Most of the students at Paul's school join the army in response to the zeal and patriotic enthusiasm surrounding the whole matter. This was led in no small part by Kantorek, the boys' teacher. The old school teacher is emblematic of the older generation of Germans who encouraged the young men, mere boys really, to fight for what they thought would be a righteous cause.
Remarque uses Kantorek as a symbolic representation of many men of this generation. There were many in Germany (but also in England, France, Russia, and Austria) who thought that the war would be short, relatively bloodless, and bring glory to their nation. They spouted the propaganda that would end up getting millions of others killed, while they stayed at home in relative safety.
Kantorek and other Germans his age likely remembered the Franco-Prussian War, which was fought about 45 years earlier. In this short conflict, Germany won a glorious victory. They seemed to think that this war would proceed the same way....
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