In Paul's astute estimation, the devastation wreaked by the war upon his generation is far more complete than that visited upon the older soldiers. He says that
"all the older men are linked up with their previous life. They have wives, children, occupations, and interests, they have a background which is so strong that the war cannot obliterate it".
In contrast, the men of Paul's generation have not yet had time to establish a place in the world, let alone develop a sense of their own identity. For them, "everything is extraordinarily vague"; standing as they are "on the threshhold of life", they have not had time to set down roots. These "young men of twenty" have only
"...(their) parents, and some, perhaps, a girl - that is not much, for at (their) age the influence of parents is at its weakest and girls have not yet got a hold over (them). Besides this there (is) little else - some enthusiasm, a few hobbies, and (their) school. Beyond this (their) life (does) not extend. And of this nothing remains.
The youth of Paul's generation, called the "Iron Youth" by the older establishment, are recruited straight out of school into an occupation of which they have no absolutely understanding. They follow the urgings of their authorities who paint a romantic picture of sacrifice and patriotism, only to discover too late that the reality which is war is nothing noble at all. In the insanity of the front lines, there is no escape and no going back. The young men have been severed from their nebulous past, and there is nothing but horror to take its place (Chapter 2).