In Chapter 2, the author describes his experiences in boot camp. He talks about how the cold reality of what the boys are about to be forced to undertake contrasts with the lofty impressions of war that had been given to them to this point. He says,
"With our young awakened eyes we saw that the classical conception of the Fatherland held by our teachers resolved itself here into a renunciation of personality such as one would not ask of the meanest servants...We had fancied our task would be different, only to find we were to be trained for heroism as though we were circus-ponies."
The intense, dehumanizing grind of drills and salutes in the military is nothing like what the boys expected. In a foreshadowing of what is to come, the glory of heroism is reduced to dull, basic training that conditions them to react like trained animals.
"We became hard, suspicious, pitiless, vicious, tough - and that was good; for these attributes were just what we lacked. Had we gone into the trencehs without this period of training most of us would certainly have gone mad."
For the common soldier, the ability to think is not a desired attribute. The soldiers are trained to shed their softer, more human inclinations towards sympathy and sensitivity, as it will be close to impossible to survive in the trenches with these qualities.
"...our early life is cut off from the moment we came here."
"All the older men are linked up with their previous life. They have wives, children, occupations, and interests, they have a background which is so strong that the war cannot obliterate it. We young men of twenty, however, have only our parents, and some, perhaps, a girl...Beyond this our life did not extend."
"And of this nothing remains...We had as yet taken no root. The war swept us away."
In these quotes, the author explains why the war was able to destroy the lives of an entire generation. The young men of Paul's age are taken when they are most impressionable, before they have had a chance to start their lives. They are made into fighting machines, and even if they survive, there will be no place for them to fit in when they return to normal living (Chapter 2).