While the young men are in the equivalent of basic training under Corporal Himmelstoss, they find him unfair and even cruel. "He is known as the toughest disciplinarian in the camp, but he pushes this group of boys especially hard because he believes they are defiant. His method of punishing the bedwetters is horribly unjust and would never work in the first place; the boys just thwart his plan by alternating sleeping on the bed and on the floor. Himmelstoss pushes them relentlessly them, drilling them in exercises that seem unnecessarily repetitive, such as the "stand up--fall down" in the mud drill they have to do with heavy packs on their backs.Requiring various soldiers to remake a bed numerous times or clean with a toothbrush is excessive. Their retaliation when they punish the drunken corporal is very satisfying to them, as Paul says, "We had become successful students of his method."
Although some of Himmelstoss' demands will undoubtedly toughen the young men in preparation for the rigors of battle, they discover when they reach the front that they have learned little that is actually useful to survive. When Himmelstoss eventually reports to the front himself, the boys are amazed to discover their corporal's cowardice in battle and their view of him drops even lower.