Removed from the refuge of home and peace, camaraderie forms a refuge from the horrors of war and alienation for the young men who have enlisted for the glory of their nation. This fraternity of men provides a sense of security and even love.
Two characters, especially, are essential to the development of the theme of camaraderie: Stanislaus "Kat," Katczinsky and Albert Kropp:
Kat is a forty-year-old reservist who has some experience, but more importantly, he seems to have a sixth sense for finding food, soft jobs, and for sensing danger. Kat is like a father-figure to the young men, painting the platoon walls in lively colors; he "finds everything": a stove, wood, straw, and food when there is none to be seen. He advices the young men that the war gives men the license to become savages and be abusive to others, pointing to Himmelstoss as an example:
"...the more insignificant a man has been in civil life the worse it takes him."
His positive attitude is contagious and he encourages the men during the bombardments, calming them. For instance, in Chapter Four, as the young men suffer from anxiety during a bombardment, Kat sits quietly, smoking his covered pipe. Noticing that Paul is awake, he says to him,
"That was only a nose-cap, it landed in the bushes over there."
But his nervousness later proves true as mortar and shells are fired throughout. When a young man is hit, Kat, Kropp, and Paul try to free his arm and save him. But, then, Kat suggests that they "put an end to it." The others agree, but someone arrives to disrupt things.
When Paul and Kat steal a goose from the regimental headquarters, Paul finds himself held captive by a bull dog. He finds it necessary to shoot the dog; nevertheless, it gets up and attacks him. This time Paul gets away, and tosses the goose to Kat, who quickly kills it. Back with the regiment, Paul speaks of their camaraderie,
We are two men, two minute sparks of life; outside is the night and the circle of death. We sit on the edge of it crouching in danger...in our hearts we are close to one another....What does he know of me or I of him? Formerly we should not have had a single thought in common--now we sit with a goose between us and feel in unison, are so intimate that we do not even speak.
In Chapter Five, Kat stands before Paul, sho says his "shadow falls upon me, like home." So much does this man mean to Paul that when he learns of Katczinsky's death, he dies shortly thereafter.
A friend of Paul's, Kropp is a young man possessive of an uncanny wisdom. For instance, when the insignificant postman Himmelstoss is appointed as the men's drill instructor, he becomes despotic; noting this, Kropp, "the clearest thinker," who is also very perceptive. For, he understands why Himmelstoss is so cruel:
"As sure as they get a stripe or a star they become different men, just as thouigh they'd swallowed concrete."
At the front the men grow closer to one another, having shared their fears and horror. When Muller worries how things will be for them when they return, Kropp shrugs, "Let's get back first, then we'll find out." Nevertheless, he tells the others,
"It will go pretty hard with us all. But nobody at home seems to worry much about it. Two years of shells and bombs--a man won't peel that of as easy as a sock."
Paul feels similarly, saying that they are forlorn like children while, at the same time, they are experienced like old men, having endured much together.