Kantorek, the German schoolmaster, represents the ideas of patiorism and the glory of self-sacrifice in war. A diminutive man, Kantorek would give long lectures about duty and courage, until the whole of Paul's class, twenty youths of only about eighteen years of age, succumbed to the pressure and went to the District Commandant to enlist. Paul notes bitterly that "there were thousands of Kantoreks, all of whom were convinced that they were acting for the best - in a way that cost them nothing". Completely sincere in their patriotic beliefs, they destroyed the lives of a whole generation of "Iron Youth".
Men like Kantorek belonged to a group whose time had passed. Too old to participate on the front lines of battle, they were nonetheless the authority, and they were trusted by the young, who associated their years with "greater insight and a more humane wisdom". The old men taught "that duty to one's country is the greatest thing", and sent a whole generation of young men onto the battlefield, youths who had not "the vaguest idea what (they) were in for". While the men of Kantorek's generation "continued to write and talk", the young were forced to do the dirty work, fighting and dying in the trenches. The young soldiers persuaded to do their duty to their country quickly found that there is no glory on the battlefield; although in truth they "loved (their) country as much as (the old men), (and) went courageously into every action, (they) also...distinguished the false from true". Paul expresses the sense of betrayal and abandonment his generation felt at the hands of men like Kantorek. Having looked to them for guidance, the boys found themselves in a hell beyond imagining from which there was no escape. Hopeless and jaded, their young lives in ruins, they looked back for help to the men who put them in their situation, only to find that "there was nothing of their world left", and that the youth "were all at once terribly alone, and alone...must see it through" (Chapter 1).