When I travel I tend to grab a shorter, paperback book that’s easy to pack and easy to read. For my trip to Birmingham, I nabbed a tattered copy of ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT out of my Little Free Library.
I’ve read a number of war novels and seen plenty of war movies, but this short, devastating novel is among the most powerful. Written by Erich Maria Remarque, a German soldier who served on the front in World War I, it launched a genre, was a bestseller around the world, and then banned and burned when Nazis came to power in Germany.
The novel is narrated by Paul Baumer and follows him and his mates through their horrific experiences in the trenches—the physical and mental anguish, the detachment from civilization, the transformation into what amounts to a wild, unfeeling animal who must kill or be killed. Blood, guts, violence, death, hunger, sickness, loneliness, fear—this novel launched a genre.
I would recommend this book to anyone who might need a reminder of the horrors of war.
I was much too young to serve in Vietnam, too old to register for the draft, and will likely never experience combat. Maybe that is why when I read war novels or watch war movies, I’m always trying to put myself into the situation. How would I handle it? Would I charge the enemy machine-gun nest or hide in a hole? I’d like to think I would display the necessary mettle, but probably because I too would dissociate from myself and my life and simply exist and act as the moment demands. What about you?
In another powerful depiction of war, the limited series Band of Brothers, a lieutenant told one of his frightened soldiers the secret to performing in combat was to accept the fact you were already dead. Perhaps the secret to life as well?