A review in a magazine for MBA-aspirants goaded me to read this book. If that review was available online I would have one incentive less to write this one. But then, reviews also have an individuality. My perception of a book, a movie or a person is definitely going to be different from that of another fellow. In that sense let me call this my view of this book.
As the book mentions, the author himself has been in combat during World War I. He has faced life at the war front and has been through the vicissitudes of wars, especially of the magnitude of World Wars. "All Quite on the Western Front" is narrated by Paul. Paul and his friends have been enlisted in the military, part forcibly to escape the guilt of being a deserter and traitor (sitting at home while the country is at war) and part out of the youthful exuberance to do something for the country and earn a name for themselves.
During school, their teacher preaches them lofty ideals about service to the nation et al. The youngsters look up to these teachers as their role models. It is only after they reach the army do they realize the hollowness and shallowness of it all.
The book is a masterpiece in that it uses the simplest of words to reveal the deepest of emotions.
"All Quite...." is a story of how tender children turn into expert military men and then into animals as they go from the safety of their mother's protection to the military bases to the war front. How youngsters are sent to the war front only to be used as canon fodder and nothing else. How emotions and pragmatism (bordering on selfishness and cruelty) act like two sides of a audio cassette. How the military man suffer from all kinds of mental trauma which results in their death or worse, getting maimed. How patriotism and jingoism seem like words from a foreign language and ideals seems like a cuss word when you have an enemy waiting to shoot you before you shoot him. How battle hardened soldiers find it hard to fit in any other mould. How they fear to even think about the good things in life, lest they lose the will power to fight. How the decisions, be it declaration of war or that of ceasefire, are taken by politicians and others in the higher echelons of power but leave the dirty job of implementation to the innocent and disinterested hoi polloi.
Erich has, laid bare the worst horrors of war in the most lucid words. It is a pity that human beings still do not understand that fight for their fatherland or motherland boils down to the simple expedient of managing to snatch the next breath from death itself. To quote two of the many pieces of gems in the book,
"In the outword form of our life we are hardly distinguishable from Bushmen; but whereas the latter can be so always, because they are so truly, and at best may develop further by exertion of their spiritual forces, with us it is the reverse; our inner forces are not exerted towards regeneration, but towards degeneration. The Bushmen are primitive and naturally so, but we are primitive in an artificial sense, and by virtue if the utmost effort."
"If your own father came over...you would not
hesitate to throw a bomb at him."