All Quiet on the Western Front is full of gritty, realistic descriptions of the destructive power of war. Paul and his friends are literally surrounded by death and destruction, and the horrors that they witness are almost beyond comprehension. In one particularly harrowing example, Paul describes the aftermath of a mortar shelling:
Here hang bits of uniform, and somewhere else is plastered a bloody mess that was once a human limb. Over there lies a body with nothing but a piece of the underpants on one leg and the collar of the tunic around its neck.
The descriptions of the destructive power of the war go on, including a famous passage in which Paul finds himself alone in a bomb crater with a French soldier that he has stabbed. He has to watch the man slowly, painfully expire, and then searches his belongings to discover the man's name and occupation.
Despite the enormous loss of human life, perhaps the most profound destruction in the book is to the lives of the young men who fight the war. Psychologically, they have grown up amid scenes of senseless horror and destruction, and Paul fears the effects. What is to become of a generation of young people who have experienced such things?
I am young; I am but twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow...Our knowledge of life is limited to death. What will happen afterwards? And what shall come out of us?
So the war is portrayed by Remarque as an utter catastrophe and a tragedy, consuming both the bodies and souls of the young men who had to fight it.