Do you ever look at something for so long it doesn't make sense anymore? Have you ever been stuck in a moment that was your entire life? Cheated death, but regretted it afterwards? Looked at the man standing next to you and thought, Who will die first, you or me? This is every single living moment of a soldier. What he thinks of when he throws that grenade, loads that gun, and looks up at a bayonet, only he knows. But to those on the outside, we wonder if there's still a human being in the empty shell of a man whose body has lived and endured too much. Soldiers are irrevocably changed after war. Most are crippled, mentally instable, or socially disabled. In Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, a man's memoir based on the author's own account of World War I, the men go to the edge of reason and back. They literally become their own worst fears as they often kill without hesitance. Yet, they retain a tenderness that is only present in those who have known compassion. Everyone, even soldiers who have killed, have humanity.
[...] What the quote is trying to convey is the extremity to which men go to in war to fight for life. The goal of eliminating the enemy in order to save yourself is so strong that it doesn't matter who the enemy is, just kill them so you can be saved. If your father was a threat to your life, you would fight him just as you would fight anyone. To feel compassion or mercy towards an enemy in war is to expose weakness and endanger your own life. [...]
[...] This compassion and concern for the wellbeing of someone else is humanity and it is present in both altruism and camaraderie, and soldiers often display such behavior, which proves that they are indeed humane. One of the most overlooked ideas of humanity is that simply to be human is to be humane. It is a fragile sense of conscience that is easily suppressed, but just as easily regained. In the big picture, humanity plays an active role in our everyday lives and comes in its variety of shapes and sizes. [...]
[...] Later in the novel, when Paul is a guard at a Russian prison camp, he ponders the origin and meaning of war and how their enemies are made of the same flesh and blood they are, but only ends up thinking: I am frightened. I dare think this way no more. This way lies the abyss. It is not now the time but I will not lose these thoughts, I will keep them, shut them away until the war is ended this is the only possibility of existence after this annihilation of all human feeling; this is a task that will make life afterward worthy of these hideous years (194). [...]
[...] The way the Paul describes the recruit's heaving shoulders and how he buries his face in his hands before huddling in his arms is so endearing and naïve that for a moment, it doesn't feel like the two of them are in the middle of a bombardment. Not only does Paul let him be, but he also gets the helmet for the boy and puts it on him. Paul burdens himself and even endangers his own life by helping this boy, but he does it nevertheless because he knows what it is like to be that young recruit, the rookie who comes into the war wide-eyed and eager, not knowing what to expect. [...]
[...] In war, soldiers would do anything in order to live, for all else must be put aside because the will to live is so strong that all emotions are suppressed and instinct takes over. When life is at stake, the only aim is to live anyway you can, as long as you can. All else is forsaken, including humanity. But it is only absent, not lost, because in the novel, according to the narrator, Paul Baümer, on the borders of death life follows an amazingly simple course, it is limited to what is more necessary every expression of life must serve only the preservation of existence, and is absolutely focused on that. [...]
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