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All Quiet On The Western Front

by

Erich Maria Remarque

All Quiet On The Western Front
average rating is 4 out of 5

War, Classics, Historical Fiction

R. Alex Jenkins

I class this book as dystopia even though it’s classified as historical fiction on events that took place during World War I. It’s dystopia because it comes across as a doomed sort of sick fantasy. It’s dystopia because of the amount of suffering and injustice that took place in a locked society with no immediate escape.


The narrative is oddly entertaining and depressing at the same time. Could that be a definition for war?


I soon found out this much - terror can be endured so long as a man simply ducks - but it kills if a man thinks about it.


Ignorance is bliss.


In stalemates between warring countries, once it’s all over, generals march their troops back home to calculate their next move and dwell on historical lessons about what really happened. The WW1 armistice was signed in 1918 and Germany rolled its troops back home, waited a full generation until 1939 and then unleashed blitzkrieg hell over Europe. We must never let that happen again!


I didn't expect a book published in 1928 to be as graphic and shocking as this! It's an entertaining read from a first-person German soldier perspective, almost like a diary, written by a person roped into a war that he doesn’t care about. The only reason he kills is because he has no choice. He’s more interested in getting a new pair of boots, finding decent food to eat and ridding himself of lice, getting away from the front line, feeling warm and dry again and catching up with his remaining buddies, as much more important than winning, losing or how many metres of territory can be gained this month.


Just ordinary young men with regular lives and families who want nothing to do with any of it. I’m sure thousands of men and women feel this way right now around the world?


If you like historical fiction and the crazy logic behind war, this is a total recommendation. Not only that, it’s free on Amazon if you hunt around.


The writing style is a little old-fashioned and loose in places, but the contents are shocking for multiple reasons:


- The average age of German soldiers in WWI was 19-ish, sometimes considered the loneliest period of a person’s life. A time when you’re no longer a child, but neither have enough memories or experience to understand what’s going on.


- Horses died in their droves because they weren’t able to take cover or use similar precautions. Basically, lumps of meat ready for shrapnel shredding.


- The use of gas ensured agonising death through burned-out lungs. I am British and I always thought the Germans launched the gas at us? We were just as bad as each other.


- This really did happen. Millions of men were chucked into a switched-on blender-type environment to see who would come out best. No one!


- The realisation that there is no personal God in the way we imagine. A German bullet aimed at your head flies as fast and true as its British counterpart, each man praying to the same God for equal success, unaware that God isn't able to grant bias in any particular way.


We are here to protect our fatherland, and the French are over there to protect theirs. Who is in the right?


- The way soldiers were wounded, patched up, classified as A1 fit again and then sent back to the front to most likely die.


- And so on… legs blown off, men left to bleed to death in no-man’s land - horribly wounded, men pissing in metal cans for enough coolant for machine guns, guts spewing out, filth and rats, naive recruits massacred in their droves - “when these peasants are excited, they have a curious expression, a mixture of cow and yearning god, half stupid and half rapt.” - plus mortars, splinters, bombs, bullets and four years of endless conflict and death.


All Quiet On The Western Front is an entertaining book about humans and how stupid we often are.


Is war necessary? Does it help to whittle down burgeoning populations, delineate territories and enable us to vent off steam from a hierarchical and observational perspective? I don’t know, but I know it sucks!

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