War Dehumanization in All Quiet on The Western Front

Published: 2021-06-19 01:30:04
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“If you think of humanity as one large body, then war is like suicide, or at best, self mutilation”( Jerome Crabb). Paul Baumer, the protagonist of All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque fulfills his understanding of Jerome Crabb’s quote after experiencing everything war has to offer. In the novel, Paul truly experiences what being in war can physically and mentally do to not only a man, but their families as well. It is apparent that Erich Maria Remarque had Paul Baumer face various horrifying situations while at the front to make a powerful statement against war and everything associated with it.
Throughout the book, Remarque uses implicit statements to help prove his argument in a myriad of ways. The statements Remarque includes in the novel cohere with one another to show that war dehumanizes the soldiers who choose to enlist into it. Through the implicit language and arguments used, the dehumanization effect war brought upon the soldiers is illustrated as an unbreakable force that takes no pity on the soldiers at the front. It greatly affects the soldiers physically, mentally, and even psychologically.
Erich Maria Remarque shows that war has a dehumanizing effect on the men even to the point of being compared to savages by using point of view, literary devices and imagery. By applying the points of view of the distinct characters in his novel, Remarque is able to implicitly make the argument that war dehumanizes the soldiers in every way possible. Because of the usage of point of view, the argument trying to be proven is seen through a clearer outlook since a single character’s personality does not affect the argument of war dehumanizing the men.
Conventional human characteristics, for example the significance of education, have seemed to be lost completely due to war. When discussion arises between Paul and his comrades about their aspirations after war, the men come to realize that they have forgotten most of what their schoolmaster Kantorek had taught them back in school which was really not that long ago. Paul even considers the school lessons they received back as civilians to be “rot”(86). The word choice Paul uses sort of gives off a supercilious tone on education.
Paul’s tone on the topic illustrates that he sees little or no value in the education he learned from his schoolmasters. Obviously, education is seen as an extremely important part of humanity of the soldiers but since Paul is devaluing education, he is essentially devaluing humanity as well. Adding onto Paul’s depreciation of education at the front, as Leer, one of his closest comrades is killed, Paul comes to the understanding that being “such a good mathematician at school” served Leer no good while fighting on the front (284). The realization he made is that war does not take pity for people who are well educated.
Paul feels that war cares nothing of education since Leer’s mathematics skills were not able to help him survive the bombardment and therefore, the education used on Leer served of very little use for him since he was not able to survive the wrath of war. This experience displays to Paul that only instinct can help to survive being at the front. Solely using instinct to survive is a characteristic only vital to animals and because Paul exhibits this characteristic, Remarque is implying that all soldiers act based off of instinct.. It is in essence showing that the soldiers in way are at a level comparable to various animals.
Yet another point of view Remarque incorporates to illustrate animal like qualities in the soldiers is that of Albert Kropp. In this instance, Kropp is badly hurt with an amputated leg. He no longer sees the value of enduring the strong pain as he tells Paul that he will “shoot himself the first time he can get a hold of his revolver”(261). By devaluing his own life, Kropp has shown to the readers that war has destroyed his own humanity since life is one of the most important values in humanity. Without the virtue of humanity, Kropp and many other soldiers that find themselves in similar situations can be compared to animals.
The points of view from Albert and Paul all are brought together to show the dehumanization effect war causes since the men are no longer caring for their humanity. Also, literary devices integrated in the novel cohere with each other to furthermore show how the soldiers at war become less and less human everyday. As the soldiers fall in line for breakfast to receive their normal amount of rations, the sergeant cook is shocked to see that only 80 of the men survived the heavy attack from the previous day. He unwittingly made enough food for the 150 men but because nearly half of them had died, the cook finds himself with an overload of food.
Because of the massive surplus, the soldiers in line for breakfast plead their case to the cook that they should receive double rations for the day. At first, the cook is hesitant to comply with the soldier’s orders thinking “Eighty men can’t have what is meant for a hundred and fifty”(5). The literary device shown here is irony as after persuading the cook for double rations, the Second Company which came back 80 strong has no difficulty consuming all of the leftover food meant for the other soldiers who were not as lucky to survive.
After receiving and consuming the extra food, the soldiers showed no remorse of the fact that they were eating their fellow dead soldier’s breakfast. The only emotion they felt was satisfaction in their bellies. The men usually receive minimal food at the front so they quickly snap at the opportunity to receive an extra ration despite it being meant for the dead soldiers. This quality the men portray is one similar to animals as animals also snap at any opportunity to get food even if it is at an expense of another animal. They only think of what they can do for them to be better off and in this case, the soldiers are doing the same.
Another literary device Remarque uses to confirm his argument is symbolism. As Paul and his comrades crowd around Kemmerich’s bed at the hospital, they notice that Kemmerich’s leg has been amputated. Out of the group, Kemmerich has the most comfortable boots and Muller takes note of that. Considering the fact that Kemmerich will no longer be able to wear the boots, Muller desperately wants them to replace his worn out uncomfortable boots. At first, Paul wanted Kemmerich to keep and die with the boots still in his possession but he comes to realize that “only the facts are real important for [them], And good boots are scarce”(21).
Since Kemmerich is close to death, Paul thinks of the value of the boots and where they are most needed without the realization that they are a prized possession of his dying comrade Kemmerich. War has really dehumanized the men as their value system has changed for the worse and the boots represent how much more they care for things that could make them better off rather than the life of a good friend. All in all, the literary devices used in the book help make a valid claim that war has a dehumanizing effect on the soldiers.
By applying imagery, Remarque shows the soldiers in war are dehumanized to a level that can be compared to animals. The soldiers find themselves resorting to their animal like instincts to help stay alive which make them lose all human characteristics by fighting in the war. Following Paul’s leave from the front, he serves some time as a prison guard watching over the Russian prisoners and unintentionally compares the prisoners to animals describing them as “meek, scolded, St. Bernard dogs” and “they seem nervous and fearful”(189). St. Bernard dogs are defined as generally very large working dogs originally bred for rescue.
The word choice of “meek” and scolded” certainly do not match the definition of St Bernard dogs as rescue dogs have to be assertive and praised. Paul is hinting to the fact that because of the harsh conditions the prisoners are forced to endure, they have been ever since going through a long stint of dehumanization. The Russian prisoners also “slink about [the] camp and pick over the garbage tins”(189). Slinking around the enemy camp suggests that the prisoners are trying to scavenge any left food in a stealthy manner trying their best not be noticed by the others.
This tactic is very similar to how various animals capture their prey so war has actually animalized the prisoners. Also, the Russians result to picking through garbage cans to try and find leftover bread crumbs. Searching through garbage cans for food is certainly the last resort for food but war has dehumanized the men to the extent where all they care about is surviving. If it means eating out of the garbage can, they will do so. These two instances show how animalistic war can make men become.
By incorporating character point of view, literary devices and distinct imagery, Remarque shows that war has not only dehumanized the soldiers but animalized them as well. Remarque is able to implicitly show just how dehumanizing war can be to anyone that is absorbed into it. It truly destroys the humanity in all men that comes in it’s way. Time and time again, Remarque pleads his case of how fighting in war and being at the front can over time make a man less than a human being and closer to an animal due to the loss of many values of humanity. His argument in the novel is quite specific and strong but it is certainly valid.

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