Study Guide

All Quiet on the Western Front Patriotism

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Chapter 1
Paul Bäumer

While they continued to write and talk, we saw the wounded dying. While they taught that duty to one's country is the greatest thing, we already knew that death-throes are stronger. (1.64)

If the soldiers don't buy the arguments and the words of their superiors, of the older generation, then why do they fight? If the "death-throes" are stronger than duty to one's country, then what does this war mean to the young men who fight in it? What are they fighting for?

We loved our country as much as they; we went courageously into every action; but also we distinguished the false from the true, we had suddenly learned to see. And we saw that there was nothing of their world left. (1.64)

How do these different generations love their country? What examples of this love do we see? Paul seems to be indicating that times have indeed changed, but that the older generation does not recognize this change. Do you think there is a similar rift between generations in today's world? How do these soldiers learn to distinguish the false from the true, and why is it important that they learn this skill?

Chapter 2
Paul Bäumer

We had fancied our task would be different, only to find we were to be trained for heroism as though we were circus-ponies. (2.5)

What does Paul mean by "circus-ponies"? We think he might be referring to the showy, performance nature of the circus. Their training was as much about the show of soldierly behavior as it was about teaching them actual tools and tips.

Chapter 6
Paul Bäumer

But we are swept forward again, powerless, madly savage and raging; we will kill, for they are still our mortal enemies; their rifles and bombs are aimed against us, and if we don't destroy them, they will destroy us. (6.79)

What is an "enemy"? In the context of this novel, the war makes the soldiers less human. If they ponder too long on the connections they feel to their enemies, they will get killed. In order to preserve their lives, they must become a little less human.

Chapter 7
Paul Bäumer

The days, the weeks, the years out here shall come back again, and our dead comrades shall then stand up again and march with us, our heads shall be clear, we shall have a purpose, and so we shall march, our dead comrades beside us, the years at the Front behind us: – against whom, against whom? (7.11)

What is Paul suggesting here? Who will march and what will they march for, exactly? The soldiers crave a sense of humanity. They do not seem to have a concrete reason compelling them to fight and to kill. The language is here is pretty strong. It almost reads like a famous speech. We could even imagine these words being spoken in more modern times.

On the platform I look round; I know no one among the people hurrying to and fro. A Red Cross sister offers me something to drink. I turn away, she smiles at me too foolishly, so obsessed with her own importance: "Just look, I am giving a solder coffee!" – She calls me "Comrade," but I will have none of it. (7.95)

Paul comes across many people who seem more concerned with the image of the war than the actuality of the war. A nun even, in this instance, is caught up in the performance of help. In what ways is the war Paul describes like a performance? In what ways is it not at all?

But we do not forget. It's all rot that they put in the war-news about the good humour of the troops, how they are arranging dances almost before they are out of the front-line. We don't act like that because we are in a good humour: we are in a good humour because otherwise we should go to pieces. If it were not so we could not hold out much longer; our humour becomes more bitter every month. (7.9)

Why do you think our narrator writes this account? We get the feeling he does so in order to prevent his own self from falling to pieces. He becomes a truth-teller, a journalist of sorts, documenting the real story of trench life. What would happen if the war-news depicted an accurate account of the war? Who exactly does not want the truth to come out?

[Paul's German master] dismisses the idea loftily and informs me I know nothing about it. "The details, yes," says he, "but this relates to the whole. And of that you are not able to judge. You see only your little sector and so cannot have any general survey. You do your duty, you risk your lives, that deserves the highest honour – every man of you ought to have the Iron Cross – but first of all the enemy line must be broken through in Flanders and then rolled up in the top." (7.169)

At this moment we realize that our narrator does indeed have a skewed vision of the war. He only knows his own experience. Paul's German master believes it is more important to have a large perspective on war than to only know the details. Do you agree? Is Paul's perspective too limited to be trustworthy?

Chapter 8
Paul Bäumer

It is strange to see these enemies of ours so close up. They have faces that make one think – honest peasant faces, broad foreheads, broad noses, broad mouths, broad hands, and thick hair.

They ought to be put to threshing, reaping, and apple-picking. They look just as kindly as our own peasants in Friesland. (8.11-12)

The more the soldiers find connections and a sense of humanity in their enemies, the harder it is for them to endure the war. Again, nature and farming imagery comes up in this moment. The French soldiers don't look like killers – they look like cultivators of the earth, people who bring about life, not death.

Chapter 9
Albert Kropp

"It's queer, when one thinks about it," goes on Kropp, "we are here to protect our fatherland. And the French are over there to protect their fatherland. Now who's in the right?" (9.35)

Kropp asks in a sense, "What is love?" or at least "What is love of country?" Does it come from the ideals put forth by intellectuals or people who fight because, if they don't, they die? Is it possible to love a country? Or hate one? Are the French more or less patriotic than the Germans? Does winning this war make the winner more or less patriotic?

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