We stood on the threshold of life
And so it would seem
We had as yet taken no root
The war swept us away
For the others, the older men,
It is but an interruption, they are able to think beyond it
We, however, have been gripped by it
And do not know what the end may be
We know only
That in some strange and melancholy way
We have become a wasteland
What does war do to a man? It destroys his inner being; it crushes hope; it kills him. Experiencing battle leaves only the flesh of a man, for he no longer has a personality; it leaves a wasteland where a vast field of humanity once was. Through the main character, Paul Baumer, the reader experiences the hardships and consequences of war. During the course of the war, Paul reflects on how the young men involved in the war have no future left for them, they've become a "lost generation." Paul feels that his generation has "become a wasteland" because the war has made him into a thoughtless animal, because he knew nothing before the war, and because the war has shown the cheapness of human life.
Throughout the novel, Paul must face dangerous tasks. For example, in chapter nine Paul crawls through No Man's Land to gather information about enemy forces. While in No Man's Land, the enemy begins to bombard the Germans. Paul, fearing death, hides in an old shell crater and pretends to be dead. While feigning death, an enemy soldier enters the crater. Paul quickly reacts and strike at the enemy with his dagger, fatally wounding the soldier.
In a later chapter, Paul explains why he reacted so quickly. War has turned all the soldiers into "unthinking animals in order to give us the weapon of instinct." This primal instinct is one of survival; it is the only thing that matters during war. It allows the soldiers to remain calm in battle, it allows them to escape solitude, and aids them in survival. "As in a polar expedition, every expression of life must serve only the preservation of...