All Quiet on the Western Front: A Novel - Erich Maria Remarque, Arthur Wesley Wheen


This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war - epigraph from All Quiet on the Western Front.


EMR's 1929 bleak depiction of war portrays Germany's fundamental intent on total subjugation, and the patriotic call of the Fatherland to its impressionistic "Iron Youth" who, with innocence and idealism in their eyes, were eager to do their duty not fully comprehending the mortal gravity and moralistic value of doing so. Its publication offended the Nazis for its illumination of "disillusioned and demoralized German soldiery", and led to widespread riots; public burning of the book and banning of the film; most revealingly, Remarque's self-preserving decision to emigrate to Switzerland.


All Quiet on the Western Front is told, without employing a definitive plot line, from the point of view of young private Paul Baumer: a German soldier giving an authentic account of frontline action in truthful, visceral, humanistic terms - a string of narrative incidents regarding the experiences of its war initiates - from school to basic training; the first taste of the front; retreat ; to the frontline again as its atrocities become more intense ; a little comic and romantic relief secretively crossing demarcation areas for some female company; being wounded, convalescing, then being sent back to fighting again; the increasing apathy, and even the perverse pride of the now- experienced soldier.



"We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces."

The initial eagerness quickly dissolves, the spirit becomes annihilated, dreams and hopes for the future are destroyed. Life and Loss became one and the same.
For Baumer, his ideals disintegrate in the trenches when he comes face to face with his 'enemy'.


"Comrade, I did not want to kill you. If you jumped in here again, I would not do it, if you would be sensible too. But you were only an idea to me before, an abstraction that lived in my mind and had called forth its appropriate response. But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me...Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony- Forgive me, comrade; how can you be my enemy?"


Remarque chose no warring sides in his novel; he simply extolled an anti-war sentiment - the weighing of the value and waste of human life as he objectively saw it. There is no question that Remarque had been at the front as he stated in an Observer interview (13th October 1929, pp17-18)- "the details of my book are real experiences, in spite of all the rumours to the contrary, which I will not take the trouble to contradict. I was at the front long enough to have experienced personally just nearly all I have described. I was wounded twice..."


All Quiet on the Western Front remains one of the most popular novels of the Great War, if not the most popular and inspiring, that portrays an inglorious war's absolute waste of life, pointlessness and meaninglessness.



 "He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the Army report confined itself to the single sentence: all quiet on the Western front.

He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm as though almost glad that the end had come."