In Chapter 5, Paul and his comrades discuss aspects of life from the perspective of the western front. Things here are very different from how they were during their training. The avenues of authority are turned upside down; the recruits are not easily cowed now that they have lived so closely with death and unimaginable horror. Himmelstoss, the officer who had previously wielded authority without respect, finds himself to be powerless. The punishments for insubordination have little effect on the men, who live daily with the worst life has to offer. Tjaden says,
"Five days clink are five days rest,"
and when threatened with the ultimate punishment of being sent to the "Fortress," he retorts,
"Well, for the time being the war will be over so far as I am concerned."
The boys recall the things they learned in school not so very long ago, and marvel at the irrelevance of it all. Paul says,
"At school nobody ever taught us...that it is best to stick a bayonet in the belly because there it doesn't get jammed, as it does in the ribs."
The soldiers worry about what will happen when they return home, reiterating the central theme of the book. Kropp says,
"When I think about it...when I hear the word 'peace-time,' it goes to my head: and if it really came, I think I would do some unimaginable thing - something, you know, that it's worth having lain here in the muck for. But I can't even imagine anything...I don't see anything al all..."
Paul adds desolately,
"We agree that it's the same for...everyone who is of our age...It is the common fate of our generation."
Albert sums the situation up, saying,
"The war has ruined us for everything" (Chapter 5).