All Quiet on the Western Front
How we cite our quotes:
Kropp on the other hand is a thinker. He proposes that a declaration of war should be a kind of popular festival with entrance-tickets and bands, like a bull fight. Then in the arena the ministers and generals of the two countries, dressed in bathing-drawers and armed with clubs, can have it out among themselves. Whoever survives, his country wins. That would be much simpler and more just than this arrangement, where the wrong people do the fighting. (3.42)
Kropp makes us wonder what exactly war is and how it has changed over time. His description of what he believes war should be like reminds us of a Gladiator-like set-up – you know, the citizens watch as brave, Hulk-like people battle it out with tigers and lions. As silly as Kropp's idea is, he makes us think about the idea of fighting for one's country. Could there ever be such a thing as a contained war fought between decision-makers only? At this moment (and in many moments like it), it seems like the author's potential bias against the idea of war surfaces.
"Let a man be whatever you like in peace-time, what occupation is there in which he can behave like that without getting a crack on the nose? He can only do that in the army. It goes to the heads of them all, you see. And the more insignificant a man has been in civil life the worse it takes him." (3.55)
Kat suggests that the context of war lets men get away with behavior that would otherwise get them in major trouble. The hunger for power drives people to do crazy things. As much as we dislike Himmelstoss, we are kind of shocked by the way in which the soldiers beat him up. It seems a bit excessive to us.
"Then what exactly is the war for?" asks Tjaden.
Kat shrugs his shoulders. "There must be some people to whom the war is useful."
"Well, I'm not one of them," grins Tjaden.
"Not you, nor anybody else here." (9.51-54)
Who is World War I benefiting? It is interesting that the soldiers never hear (or at least our narrator never tells us that they hear) any inspiring or motivating speeches from superior officers about why they should fight. When we think about battles and about dying for one's country, we think about Braveheart or Henry's speeches to his men in Shakespeare's Henry V – you know, when the king tells his men "once more into the breech, dear friends, once more" (3.1). But we just don't hear anything inspiring in the world of this novel. Did the Kaiser (the German emperor), Wilhelm II, deliver any speeches or write anything that would answer Tjaden's question?