Chapter 12 Summary
Another summer is gone and another autumn has arrived. Not many who fought from the beginning, the old ones, are left; Paul is the only one of his seven classmates to survive. All around him there are rumors of peace and treaties, but there have been such rumors before. Peace must come after such rumors or there will be consequences. If the war does not end soon, Paul believes there will be a revolution.
Paul is relaxing while on two weeks of rest because he swallowed a little gas. He hungers for many things—is greedy for home and life and freedom—but has no goals for his future. He reflects that if the war had ended two years earlier, the soldiers may have had a chance to be something; they might have “unleashed a storm.” Instead, they will return to their former lives as tired, broken, empty, and hopeless men; they will no longer be able to be productive or creative citizens. Even worse, no one will comprehend their situation. The generation ahead of them lived through the war, it is true; however, they have established lives and professions to which they will return. They will refocus and be okay. They will be able to forget the war. For the younger generation there will be no patience or understanding for former soldiers such as him; they will be cast aside and made irrelevant. Some may be able to adapt, but most will not.
Perhaps, Paul thinks, he is simply depressed and being pessimistic because he feels alone and aimless. Surely the beauty of the trees and the leaves that once inspired him can inspire him still. The books that prompted him to think of complex things and yearn for the unknown might prompt him still. Surely he will still be capable of dreaming and thinking and hoping.
The talk of peace is encouraging, and Paul rises. He faces his future with strength. There is nothing more to be taken from him, so there is nothing left to fear. He will not be afraid. He is aware that he still has the one thing that matters—life. He has life, and it is in his mind as well as in his body. He thinks he can control it, though he is not certain. If there is life in him, Paul believes it will find a way to express itself even if he would not have it so.
Paul dies on an October day in 1918, a day that was so uneventful on all fronts that the army report for the day simply contained one sentence: “All quiet on the Western Front.” He has fallen forward and lies on the earth as though he were sleeping. Turning him over, one can see that he “could not have suffered long.” His face is calm, as if he is glad the end has come.