Imagine that a commanding officer is planning to have the soldiers under his or her order read, or is planning to read to them from, All Quiet on the Western Front as part of their preparation for...

Imagine that a commanding officer is planning to have the soldiers under his or her order read, or is planning to read to them from, All Quiet on the Western Front as part of their preparation for battle. Why would this not be a good idea? Cite specific passages from the novel to support your view.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Although All Quiet on the Western Front is set during World War I, there are many situations in the novel which could adversely affect contemporary soldiers.

Reading a narrative in which war is glorified to young men and then the horrors are clarified in detail, where men starve and are infested with lice and rats run about them, where gangrene sets into a young man's leg and it must be amputated, where men are poisoned by mustard gas and die a tortuous death, and where pieces of men are strewn about a battlefield, in which arms and heads cling to barbed wire, would certainly be counterproductive to instilling enthusiasm and encouraging patriotism in military troops.

In the first chapter of Remarque's novel, Paul Baumer and his troop, after having been engaged in battles, receive a letter from their former schoolmaster, Heir Kantorek, who urged them to enlist by telling them stories that glorified war. However, after their first battle, the young men have lost their innocence and their enthusiasm for war and are disillusioned.

There were thousands of Kantoreks, all of whom were convinced that they were acting for the best — in a way that cost them nothing.

One of the most negative effects of war is the disconnect and alienation that young soldiers often feel when they return home after war. In Chapter Six, for instance, Paul describes himself and his fellow soldiers:

We are forlorn like children, and experienced like old men, we are crude and sorrowful and superficial—I believe we are lost.

While Paul is home on leave in Chapter Seven, he senses a distance between himself and his family; he cannot seem to relate to them as before. When his mother asks him about what she has heard from another young man who has returned home and "said it was terrible out there now, with the gas and all the rest of it," Paul knows he cannot describe the real horrors where men "stood and lay about, with blue faces, dead." 

In Chapter Ten Paul finds himself in a hospital with a broken leg and a wounded arm. He is anxious because the doctor is infamous for simply amputating limbs. Paul is operated on, but he is told that the bones will not mend properly. Paul concludes that a hospital "alone shows what war is." Many men come in, then go to the operating rooms, and are not seen again. Some of the surgeons are not concerned about soldiers' limbs.

If new recruits were able to know of the war beforehand, they probably would not enlist. For, like Paul, once having had the experience of battle and the other horrors of war, they would probably realize that war is anything but romantic and glorious.

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All Quiet on the Western Front

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