The books read in class: All Quiet on the Western Front (by Erich Maria Remarque), and Things Fall Apart (by Chinua Achebe), are books that both demonstrate the different reasons for why people engage in wars. People engage in wars for reasons such as their want to display patriotism, many others believe it is the right thing to do, and the last few do not know. As we come to understand through these two readings, there are many cases where two opposite groups of people fight for different causes under the same bond. Just like the example was given, “there are many ways to build a house,” if you fight over the tools used, you will not get it built. What I did understand from both books, is how both Okonkwo, from Things Fall Apart, and Paul Bäumer, from All Quiet on the Western Front, develop their identity through the dignity and honor from those who are around them.
The book All Quiet on the Western Front is told under the perspective of a 19 year old man named Paul Bäumer who fights for the German army during WWI on the French front. As we come to understand, it is because of “Kantorek, who preached us into enlisting,” that Paul and many of his friends voluntarily joined the army (Remarque 174). “Preaching” to the students the honor it would bring upon them to fight in the “glorious war,” the students become brainwashed, and a bandwagon is created which follows with them voluntarily enlisting themselves into the war including those students who wanted nothing to do with it. From having thought of the war as something glorious and wonderful, to living in pure and constant terror, Paul struggles to find the meaning of who he has now become and how the war has affected him. Coming to realize that, “if it has not been for Kantorek, Joseph Behm, (the boy who didn’t want to enlist) would have lived much longer” (Remarque 174) the boys are faced with the chilling reality that they could lose their lives. Taking him and his classmates 10 weeks to realize the empty cliche they have enlisted for, we come to see how war has yet again managed to mentally destroy a group of young men.
Explained in chapter 5, this generation of students was known as “the lost generation” which resulted in having had their heads filled up by Kantorek with views of nationalism. Nationalism being the self-centered believe that only ones country matters was at a spread. This resulted in not only Kantorek’s pressure for the boys to enlist but also pressure by their parents. It was thought of like if you did not enlist for the war, you were turning your back on your country. And the belief of going to war was the best thing a man can do for his country was pushed by all, teachers, schoolmasters and older men. As it was explained, “no one in particular wants it… we didn’t want the war and yet half the world is in it all the same time” (Remarque 206). Paul and his friends did not want to kill or be killed, but it was the same pressure of society telling them what to do that got them trapped into fighting. Again we see how patriotism for one’s own country overrules the sense, as Paul says, “I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another” he goes into combat and fights in action (Remarque 263). Opposed to Baumer, his friend who just merely follows instructions, now wanting to be there maintains to himself, does not express any ideas and continues going as he is pledging his allegiance to his country.