Transnational Research Associates

All Quiet on the Western Front

Art Madsen, M.Ed.

When he was only 18 years old, Erich Maria Remarque, the German-American author of the widely acclaimed historical novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, was conscripted into the German Military and was compelled to participate in some of the fiercest of the First World War’s battles. Much of his actual wartime experience is recorded in his dramatically written work. This masterpiece of psychological insight and poignant descriptive narration was Remarque’s first major anti-war novel, published in 1929 when he was only 31 years old.

The author had been tremendously shocked by the brutality and viciousness of trench warfare along the Western Front which, for more than four years of WWI, ran over a distance of 600 miles from Ostend, Belgium, through Northern France, and onward to the Swiss border. The horrific conditions of war in the Western Front’s trenches, replete with mustard gas, poison fumes, and disease-ridden muck, are portrayed in All Quiet on the Western Front with skillful, masterful and accurate detail.

The reader observes, for example, that Paul Baumer, the novel’s protagonist, changes psychologically as a result of his exposure to death and mayhem in the trenches. Mary Ann Johanson says it quite well in her critique of the well-received film, All Quiet on the Western Front, produced in 1929-1930, which vividly reflected the book’s theme of war-inflicted psychological damage:

"When Paul eventually goes home for a leave, he finds himself so hardened that he returns to his company early, unable to bear the ministrations of his mother and the pompous declarations on the state of the war from men too old for the front." (Johanson, 1999)

Psychologically speaking, the First Battle of the Marne, the Second, and the Battle of Verdun in 1916 are events that will live forever in the minds of Remarque’s readers, whether they have read his first historically based volume or its sequel, The Road Back, published two years later in 1931.

There is no doubt that all of Remarque’s many works are antiwar in nature, displaying the suffering and misery of soldiers, refugees and displaced orphans all caught up in the senseless violence and horror of early 20th Century warfare. By focusing on the plight of individuals in his novel, Remarque casts light on human nature and on the human condition in general. The reader enters this tragic world, reluctantly but with increasing interest, and learns about the primitive behavioral impulses in men that, unfortunately, make war possible.