All Quiet On The Western Front

I first discovered this book in my teens — not because of any great literary pursuit but because I was fascinated by that dreadful World War that was supposed to put an end to these massive world conflicts.

I have just re-read it as a result of discovering vintage reprints by Random House.

It can be said that it isn't an enjoyable book, in fact, for the most part it is horrifying. Mud, gas, shrapnel, lice, hunger, cold and endless marching either advancing or retreating, lying partly submerged in water and mud, sometimes for days simply because the air was literally alive with lead and the lethal jagged shrapnel.

When I first read this book we were fighting the Germans and here was I, an impressionable teenager reading the words of a young German soldier suffering at the hands of the soldiers of the British Empire — and I rejoiced! As an adult I still struggle to come to terms with the indescribable horror of trench warfare. How anyone survived is a mystery to me.

The author, Erich Maria Remarque, was 16 when the Great War broke out and he was called up for service in 1916 and after training was sent to a position behind the Arras Front. During the Flanders campaign he was wounded, but survived to fight again. This is not an autobiography but a novel based on fact and the experiences of the author.

I continually wondered as I read how boys straight out of school managed to endure the conditions of war. When the Nazis came to power in 1933 Remarque's books were burned because Hitler and his cohorts deemed that this book was a betrayal of the front line soldier.

He was then deprived of his German citizenship. He became an American citizen in 1947 and died in Switzerland in 1970.

Brian Murdoch, professor of German at Stirling University shows us very clearly that war is not about heroism but about terror, either waiting for death or trying desperately to avoid it, even if it means killing a complete stranger to do so — about losing all human dignity and values.

Think about this when you attend our ANZAC Day commemoration and wonder why we are still allowing it to happen.


The Southland Times