Tragedy on the Western Front

"All Quiet on the Western Front," by Erich Maria Remarque, tells the story of many young soldiers, all except one age 19, and the war they face. Of course, the war itself is horrible, but they learn many things from it, and one of those things is how to work together. As with any other war, this war is much more complex than just shoot-em-up, as some people see it. There are military tactics, weapons, survival strategies, and much more. The author graphically, yet realistically, portrays the tragedies of war.

There are many examples of the gore that takes place in the war. “I see one of them, his face upturned, fall into a wire cradle. His body collapses, his hands remain suspended as though he were praying. Then his body drops clean away and only his hands with the stumps of his arms, shot off, now hang in the wire” (Remarque 113). This gory death affects the soldiers in more than one way; the emotional effect on the other soldiers hurts them mentally. However, soldiers have to keep going if they are to survive the war.

It is wonderful to see the way that the narrator appreciates nature: “One morning two butterflies play in front of our trench. They are brimstone butterflies, with red spots on their yellow wings” (127). Despite everything that happens in war, the narrator still takes time to look at nature’s little creations. Is it possible, the butterflies were put there for a reason, to lighten the soldiers’ spirits, to remind them that all is not lost? Perhaps. As short as it lasts, this little occurrence is definitely important to the soldiers.

Recall that all is definitely at peace, however. The sickening stench of war still remains. When the dust clears, only one side will be left standing. They will have won, but will the soldiers of that side ever be the same again, after all that they have seen? “We see men living with their skulls blown open; we see soldiers run with their two feet cut off, they stagger on their splintered stumps into the next shell-hole; a lance-corporal crawls a mile and a half on his hands dragging his smashed knee after him; another goes to the dressing station” (134).

As “All Quiet on the Western Front” so graphically implies, war is far worse than any of us could ever even begin to imagine; they have faced real-to-life war and we have not. Well, what is the answer to the question? Will the soldiers ever be the same after all they’ve been through? They will probably continue on with their lives, and will likely physically and mentally recover over time, but the memories will never be gone. The war and all its complexities—the gore, the death, the military tactics, and everything else— shows that it is not simple and definitely not a thing to be taken lightly. Remarque has captured what war must be like for all who ever had to experience it.