The Effect of War on Soldiers
Imagine going from sunshine and blue skies to bullets buzzing overhead with death all around you. World War 1 was one of the most horrific and inhumane wars that the United States has ever fought. As a result, young naive soldiers went through tragic experiences that will forever haunt them. War changes people inside and out, these soldiers go from young men to harden veterans, the horrors of the war forced these soldiers to develop an animalistic instinct for their overall survival. Throughout the novel, “All Quiet on the Western Front” author Erich Maria Remarque goes into detail revealing his belief that war is brutal and inglorious causing the loss of humanity and loss of innocence on the young soldiers.
Remarque develops various themes throughout the text, the strength of themes are very strong due to the many rhetorical devices used. Imagery is one of them, he uses this to try to depict the graphics of war for the reader, also he wants to convey his audience of the physical and psychological impact that war has on humanity. A theme that appeared frequently is loss of humanity, the soldiers are compared to animals and savages at times because of the hardships of war. This instinct is crucial to their survival, they learn to kill anything in sight because of the danger and threat that that one could possess towards their group. “ We have lost all feeling for one another. We can hardly control ourselves when our glance lights on the form of some other man. We are insensible, dead men, who through some trick, some dreadful magic, are still able to run and to kill.” Paul displays his realization in this quote, He is finally aware that war is real and the effects it is having on them. They have completely lost their emotions towards any type of life form, most importantly there humanity is gone and now their animals sitting on the front line killing anything and everything.
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War transformed the soldiers into wild beasts. Acting like a wild beast increased the soldiers chance of survival. Remarque uses a simile to highlight a central theme in the novel. The soldiers develop into animals because of the harsh reality of war. “We have become wild beasts. We do not fight, we defend ourselves against annihilation. It is not against men that we fling our bombs, what do we know of men in this moment when death with hands and helmets is hunting us down – now, for the first time in three days we can see his face, now, for the first time in three days we can oppose him; we feel a mad anger. No longer do we lie helpless, waiting on the scaffold, we can destroy and kill, to save ourselves, to save ourselves and be revenged.” This relates to many different themes in the book mainly loss of humanity. Paul sees that they have reached the point that they are not even fighting for a cause anymore but fighting to stay alive. Out on the battlefield it’s survival of the fittest, emotions don’t come into play. You kill anything that wants to kill you.
The horrors of war take a toll on the soldiers mentally and physically, living in trenches and eating rats just to survive puts you into some mental state of mind. These men were no older than maybe 21 years old, they were thrown into battle having to fend for themselves. As soon as they left their homes all of them were exposed to darkness and violence most of them have never even been exposed to such. “I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another.” Paul comes to his senses knowing that he went from being so innocent to killing one another because that’s what they were put there to do. He knows nothing but war, being scared and wondering when his final hours will be. The loss of innocence almost becomes immediate in war, as soon as you pick up that rifle you have to the choice to defend yourself or let someone take your life willingly.
The experiences that these soldiers went through turned them mentally old, they have experienced so much that they all feel old inside but young on the outside. “We are forlorn like children, and experienced like old men, we are crude and sorrowful and superficial—I believe we are lost.” This quote sets an attitude to the audience, there so innocent there are yet to even live life. Pauls says that they are lost, most of them don’t even know why they are fighting. The war has destroyed a whole generation of men basically leaving them lost, disconnected from the real world. They know nothing but war because that’s all they have experienced. Even if they come out alive at the end they are all forever changed from everything seen and being done for their survival and just the actions of war in general.
Being so young and having to go to war makes you forget about your childhood and forms you into your adulthood. These men have yet to even love life, nor haven’t they grown up yet. “We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces. The first bomb, the first explosion, burst in our hearts. We are cut off from activity, from striving, from progress. We believe in such things no longer, we believe in the war.” This statement is so powerful and has so many different directions to it. Being young and innocent you get to dream and strive for things when you become older, but not from these soldiers. The war has ruined everything for them. All these men know is blood, sweat and tears. They know nothing of what it feels like to actually be alive all of them are dead inside.