All Quiet on the Western Front is a novel written by Erich Maria Remarque. This novel takes place during World War 1, also known as the Great War. This war was the first war to have advanced weaponry, and we hear how this war truly desensitized the troops and how it affected them beyond the war. In this text, we follow the story of a character named Paul, and his life before, during, and after the war. During the Great War, the troops were trained to be unattached while fighting, affecting not only how the war was fought but their entire lives.
When at war, the only thing our troops think about is survival. When it is either kill or be killed the troops become unattached to what is truly happening around them, and the actions that they are committing. Paul states “We have become wild beasts. We do not fight, we defend ourselves against annihilation. It is not against men that we fling our bombs, what do we know of men in this moment when death is hunting us down” (113). The troops did not see them fighting in the war as a fight, thy saw it as protection of themselves. This quote goes to show that sort of “masculine” ideology that was expected of the men that were pulled into battle. They were expected to be able to switch themselves into this sort of cut off from the truth state. They were expected to be able to look at murdering other men as a way of survival.
During the Great war, and other large wars that required many men to fight, most of the soldiers were young many. Many just barely 18, this was because they wanted younger and stronger men to fight, heightening the chances of victory. A little later on in the text Paul goes on to say “We are forlorn like children, and experienced like old men, we are crude and sorrowful and superficial- I believe we are lost” (123). This is a great representation of how the soldiers must have really felt during this time. They were all really young, just barely getting out in the world. They were hopeless like children, but they are expected to be experienced and mature like an older man. Being in the military, away at war, forced many soldiers to grow and mature at a rate they were not ready for. This can leave long term mental effects on a person, because their brain developed faster than it was ready to do so.
Being in a war can really mentally and emotionally scare someone. Seeing all of the terrible things that happens, seeing your friends and family being severely injured or killed, hearing the screams of those injured, seeing the look on your enemies face right before you kill them. There are many factors that contribute to the mental and emotional scaring of a soldiers, the ones listed are just a few. Survivors guilt is also another huge problem when surviving a war, Paul says “My state is getting worse, I can no longer control my thoughts…… The dead man might have had thirty more years of life if only I had impressed the way back to our trench more sharply on my memory” (222). Although soldiers are supposed to be cold, and disconnected from what happens while they are at war, it still plays a huge toll on them. In this part of the book Paul is talking about his survivor’s guilt, and his PTSD, which at the time was known as shell shock. He states that he cannot stop his thoughts, he thinks about the time that one of his men died. He blames himself for the death of the man, and he thinks that it’s his fault because he did not do a good enough job at remembering the path back to their trench. He blames himself, and finds himself constantly thinking about the man’s wife, and how if it wasn’t for him, the man that died would probably made it home to his wife, and lived a long happy life. Paul being stuck in his thoughts, and feeling guilty and having these post traumatic thoughts again go against the idea of being “masculine” because he was expected to be able to turn these thoughts and feelings off. Being “masculine” you do not think about the fallen, you do not think about what you could have done differently to save that life. You were expected to just move on with life like none of it ever happened.
During the Great war, the troops that went to battle were expected to be cut off from their feelings and thoughts. They were expected to become unattached from the actions that they were committing. For a lot of men this was the case, so much so that they started to question their entire lives, even from before the war, and especially after. When the men that survived got to go home, they felt uncomfortable and out of place, in the one place that they should have felt safe. A lot of the men that made it home were young when they got shipped off to war, so they knew no life outside of the one they lived while fighting. A lot of men were expected to not feel the mental and emotional effects that the war put on them, that is why PTSD was not known until years later. Paul is a great representation of the internal battle that these troops faced every day during and after the war. This story is a great representation of hos during the Great War, the troops were trained to be unattached while they were fighting in war, and how heavily the effects of the war weighed on them during, and way beyond their time fighting.