian Murdoch, that I wish to quote from, because he is far more eloquent at expressing what this novel so accurately portrays.
“The novel shows us very clearly that war is something else: war is not about heroism, but about terror, either waiting for death, or trying desperately to avoid it, even if it means killing a complete stranger to do so, about losing all human dignity and values, about becoming an automaton; it is not about falling bravely and nobly for one’s country, but about soiling oneself in terror under heavy shellfire, about losing a leg, crawling blinded in no mans land, or being wounded in every conceivable part of the body. The narrator and his fellow soldiers discuss the nature of the war and war itself, but they do not come to any real conclusions – nor could they. They are too young, they lack the background. But their naïveté, their very inability to articulate an answer is the point of the book… And the reader is left to draw the conclusion.”
This is one of those books that everyone should read.
It’s not easy to read about the grim realities of war and its atrocities, but it is important to educate ourselves.
To attempt to understand the ills that humanity inflicts upon itself.
To understand our past so as to not repeat those mistakes.
And to somehow try to better ourselves and see that there is no such thing as victorious outcome, just a trail of death, destruction, sadness and of broken innocent people.
“I watch their dark figures. Their beards blow in the wind. I know nothing about them except that they are prisoners of war, and that is precisely what shakes me.
Their lives are anonymous and blameless; if I knew more about them, what they are called, how they live, what their hopes and fears are, then my feelings might have a focus and could turn into sympathy.
But at the moment all I sense in them is the pain of the dumb animal, the fearful melancholy of life and the pitilessness of men.
An order has turned the silent figures into our enemies; an order could turn them into friends again.
On some table, a document is signed by some people that none of us knows, and for years our main aim in life is the one thing that usually draws the condemnation of the whole world and incurs its severest punishment in law.
How can anyone make distinctions like that looking at the silent men, with their faces like children and their beards like apostles? Any drill-corporal is a worse enemy to the recruits, any schoolmaster a worse enemy to his pupils than they are to us. And yet we would shoot at them again if they were free, and so would they at us.
Suddenly I’m frightened: I mustn’t think along those lines any more. That path leads to the abyss. It isn’t the right time yet – but I don’t want to lose those thoughts all together, I’ll preserve them, keep them locked away until the war is over.
My heart is pounding; could this be the goal, the greatness, the unique experience that I thought about in the trenches, that I was seeking as a reason for going on living after this universal catastrophe is over? Is this the task we must dedicate our lives to after the war, so that all the years of horror will have been worthwhile?”