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All Quiet on the Western Front: A Novel of War

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Brandon Worthy

Mr. Gardner

Literature of War

November 13, 2014

All Quiet on the Western Front: A Novel of War

War has always been best described and taught to those that have not experienced it themselves through literature, such as novels, history books, diaries, newspapers, and other written materials. One important piece of literature that teaches about World War I specifically is All Quiet on the Western Front. Set in the later years of the war, All Quiet on the Western Front, written in 1929 by Erich Maria Remarque, is told from the viewpoint of its main character Paul Baumer, a fresh recruit in the German Army. Paul has been led to believe that he and his fellow enlisted schoolmates are Germany's "Iron Youth" fighting heroically to defend their homeland. However, the sheer brutality of the war dawns upon him and his comrades when they are sent to the frontlines, their illusions being shattered by death and despair. As the war ends, an entire generation has considered itself lost from a war it never wanted and adopts a negative outlook towards the world as the promise of a bright future is snatched away in the trenches. An historical fiction novel, All Quiet on the Western Front accurately portrays the experiences of individual soldiers from a perspective ignored by many other books and media: The side that lost the war. All Quiet on the Western Front should be used to teach World War I as a prime example of how war can have immensely detrimental effects on a soldier psychologically, physically, emotionally, and morally as these traits display the effects of the war on an individual level that primary sources and historical literature cannot due to being unable to use the viewpoint of a single soldier.

World War I was a brutal affair, the likes of which the world had never seen before. War had originally been an orderly affair of marching and head-on battles between neat lines and rows of soldiers. With the advent of increasingly deadly military weapons and technology, the face of war changed without any country's notice. Due to the rapid arms race during peacetime, the outbreak of war put all that advancement to the test with horrific results. Men could be slaughtered by the dozens from a single machine gun team and the unending fear of artillery shelling lingered with to define the mental instability caused in surviving veterans. Tactics changed from orderly marches to desperate trench warfare, victories measured in inches of ground obtained and many lines simply being stalemates out of two immobile trenches facing each other. Combat like this led to the brutal deaths of thousands.

Psychological damage is a major factor of warfare, displayed in the novel through its progression that shows how slowly the company is lost and how men like Paul lament over those they've had to kill, something historical accounts do not in favor of factual statistics and general information. A common misconception in society and the media is that soldiers find war to be exciting or are disciplined to ignore mental trauma in combat as if they are superhuman. Soldiers are still human beings and many reach a breaking point. An example of a traumatized soldier put forth by the novel is Paul Baumer. Paul witnesses all of his friends die or be sent away crippled, leaving him as the sole survivor. In the end, he is broken and made fearless solely by having nothing left to lose. While Paul resolves to continue living, it is only because he will allow his life to change naturally without having the drive to influence it himself. In the novel All Quiet on the Western Front, Paul internally speaks to the reader about his mental state: "I am very quiet. Let the months and years come, they can bring me nothing more. I am so alone, and so without hope that I can confront them without fear. The life that has born me through these years is still in my hands and eyes. Whether I have subdued it, I know not. But so long as it is there it will seek its own way out, heedless of the will that is within me". (Remarque 295). Just like Paul's psychological suffering, a link can be drawn to modern soldiers using Sgt. Blaylock as an example. Being able to show that elements of war remain the same regardless of time period or changes in military strategy allows for the novel's teachings to be better applied into a more contemporary sense that is more relatable to those that may not be able to grasp its lessons without using the mindset of a more modern soldier to make connections.

Sgt. Blaylock was an American soldier that was so broken down by his experience that he took his own life. Serving in Baghdad as part of the North Carolina National Guard, he witnessed the deaths of Brandon Wallace and Joshua Schmit, two of his close friends. He returns home a mere two weeks later and has trouble returning to his civilian life. He is hit with financial and marriage problems and finds himself unable to cope with them due to the absence of his fellow soldiers that he had gone through war with for twelve months. Blaylock felt that they were the only ones who could understand his stress and trauma and without them he felt lost. In the article After Combat, Victims of an Inner War written by Erica Goode, Blaylock's trauma and anxiety drives him to end his own life: "On Dec. 9, 2007, Sergeant Blaylock, heavily intoxicated, lifted a 9-millimeter handgun to his head during an argument with his girlfriend and pulled the trigger. He was 26. 'I have failed myself,' he wrote in a note found later in his car. 'I have let those around me down'". (Erica Goode). Unable to feel as if he could turn to anyone else, Blaylock chooses to put an end to his suffering instead of enduring any longer. Both he and Paul are broken psychologically by the deaths of their fellow soldiers and left unable to cope with life upon returning home, with Blaylock's reaction being more severe than Paul's. Both of them no longer cared if they died, but only Blaylock chose to take his own life due to it. The novel accurately portrays the damage inflicted despite being a fictional account of the war, many parallels being able to be drawn between Blaylock, a real soldiers, and Paul, a fictional one, which displays the novel's ability to bring the stories and example of the psychological trauma those that fight these wars suffer to a reader's eyes without relying on potentially biased accounts, tragic stories, or misremembered information that an actual veteran may give.

In any war, soldiers will be physically harmed in a brutal manner and either killed or wounded. More often, soldiers are afflicted with disease due to being in foreign countries

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