Erich Maria Remarque and the Nature of War

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Erich Maria Remarque and the Nature of War David Lark – World History 2 Unlike truly historical works emphasizing the human side of war, for example, Cornelius Ryan’s The Longest Day or A Bridge Too Far, in which the author provides highly detailed accounts of historical events through the eyes of participants leading to an objective treatment and analysis of those events, Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front is a novelization of the experience of German soldiers in World War I. Remarque thus follows a literary line which includes William Shakespeare’s Henry V, Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and extends through cinematic efforts such as “The Big Red One” and “The Hurt Locker”, which utilize historical context in order to examine the transformative nature of war on those most intimately involved. Each work examines a central theme, e.g., patriotism, cowardice, social change, brotherhood, etc., interwoven with and supported by details of various wars. The particular details chosen by the authors, with the possible exception of Tolstoy who seemingly left nothing out of his opus, are those lending support to that central theme. Thus, to understand the process used by Remarque in making his choice of which details of World War I to include in All Quiet on the Western Front, one must first ascertain his thesis and its origin. Referring to the biographical notes following the novel, we learn that Remarque “was himself in combat during World War I, and was wounded five times, the last time very severely (Remarque, 1928, p. 297).” That during the time of his service Remarque was near the age of his protagonist, Paul Baumer, suggests an autobiographical nature to the novel and lends credence to the story that no second hand account could provide. Yet Remarque does not take the opportunity to provide closure to his experience or to provide a set of objective conclusions to the war.


References: Remarque, E. M. (1928). All quiet on the western front. Ballantine Books. Strayer, R. W. (2011). Ways of the world; a brief global history with sources, volume 2: Since 1500. 7th edition: Bedford/St. Martins.

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