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Topic: "All Quiet on the Western Front" - Chapters 1-6

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Rick B. (bup) - ,
Subject: "All Quiet on the Western Front" - Chapters 1-6
Date Posted: 8/23/2009 11:10 PM ET
Member Since: 11/2/2007
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This thread is for discussion of the first six chapters of All Quiet on the Western Front (or, in a more literal translation, "Nothing New in the West").

A couple of questions occurred to me in these chapters:

Is it significant that the book follows the life of a German soldier in particular? Would the book have been as effective if we were reading about the experiences of a soldier in the allied forces?

Did anything in the first few chapters seem gratuitous at the time? By the end of chapter 6, did you still think they were gratuitous, or was it more justified?

Recently Great Britain lost its last army veteran of World War One. Did that affect your reading? I was thinking about the fact that there are no veterans left who fought in the trenches, as the protagonist Paul Baeumer did. In just the last couple of years, this experience has moved out of living memory.

Maybe my questions are leading. So be it. When other people weigh in with their thoughts (on anything in the first six chapters, whether they have to do with my questions or not), I'll expound on my thoughts.

Date Posted: 8/24/2009 8:36 PM ET
Member Since: 12/27/2007
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Your first question:  Is it significant that the book follows the life of a German soldier in particular?  Please consider that I am not particularly a history buff, but (ignorant me, perhaps), I don't think that it's significant.  I believe that the ideas expressed are, perhaps, universal for many soldiers.  I tried some of the thoughts from the book out on my husband who was in Viet Nam.  However, I didn't get much of a reaction from him--this is something that he seldom chooses to talk about. 

I couldn't help but think, as I read the first half of this book, about its being banned in Nazi Germany.  However, I think that is just that the Nazis (and this reminds me of the Soviets during the Cold War) not wanting  anything negative (such as no one should think that every soldier was not fighting because he believed in the cause).  My guess is that the Nazis would not want these thoughts in the heads of anyone who might not already possess the thought.s.  There is certainly no patriotism in Paul's thoughts and many times he compares the enemy to himself and his friends as being the same.

Even though I certainly know the word gratuitous, I looked it up again to try to understand your question.  Do you mean that the thoughts expressed by Paul were unwarranted?  Or, perhaps do you mean some of the actions taken by Paul and his friends were unwarranted?   I can't answer that because I'm not quite sure of your meaning here.

Until you mentioned it, I didn't have any thoughts about the last WW I veteran dying recently, and I'm a little embarassed that I didn't. 

I did mark some of the following thoughts by Paul as, at least, ideas that I've gotten from movies and books.  Please someone who has been in the military respond, as well as others.

1.  The idea that "the more insignificant a man has been in civil life the worse it takes him."  (having to do with authority going to one's head)

2. "It is an Iron law that the soldier must be employed under every circumstance."  (My husband did agree with that one.)

3.  The idea that the newer soldiers were more likely to be killed because of lack of training or experience.  I would hope that they are trained better, but this has the ring of truth to it.  Someone tell me that it's incorrect.

4.  The disillusionment of Paul (and if he is speaking for most young soldiers).  There seems to be no patriotism--just doing what must be done.

Those are just bits and pieces that I marked as I was reading.

 

Date Posted: 8/24/2009 8:39 PM ET
Member Since: 3/27/2009
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Is it significant that the book follows the life of a German soldier in particular? Would the book have been as effective if we were reading about the experiences of a soldier in the allied forces?

Actually, I had to remind myself that this was the German side and WWI not the allies in WWII because it reminded me of Band of Brothers. To me it just reinforced that  German, French, Brit, American, they were young men with the similar dreams, desires as any western young men. Very quickly I stopped caring what "side" they were on. I just wanted them to live.

Did anything in the first few chapters seem gratuitous at the time? By the end of chapter 6, did you still think they were gratuitous, or was it more justified?

The gore for some might be gratuitious but that's what makes it a powerful read. Nothing is watered down nor should it be.



Last Edited on: 8/24/09 8:39 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Rick B. (bup) - ,
Date Posted: 8/24/2009 9:58 PM ET
Member Since: 11/2/2007
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Interesting. The questions, of course, are just supposed to be springboards. Anyone's welcome to talk about anything.

The reason I thought it was significant that he was German was not actually that he was German. I thought it was significant, at least in my mind, that Paul and his comrades were on the losing side. And that's not a spoiler, everybody knows that Germany lost . So the cause they are risking their lives for, and Kemmerich dies for in the 2nd chapter, was lost. For me, at least, if I had been reading about French or British soldiers, I'd have had a different outlook.

And here's what I was thinking about with the gratuitous question - early in the book, there's an idyllic discussion, almost a paean - about going to the bathroom with your fellow soldiers. At the time it struck me as...odd. He mentioned that compared to other things they had to go through, though, there was nothing unpleasant about it. Then the next several chapters proved it. The ways in which people died, and the horror of the injuries, and even the rats eating their food, really demonstrated that communal 'going' was a relative highpoint in their lives.

Vivian - I really liked that truism too - "the more insignificant a man has been in civil life the worse it takes him." My wife says that as, "those with just a little power really like to wield it."

Date Posted: 8/25/2009 12:07 AM ET
Member Since: 4/4/2009
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I was in Nam. 11 June 66-25 May 67. Alpha Battery, 6th Bn, 71st Arty. Qui Nhon. I don't mind reading about, talking about, etc. any other war. Books, movies, etc, abut Nam is different. They cause me to have bad dreams, remember things I spent many years working to forget.
That said:

1. To me, he could have been German, Russian, Pole, Brit. I can't see the difference. The French didn't win; look what happened to the Brits at Gallipoli. etc.

2. What is gratituitous, what is not? That was done pretty well, I thought. At least 90% of what goes on in a soldier's life in combat is very very boring.

3. Soldiers from one war, from the next, the ones being fought now. What difference does it make? All wars are the same, just like all wars are different.

Patriotism gets mentioned several times. I guess I never knew anyone who was patriotic. I don't know. I don't think soldiers fight for love of country. They think at first they are fighting for some cause of another. I learned pretty fast that everything my government and my leaders had told me was lies. It didn't take much longer than that to figure out that the other side wasn't either. So what do you do then? You just make sure you don't let your buddies down. A lot of them you don'tlike. A few you have no respect for. That doesn't make much difference.

4. New soldiers are much more likely to be killed. They haven't learned small but important survival tactics yet. Short timers are the most likely of all to be killed. They start thinking about home and don'tpay attention. High command learned soon about this and even when I was in Nam, very early in the war, they were taking conscious steps to keep short timers in low risk jobs the last month.

Date Posted: 8/25/2009 1:22 AM ET
Member Since: 6/29/2008
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I think it would have been a whole different book if it was written from the perspective of, say, an American soldier.  Even 
though Paul and his friends were not in Germany, they were able to get on a train and within so many hours be back home.
I think the view would have been different in some aspects if the soldiers were so much further from their home soil.

 

Rick B. (bup) - ,
Date Posted: 8/25/2009 7:42 AM ET
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John: New soldiers are much more likely to be killed. They haven't learned small but important survival tactics yet.

Is that what it is? Paul says it a few times, but I wondered if it went more like this: some people are born with the right instincts, or good reflexes, and some aren't, for surviving in a war. After those without the instincts get killed, you'd be left with those with the instincts. Did they learn anything? Not really - it was there all along.

But I'm asking honestly - I haven't been in a war, and I don't know. Is it a process of learning?

So it doesn't matter whether the 'cause' they were fighting for was doomed. OK. I completely get that very quickly you realize you aren't fighting for a cause, and neither are the soldiers on the other side.



Last Edited on: 8/25/09 7:47 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 8/25/2009 12:23 PM ET
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One quick comment during my break--I really did not want to read this book and almost decided to skip it.  However,  I am definitely enjoying this discussion and the book is interesting also.  I'm dying to finish it quickly to join the other discussion, but I've got to finish Three Cups of Tea for a book group tomorrow night.  Then, I'll join the second discussion.

Date Posted: 8/25/2009 10:55 PM ET
Member Since: 4/4/2009
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Rick,  On new soldiers: I really think the major factor is that the soldiers that are already there are slow to bond with new ones, and this leaves the new ones with no one to "watch their back." 

And about the disillousionment: [sp?]  There was one other thing, we all picked up on quickly. We learned we had a whole lot more in common with Charley than we had with our generals back in Saigon. You know Donavan's great war song, "The Universal Soldier"? [yeah, I do know that Buffy St. Marie actually wrote it]

and one more thing;

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! Don't for a minute think you missed a worthwhile experience, or whatever. Let me tell you this. I never saw a man that war didn't change. And I never saw a man who war improved.

Date Posted: 8/26/2009 2:19 AM ET
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John, thanks for that parting thought.  It'll stay with me as much as the book did.

Rick B. (bup) - ,
Date Posted: 8/26/2009 7:58 AM ET
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Just looked up "The Universal Soldier." Wasn't familiar with it.

John, thanks especially for your comments in this discussion. It's immensely valuable to get opinions on the book from someone who's been in a war. And while I'm not wishing I'd been in a war, and I believe you that you never saw a man who war improved, wouldn't you acknowledge that great literature comes from experience? Maybe Hemingway romanticized it, but Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls are great, and would be inferior books if he hadn't been an ambulance driver in WWI. Remarque's book couldn't have existed if he hadn't fought in WWI.

On the other hand, I don't think Tolstoy ever saw action. And Stephen Crane didn't, although some people (not me) consider The Red Badge of Courage great. And I must acknowledge that Red Badge feels authentic, even if Crane never fought.



Last Edited on: 8/26/09 7:59 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 8/26/2009 3:25 PM ET
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Yes, John, I appreciate your comments as well. Reminded me of the first page of the book (before chapter 1):

"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 its shells, were destroyed by the war."

 

Date Posted: 8/26/2009 6:12 PM ET
Member Since: 3/27/2009
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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."

Based on this quote, when I started reading this book, I expected Remarque to depict war veterans' lives and their attempt at civilian life.

That's not exactly what he wrote about, now is it?

 



Last Edited on: 8/26/09 11:52 PM ET - Total times edited: 1