All Quiet On The Western Front 

One of the greatest anti-war books ever written, All Quiet on the Western Front, is now a big budget movie.

Written by novelist Erich Maria Remarque and published in 1929, the novel describes a young German soldier’s account of the horrors he witnesses in World War I. The main protagonist is Paul Bäumer, a twenty-year-old idealistic man who is conscripted to the army at the beginning of the war.

Bäumer’s Account of World War I

The novel opens with the lines:

“We are at rest five miles behind the front. Yesterday we were relieved, and now our bellies are full of beef and haricot beans. We are satisfied and at peace. Each man has another mess-tin full for the evening; and, what is more, there is a double ration of sausage and bread.”

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Bäumer is soon moved to the front and the reader learns that he has volunteered for the Imperial German Army along with classmates from his own school. It is whilst fighting on the front line that Bäumer describes the disease, death and squalor of trench life. No specific battle is mentioned, rather the book offers a blood-soaked blur of conflict and man’s inhumanity to man.

There is a brief reprieve for the reader as Bäumer is relieved from the fighting and given leave to go back to his hometown German village. Upon returning he doesn’t feel any comfort, rather Bäumer says he doesn’t “belong here anymore, it is a foreign world”. He returns to the front and gladly volunteers for a patrol where upon he is involved in close-combat fighting and kills an enemy soldier. By now Germany is losing the war with both starvation and despair running rife through the death-ridden trenches. It is not soon after this that Bäumer meets his final fate whilst assaulting an enemy position.


Original book cover

The novel ends with the lines:

“After years of fighting, Paul is finally killed in October of 1918 , on an extraordinarily quiet, peaceful day. The army report that day contains only one phrase: ‘All quiet on the Western Front.’ As Paul dies, his face is calm, “as though almost glad the end had come.”

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Reception

All Quiet on the Western Front became an instant bestseller upon its release, selling over one and half million copies in its first year and was met with both high praise and high criticism. Praise was given in its unashamed portrayal of World War I life and criticism came from those who thought the novel was too harsh in its view of the failings of German army leadership for losing the war.

As the 1930s came along and with it the rise of fascism across Europe, several European countries viewed the novel as pacifist propaganda and it was either suppressed or banned outright in them.

“This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it.”

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Film Adaptations

There have been three film adaptations of All Quiet on the Western Front. The first was the 1930 black and white version that won rave reviews at the time and today is regarded as a classic of war film. The second was a colour, and more nondescript version in 1979. The third and latest version is the excellent 2022 version both made and filmed in Germany and released on Netflix. It’s this version that will undoubtedly bring the story to a new audience and with trench warfare a part of the war in Ukraine, its relevance sadly remains as true as when the novel was published over 90 years ago.



Images from tiff.net and www.historyonthenet.com

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