Remarque opens his narrative with a startling account of death and food and the realities of the front line. Although he spends a portion of that chapter reviewing how the characters came to be on the front, Remarque says little about the humanity of the soldiers. In chapter two, then, Remarque begins to show the human cost of war, a theme he develops until the book's last line. By focusing on Paul as a poet and a classmate, Remarque is able to show that Paul at 19 is not so different from any other 19 year old at any time in history.
Remarque also illustrates in chapter two how the military dehumanizes young men, making them a squadron of soldiers rather than independent individuals. It is the first step in Paul's transformation from energetic dreamer to lost man. One of the primary structural elements of the book is the tracing of that very transformation (see "style" and "critical-overview" links below.)
It is important for Remarque to show the human and individual side of war if he is to achieve his objective: "to tell of a generation of men, who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by war."