Historical Accuracy Of Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet On The Western Front
The novel All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque is about Paul Baumer, a young German soldier, who is fighting on the French front during World War I. World War I was a war between the Central powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire) and the Allied powers (Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Romania, Japan and the United States). Due to new technologies and advanced warfare, World War I produced enormous amounts of destruction and chaos. World War I would result in millions of deaths and would come to an end with the Treaty of Versailles. All Quiet on the Western Front which is narrated by Paul Baumer chronicles his day to day experiences between him and his comrades from their first few days after enlisting, until the moments they pass away. Compared to actual events that took place in real life, the events in All Quiet on the Western Front are very accurate as they detail the technological advancements in the war, daily life, perceptions of the war, living conditions, and the amount of death during the war.
For example, the book is almost the same as in real life when military technology is concerned. In the late 19th century, machine guns and gas masks were introduced along with the idea of trench warfare. Additionally, trench warfare and machine guns went hand in hand as soldiers were meant to dig trenches and have machine guns placed around which would defend them in case of an attack and often times, these trenches were used to hide and wait out an ambush. This is very close to All Quiet on the Western Front because in chapter six Baumer states “Day after day passes. At night I squat in the listening-post. Above me the rockets and parachute lights shoot up…”. This quote demonstrates how they would be attacked at with newly advanced military tactics and that the only way they survived them was through trench warfare. For instance, they would be attacked for days by new weapons and in order to combat them, sometimes they would shoot back with their guns but most of the time they would wait it out in the trenches or hideouts.
In addition to military technology, All Quiet on the Western Front is very authentic in terms of the daily activities of a soldier. For instance, many soldiers would seek pleasure in smoking and they would meet food shortages quite frequently. In real life, Germany introduced many regulations on food production which ended up hurting their food supply more and which helped create more shortages. Both of those examples are illustrated in the novel as the soldiers cherish their rations of cigars and cigarettes and use them as valuable trade assets, and Baumer says, “At last we put a stop to it. We cannot afford to throw the bread away, because then we should have nothing left to eat…”. This quote shows that times are very tough and the soldiers must use their supplies wisely because food is scarce and hard to come by. Additionally, when Kat and Baumer feast on the goose in chapter 5, they savor it and enjoy every bit of it. This goes to show that food was so scarce that when they come across good, high quality food, they must embrace and appreciate it because they do not know how much food they will receive. Moreover, All Quiet on the Western Front which is accurate in terms of military warfare and daily life, also shows that it is very accurate in the mental picture it paints of recruits and soldiers. In the beginning of the war and the novel, soldiers were motivated to fight in the war for love of their country and for the will for victory. In the first stages, it felt like Germany was fighting a defensive war, but as it progressed, soldiers began to realize that it was not an equally defensive war and in fact, Germany was on the defensive. This means that they were tricked into thinking the war was an even and hard fight but in reality, Germany was losing and was fighting hard for a chance to win. This caused many high-ranking officials and soldiers to call for compromise and peace while also denouncing politicians. This is reflected in All Quiet on the Western Front as in the beginning of the war, Paul and company are encouraged to fight by Kantorek and are proud to be fighting for Germany and in the war. However, by chapter 9, a perception alteration can be seen as all the men are discussing why the war is so pointless and useless. “Then what exactly is the war for?” asks Tjaden “There must be some people to whom the war is useful. ”. From this quote, there is obviously a new mentality present. No longer are the soldiers proud to be fighting for their country but they are now tired of it and view it as worthless as the fighting would not solve anything according to them, which is very similar to the beliefs of actual soldiers during the war.
Additionally, All Quiet on the Western Front is also historically accurate in its description of living conditions for soldiers. During the war, trenches were extremely dirty. They tended to be muddy with many dead bodies piled up around and they had dirty and overfilled latrines. Adding onto the barbaric conditions stated earlier, trenches were infested with rats and lice which made living extremely difficult. To make matters worse, soldiers spent most of their time in these trenches under unsanitary living conditions and very high risks of disease. These horrible conditions are depicted very accurately in the novel. For instance, on pages 101-102 Paul says “We must look out for our bread. The rats have become much more numerous. . . The rats here are particularly repulsive, they are so fat-”. In the scene, Paul and his comrades discover a grimy and extreme rat problem in the trenches. The men had finally had enough of the rats eating their food and running amuck in their cabin, so they plan to lay traps and kill them. Compared to the real life rat problem, the one described in the novel is spot on. Additionally, living conditions in real life suffered with a lice infestation, as did the soldiers. Chapter five of the novel opens with the men killing lice and it is described in great detail. For example, “The little beasts are hard and the everlasting cracking with one’s fingernails very soon becomes wearisome. ” This quote illustrates how filthy the trenches are as the men are cleaning their things of lice as it becomes apparent that they are infested.
Finally, All Quiet on the Western Front is very authentic in its death rates and the frequency of death. It is estimated that slightly over 2 million German soldiers died in World War I . This is a very large figure and it would suggest that the rate of death was also very high which would justify the rate of death being as high as it was in the novel. In one of the earliest scenes in the novel, Franz Kemmerich, one of Paul’s friends dies. This acts as a preface and a warning as to everything which will unfold. When Paul and Albert are placed in the hospital, Paul notices that “Every two or three hours the vessel is emptied. Other men lie in stretching bandages… And this is only one hospital, one single station; there are hundreds of thousands in Germany”. This quote demonstrates that there is death and havoc everywhere and it may look bad here but the damage is multiplied since other places are just like this hospital. Finally, to reinforce the idea of frequent death which is very accurate to real life, him and his comrades all die one by one which shows just how rapid the death rate was during battle which is very similar to real life.
Therefore, All Quiet on the Western Front is historically accurate as it does correspond to beliefs at the time. All Quiet on the Western Front is historically authentic in it’s addressing of the day-to-day experiences of German soldiers because it is accurate in terms of technological advancements, daily routines, perceptions, living conditions and death rates which fell into a day-to-day experience for a soldier.
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