With a prevailing motif of the senselessness of war in Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, one image that is salient is that of the misery of the horses caught in the crossfire of battle in Chapter Four. As Paul and other soldiers are dropped off after being sent to put up barbed wire at the front, he watches the road on which magnificent riders on horseback lead the filing troops of soldiers. Paul romantically reflects that these riders "resemble knights of a forgotten time." However, the dark reality of horses' being in battle is that they are mercilessly victims of man's hatred and cruelty. Tortured by the hideous screams of the dying horses, Detering and others search for them with nightfall and shoot them despite Kat's having forbidden them. Cursing, Detering says, "Like to know what harm they've done...I tell you it is the vilest baseness to use horses in the war."
In Chapter Seven when Paul returns home on leave, he feels completely alienated from his old life. His former German school teacher who so glorified the war now seems idiotic to Paul. The books he once loved hold no interest for him, and, feeling so cut off, he wishes he had not come home. His father irritates him with questions about the front while he and his mother, now grown very frail, talks very little. Poignantly, Paul reflects, "There is a distance, a veil between us."
Then, in Chapter Nine, Paul is in battle at the front and trench mortars have blasted huge holes in the earth. Body parts are scattered promiscuously on the ground and dead bodies hang from tree branches. In the bombardment, Paul becomes lost and crawls into a hole filled with water, hiding under the muddy water while holding a knife upwards in case someone else comes along. Soon, Paul hears footsteps and a body falls into the hole with him. Immediately Paul strikes at the body, which has convulsions and then goes limp. With machine gun fire above him, Paul is forced to wait with the gurgling body. By morning, Paul notices that the man is still alive; he looks into Paul's eyes. Now, Paul feels an obligation to the man; so, he cuts his shirt and tends to his wounds. When the man dies in the afternoon, Paul considers the fatefulness of this man's dying. For, had Paul crawled correctly to his trench, the man would still be alive. Looking in his wallet, Paul sees pictures of the man's wife and children and writes down the address of the man. Paul swears,
I mean to live only for his sake and his family, with wet lips I try to placate him--and deep down in me lies the hope that I may buy myself off in this way and perhaps even get out of this; it is a little stratagem....I have killed this printer, Gerard Duval. I must be a printer, I think confusedly, be a printer.
In these three images, Paul is struck by the senselessness of war and its gratuitous misfortune that it metes in its indiscriminate chance.