Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 619
Paul’s regiment gets reinforcements. The new group of soldiers is settling in after receiving their gas masks and coffee. Many of them are young; Paul and his group are practically veterans compared to them. The new soldiers have been eating poorly and are hungry. They are overjoyed at the prospect of the beef and beans Katczinsky has bartered from Ginger (for three pieces of parachute silk) and stashed away for his own bartering. Next time the recruits will trade him something for a portion of the food.
Katczinsky (Kat) is an intuitive man who is invaluable to the men around him. When they find themselves in a warehouse with wire netting attached to wood beams as their beds, Kat finds them straw. When they are hungry and there is no food to be found, Kat finds bread and horsemeat. As he cooks it, he adds salt and fat, two other mysterious acquisitions. Kat also knows how to cook what he scrounges. Whatever the need is, Kat finds it. It is his gift and the men appreciate it.
The men are relaxing away from the fighting after having to do a saluting drill for an hour because one of them did not salute an officer well enough. They can see an air fight raging above them and place bets on who will win. Kat is of the opinion that if all men in the military were paid the same—if there were no officers—the war would be over in a day. Kropp believes the war should end with the war ministers and generals fighting to the death; the winning group would claim victory. They reminisce about their days of training, the sounds and the smells and the drills. A German plane is shot down in a blaze of fire, and Kropp loses the bet.
Himmelstoss is a power-hungry man, and the men discuss how it happens that an officer’s uniform turns a mere postman into a man obsessed with power. Kat reflects that the organization of the military demands there must always be a command structure in which one man has more power than the next. When a man uses that power in the military, even if other men are demeaned or humiliated, he is praised. In the civilian world, such things are not tolerated. And “the more insignificant a man has been in civil life the worse it takes him.” The men are amazed that soldiers keep fighting knowing there will certainly be more abuse. During battle, however, there is no drilling; as soon as the fighting is over, there is more drilling and more mistreatment, for a soldier must never be idle.
Himmelstoss is coming to the front, and Tjaden is particularly unhappy about it. He holds a “special grudge” because Himmelstoss tortured him and another soldier who wet their beds at night. He put them in wire bunks so that each night the one below would get wet from the other. His plan assumed they were simply lazy (which they were not), but ultimately it did not work. One of them simply slept on the floor, and they often caught colds. Paul and Haie recall an incident in which they humiliated Himmelstoss and never got caught. They found him alone and wrapped him in his own bed cover so he could neither see nor move. They pressed his head into a pillow but allowed him occasional breaths. They then pulled down his trousers and proceeded to whip him as he knelt on the ground in his striped drawers. They then boxed his ears and he left running. Himmelstoss never discovered who delivered his humiliation, but one of the old-timers described them as “young heroes.”
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