“This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, at least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure for 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 its shells, were destroyed by the war.”
In All Quiet on the Western Front, it is what Remarque has done exactly – to tell of a generation of men who were forever scarred by the war. This harrowing account of the Frist World War, written from the point of view of a soldier, brings to life the destruction that is caused to those who are the first-hand victims – the soldiers. Perhaps, some may disagree with my calling them “victims”, but wouldn’t it be the near truth? Aren’t they the first people who have sacrificed their lives, ambitions, hopes, and above all, their youth? If they are not the victims of war, what are they? “I’m young, I’m twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow.” When they step on to the battlefield, all is lost to them forever. They may physically survive the war, but never emotionally. The scars, the ghosts will haunt them forever.
Remarque gives a nightmarish account of both the physical and mental traumas the soldiers go through. It is both horrifying and heartbreaking. I also had a very disturbing sleep overnight. Imagine, if a nearly truthful account of war can disturb one thus, how disturbing it might be to those who have faced it, every day? How hopeless they might feel life would be for them, even if they be lucky enough to live through it? ” We are not youth any longer. We don’t want to take the world by storm. We are fleeing. We fly from ourselves. From our lives. We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces.” And for what have they sacrificed their lives, hopes, dreams, and youth? There lies the unanswerable question? The most likely answer to be given would be through patriotism. If both factions of the war act out of patriotism, who is in the right? “We are here to protect our fatherland. And the French are over there to protect their fatherland. Now who’s in the right?” Who is in the right? The answer will always be subjective, but it can never be objective.
Remarque’s account of the gruesomeness of war, written about the First World War nearly a century ago, speaks true for all subsequent wars, be it world war or civil wars. The horrors of it and the subsequent mental destruction they caused on those directly connected with it are all factual certainties. If we are to avoid history being repeated, these factual certainties must be accepted. I think this is what Remarque wanted to tell the world, especially its rulers. But did they listen to him? Is anyone listening even now?