Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 638
Time passes and the only change, in addition to the seasons, is the move from the front to waiting to return to the front. What used to be is no more for either the soldiers or for the civilians. What used to matter, things like education and breeding, no longer matter. “Now we are all melted down," says the narrator, "and all bear the same stamp.”
Energy must be conserved, so the only important things are those necessary to sustain and maintain life. Everything else is dormant, and all is well until there is a yearning for something more. Those are the moments when the soldiers are reminded that they are more than animals and that the hard shell of superficiality is not real. Things are starting to fall apart around Paul. One day Detering, a fellow soldier, came home with several branches of cherry blossoms and started packing his belongings—including the branches. Paul talked with him and asked what he was planning, and Detering seemed to know he was being scrutinized by his comrades and acted normal for a day or so. The next day he was gone. The regiment heard he had been caught heading back to Germany and was court-martialed. They should have known Detering was just homesick and had a momentary lapse in judgment, but they do not. Another soldier, Berger, jumped out of the safety of their trenches to save a messenger dog and got shot and wounded, as did the man who tried to save him. There is no way to counteract such frontline madness; the best anyone can do is “fling the man to the ground and hold him fast.”
Müller takes a shot to the stomach at close range and dies. His wallet and his boots, the same boots Kemmerich gave away in his dying moments, go to Paul. If Paul no longer needs the boots, Tjaden knows they will be his. The enemy, French and American troops, are fed and armed too well, and the Germans are losing this war. Their food does not fill them, though those who produce the food are getting rich. They do not have enough ammunition and their weapons are no longer reliable. The new recruits are weaker, both physically and mentally, than they have been. The soldiers see no way this is ever going to end. Although enemy tanks were laughable at first, they are now agents of death:
Shells, gas clouds, and flotillas of tanks—shattering, corroding, death. Dysentery, influenza, typhus—scalding, choking, death. Trenches, hospitals, the common grave—there are no other possibilities.
The summer of 1918 is a time of death and destruction. Morale is low because the soldiers know they are losing the war. They keep falling back and they keep fighting and they keep dying. The bombardments continue and the men wonder why they are still fighting. They are still alive so they are not beaten, but they will be defeated by a superior enemy.
Katczinsky is hit and Paul must carry him to a dressing station. It is the kind of wound that will send Kat home from the war, but he is bitter that he has made it this far only to be wounded now. Paul is sad that when Kat leaves he will have lost all his friends and be alone. They have to stop several times; when they do they smoke and share addresses, but Paul is still dismayed at the loss. Paul picks Kat up for the last leg of the journey and gets him to the dressing station—only to be told by the medic that Kat is dead. While Paul does not want to believe it, the evidence is clear. Katczinsky has been hit in the head by a piece of shrapnel and he is dead. Paul is now alone.