Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, talks about a soldier’s perspective and experiences of World War I. It is narrated through the first-person perspective of a soldier named Paul Bäumer, the novel allows the audience to see the benefits and drawbacks of the war. Mostly resulting in drawbacks, the readers see how people lose their lives and get severely injured.
In All Quiet on the Western Front, the reader reads about Paul’s friend passing away due to his amputated thigh. It’s a tear-jerking scene as it goes on to explain how Paul reacts, saying, “I tremble with rage as I go along with the orderly. The man looks at me and says: “… to-day alone there have been sixteen deaths- yours is the seventeenth. There will probably be twenty altogether-” I become faint, all at once I cannot do anymore. I won’t revile any more, it is senseless, I could drop down and never rise again. We are by Kemmerich’s bed. He is dead” (32). In this scene, Paul is angry with how passive the doctor acted. Even the reader feels upset at how the doctor behaved about Kemmerich’s death, and feels empathy for Paul. Losing a close friend can be scary and difficult to go through. Soldiers losing their limbs and dying, even while in the hospital, often happened during World War I. According to a eHISTORY article, “bloody fingers were often used as probes…doctors operated in pus stained coats. Everything about Civil War surgery was septic… If a soldier survived the table, he faced the awful surgical fevers. However, about 75% of amputees did survive” (Goellnitz). The Civil War was not too far from World War I, and not much had changed since the Civil War. Hygiene was still fairly neglected, as the correlation between infections that set quickly in the dirty hospitals and injuries and amputation procedures, weren’t thought of; and the tools used for amputations weren’t like the tools used today. In result, there were deaths in the hospital not only because of their injuries, but because of diseases in the hospital. Although 75% of amputees survived, there is still 25% that did not. Those that did not manage to live, were unable to contact their families and bid a final farewell. Their families must have anticipated their return, only to conclude that their loved one was not going to return from the war, either from waiting for weeks upon weeks, or from asking other soldiers about their loved one. It’s heartbreaking, but true. The many lives lost is a drawback from the war- any war- especially from World War I, as it was the war that had the largest numbers of injuries and deaths compared to other wars.
How it works
In the novel, it also describes a time where Paul and some of his soldier friends get to the front, and encounter shell bombings. It’s hectic and the reader feels the sense of urgency. After the gunshots and bombs finally quiet down and come to a stop, Paul and his comrades spot a recruit, hip covered in blood. Paul narrates, “We lay his hip bare. It is one mass of mince-meat and bone splinters. The joint has been hit. He won’t walk anymore” (71). Descriptive imagery is used, and paints a rather brutal image into the reader’s mind, causing the reader to shudder and feel remorse for the recruit, frightful at how badly he’s injured. Soldiers get severely injured, and most became handicapped because of the war. According to an article from the NCBI, “the First World War produced a huge number of disabled soldiers. During the war, surgeons realized that it was not enough to merely treat the limbs of the wounded soldiers; it was also necessary to train them to use their remaining abilities to their greatest capacity. Governments at the same time realized that such a high number of veterans created a financial burden, by entitling disabled veterans to full healthcare, raising the issues of social welfare” (Bonfiglioli S. et.al). The war caused many casualties, and many were injured to the point of becoming disabled. The aftermaths of the war not only included disabilities and pain, but also the realization for improvements of medical treatments and social welfare. Even though governments came to that realization, the fact there were many casualties in the war, leaving many unable to use parts of their body still stands. The process they had to go through when they were amputated was rather cruel, and one cannot imagine how painful it must have felt to have their limbs sawed off after they may have gotten shot from the battlefield. Such losses and pain proves how war is not a friendly battle, and seeing how it’s had such a negative impact on the soldiers, it’s seen as a major harmful drawback that war provides.
Although there are negative drawbacks of war, there are also some benefits to war. A benefit from the war includes improvements in medicine. As stated by an article from NCBI, “The last years (1917-1918) were marked by the arrival of the American Army in France, with a growing medical influence of American doctors. Oswald Robertson introduced the use of citrated blood in glass bottles, being subsequently called “the first blood banker”. Blood transfusion remained throughout the war infrequent and technically imperfect” (Aymard, Renaudier). Another article from NCBI states, “US Army Captain Oswald Hope Robertson showed that stored, syphilis-tested, universal donor whole blood could be given quickly and safely in forward medical units. With these demonstrations, the Royal Army Medical Corps adopted transfusion and declared it the most important medical advance of the war” (Stansbury, Hess). Blood transfusion is the process of transferring blood of one person, into the veins of another person. This method was used and somewhat refined during its use in World War I. After blood transfusion proved to be rather helpful in the medical field, it has been bettered throughout the years, and is now used in hospitals. Today, blood transfusion is much safer, and is given through an intravenous (IV) line. Without the use and slight improvement of blood transfusion during World War I, advances in the transfusion of blood may have came in later years, and the people of today may still be looking for ways to enhance its use. Therefore, wars can have benefits, one benefit being its result of medical advances.
Through the character Paul Bäumer, the reader sees the flaws of war. The loss of people, as well as those that get severely injured, are disadvantages of war. However, it is also seen that a benefit of war includes advances in medicine.