Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 872
When Paul returns to join his battalion, he is given provisions and instructions on how to find his unit. They are now a regiment that is sent to “wherever it is hottest.” Losses have been heavy, he hears, and no one has news for him of Katczinsky or Albert Kropp. Paul eventually finds the command center and waits for his group to join him; they are expected in two days. When the weary and dispirited troops arrive, Paul pushes through them looking for his friends. He finds Kat, Kropp, Müller, and Tjaden and settles in next to them. He shares his potato cakes and jam; they tell him they may be heading to Russia to fight.
They spend days polishing and being inspected; the rumor is that the Kaiser is coming to review them. The men would rather be fighting than parading. When the Kaiser arrives, the men are disappointed; they expected a more powerful and commanding presence in an emperor. Once he leaves, Paul and his friends grow philosophical about how a small number of men engaged the world in this war. Also, because every group of soldiers is defending their own homeland, how is one to know “who is in the right?” It is the leaders who want war, not the people, so “there must be some people to whom the war is useful.” Their talking does not make things better, and they have to exchange their new uniforms for their old, tattered ones.
They do not go to Russia, but they do head back to the front line. Trench guns have blasted men right out of their clothes, and the bits and pieces of men and uniforms hang from trees all around them. Paul and his friends are sent to survey the strength of the enemy. A shell has landed next to Paul; he did not hear it coming and he is terrified it will be the last thing he sees. He is immovable in his fear, but he finally convinces himself to rejoin his comrades. For their sake he must move on; he finds them and is reassured by their presence. He is still afraid, but he is no longer paralyzed by it.
Unfortunately, Paul has lost his sense of direction and is crawling aimlessly through the dark when he hears a barrage of fire. He slips into a shell hole for shelter and wonders what he would do if someone else jumped into the hole with him. Paul pulls out his dagger, prepared for anything. The night is coming to a close and Paul decides to strike out for home; just as he does, a body falls on top of him. In reaction, Paul stabs mercilessly, and the man moans unbearably. Paul scoots over to avoid any contact with the man as he is dying. He prepares to leave the shell-hole, but machine gun fire from both sides surrounds him.
In the light of day, Paul looks at the man, assuming he is dead. He is not. His eyes follow Paul, who is horrified by the intimacy of their circumstances: he is face to face with a man he has mortally wounded, “the first time I have killed with my hands.” The man is thirsty, and Paul dips his handkerchief in the muddy water and dribbles some into the man’s mouth. He then has to tear his enemy’s shirt to try to dress his wounds. As he does, he repeats the word “comrade” over and over, hoping the man will understand. Though he cannot be saved, Paul must try, for “every gasp lays my heart bare.” The soldier dies in the afternoon, and Paul’s thoughts are unsettling.
Eventually the silence is more than he can bear. He begins talking to the dead soldier, telling him he thought he was the enemy but now understands he is just a man like himself with a family and a life beyond the war. After apologizing for his actions, Paul determines to write a letter to the man’s family and searches for his wallet with some trepidation. Once he knows the man’s name, he knows he will not be able to forget this incident. He discovers a packet of letters and some photographs of a woman and a little girl. Though he does not understand enough French to translate the letters, he realizes he will never write to the man’s family. He writes down the man’s name and address. Gérard Duval was his name. Paul wants to remember but knows he will not.
Later in the day Paul is calmer and must now concentrate on reconnoitering with his regiment without getting killed. Once it is dark, he waits for the light of the stars and bombs before he starts moving. Soon he sees figures moving and discovers it is Kat and Kropp. They had been looking for him. His story of getting separated and taking cover for several days is not dramatic to them; all soldiers have had such experiences. Paul feels the need to tell them about the enemy soldier, though, and they reassure him that there was nothing else he could have done: “That is what you are here for.”
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