War The Cause Of A Lost Generation


War: The Cause Of A Lost Generation Essay, Research Paper

War: The Cause of the Lost Generation

Upon examination of All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque

shows the cause of the lost generation through characters who demonstrate the loss of

innocence, the lack of hope, and difficulty with society. The consequences of war are

severe, and World War I resulted in the death of many innocent people, and the death of a

generation. The survivors were left permanently damaged because of the shell shock that

forever haunted them.

In the beginning of the novel, Paul Baulmer, the main character and narrator, is an

innocent and modest young school boy. He is then transformed by war experiences into

an ?iron youth,? like the rest of the boys (Remarque 18). They go through many stages,

and every day lose more and more of their inner child. The death of a close friend,

Kemmerich, symbolizes the death of the whole group. He is the first to die, and this is the

first significant loss of innocence found in the book. Death is among these boys, and it

takes Kemerich?s death for them to realize this. Paul becomes a victim of war: ?I become

faint, all at once I cannot do anymore. I won?t revile anymore, it is senseless, I could drop

down and never rise up again…He is dead. His face is still wet from the tears.? (Remarque

32). They too could be pale and dying, and this tragic scene took away the invincibility of

youth that they once felt. Kemmerich cries because his potential and his future are lost,

and his close friend Paul feels his pain. Paul states, ?This is the most disturbing and

hardest parting I have ever seen…? (Remarque 31). The witnesses of Kemmerich?s last

minutes was worth a lifetime of experience. These boys were exposed to things no man

should ever have to see in a lifetime. Not only did they lose their childhood, but it was

torn from them heartlessly. Remarque captures the exact moment this transformation

took place:

I am aware of the darkness and the wind as a deliverance…thoughts of girls, of

flowery meadows, of white clouds suddenly come into my head. My feet begin to move

forward in my boots, I go quicker, I run. Soldiers pass by me, I hear their voices without

understanding. The earth is streaming with forces which pour into me through the soles of

my feet. The night crackles electrically, the front thunders like a concert of drums.

(Remarque 33).

The wind so much as carries away Paul?s innocence. Life manifested as wind takes away

his happy child-like thoughts, and problem free outlook. Instead of slowly growing and

maturing, he is thrust into a world of terror he is not ready for. As he runs, the most

critical time in his life is put in fast motion, and he skips right over it without

understanding, remembering, or knowing what happened. It is as though Paul?s childhood

is supernaturally taken away, and this day is marked by God. It is when the youth of our

world lost their souls. Paul knows exactly what happened. There is nothing him, nor

anyone else can do. ?We are none of us more than twenty years old. But young? Young?

That is long ago. We are old folk.? (Remarque 18). Paul and his friends are aware of

their experiences, and the effect it has on their young lives. Their childhood is put in an

unreachable place. At nineteen Paul knows more about life than many of his elders. Like

an elder his childhood is far away and forever forgotten. Paul tells us that his childhood is

not retrievable: ?…and even if the scenes of youth were given back to us, we would

hardly know what to do..I believe we are lost.? Remarque 122-23). These boys are not

children, and not adults. They are in an awkward and difficult place that will destroy them

forever. Paul cannot remember how to act like a child, and the memories can only be

seen, but never touched. They become less and less modest every day. When the boys

first entered the barracks, they were embarrassed to use the bathroom out in the open.

They then got accustomed to this, and easy things like that became silly. Paul says, ?Since

then we have learned better than to be shy about such trifling immodesty?s. In time things

far worse come easy to us.? (Remarque 8). He says he doesn?t understand why he shied

away from these things. This is an example of lost innocence, and not remembering what

it feels like to be innocent. When new recruits came to the barracks, Paul and his friends

would laugh, and feel superior to these sorry newcomers. They soon saw so many deaths

that even death became just apart of everyday life. When Paul went on leave, he had to

tell Kemmerich?s mom that her son had died. His mom asked if Kemmerich was in pain,

and Paul replied ?No? without any hesitation. Paul said that he died right away. This was

a lie, because Kemmerich was in great pain for several days before he died. Paul then

thought ?When a man has seen so many dead he cannot understand any longer why there

should be so much anguish over a single individual.? (Remarque 181). Paul swears by

God, and his life that Kemmerich died instantly. This means nothing to him, because he

has no moral anymore. He has seen so many dead and suffering, one person means so

little, even if it was his friend. So much killing went on, that it became purely instinct. It

wasn?t a big deal to see dead people, or kill someone. Paul remembers the first time he

threw a grenade at a man. He then states, ?We have become wild beasts. We do not

fight, we defend ourselves against annihilation…If your own father came over with them

you would not hesitate to fling a bomb at him.? (Remarque 113-14). Such an important

figure, a father, is used to express this point. Killing is becoming purely instinctual to

them. They don?t see the enemy as people. Paul sees himself, and trying to stay alive, no

matter what it takes. They are numb and no longer feel emotions. In war they don?t think

about who they are killing, or why, just that it is what they have to do. The boys have

become victims of instinct, and have animal like reflexes. The young recruits see the

world in black and white, without feelings. This is how animals think, and they will do

what they can to survive. Not only have Paul and his friends lost their childhood, they

have drowned all hope of ever becoming innocent again. They also make big decisions

that affect the lives of others within their own lines. One of the new recruits is wounded.

He is young, and has hurt his leg badly. Kat turns to Paul and says, ?Shouldn?t we just

take a revolver and put an end to it?? (Remarque 72). Paul figures they should put him

out of his misery. Without hesitation they kill the young boy.

This is not anything like the boys we knew in the beginning. Paul went through a series of

changes that led to the loss of his innocence, along with the rest of the boys.

The characters in the novel have lost hope for life, their future, and the

older generations by the end of the war. When the boys entered the war they had

dreams and hopes, and stood on the ?threshold of life.? (Remarque 20). Paul had

a future ahead of him. Some of the boys had jobs, like Tjaden the locksmith. They

only knew school, and had the opportunity to do anything with their lives, but

decided to enlist in the war. After they lose their childhood, they lose hope in their

lives and futures. They don?t even know why they are even in the war. These

questions remain unanswered, and their dreams of happiness die. The boys don?t

even trust the older generation. Paul looks outside. ?Monotonously the lorries

sway, monotonously come the calls, monotonously falls the rain.? (Remarque 74).

The same thing happens everyday. People live and die, the rain falls, they eat and

wake up. Every day they fight for a hidden cause. It doesn?t seem to get them

anywhere, or accomplish anything. They do the same things for a hopeless reason,

and this is a cause of their lost hope in the world. They do talk about going home

in the beginning, but it all becomes a false dream. The boys think about women,

but this can never be a reality to them. They can never be in love or have kids.

Women must remain beautiful on posters, not in real life, and not through their

eyes. It is especially hard for them to have faith in the world when they don?t

know for who or why they are fighting. The boys try to figure this out:

?Then what exactly is the war for?? asks Tjaden.

Kat shrugs his shoulders. ?There must be some people to whom the war is


?Well I?m not one of them?

?Not you nor anyone else here.?

?Who are they then?? persists Tjaden. ?It isn?t any use to the Kaiser either.

He has everything he can want already.? (Remarque 205)

When America fought in the war, at least they had a cause. These youth don?t know

who they are working for. Even worse, they figure, if God is on both sides, who is

right? These unanswered questions face them everyday. They even sleep with French

women, and they are fighting against the French. They don?t care anymore which side

is which. It is all meaningless to them, anyway. After awhile, nothing becomes

important, because they have no answers and no hope. The boys don?t feel alone, they

know that their entire generation feels the same way.

We agree that it is the same for everyone; not only for us here, but everywhere,

for everyone who is our age; to some more, and to others less. It is the common

fate of our generation…the war has ruined us for everything…we do not want to

take the world by storm. We are fleeing. We fly from ourselves. From our

lives. We were eighteen and had just begun to love life; and we had to shoot it

to pieces. We are cut off from activity, from striving, from progress. We believe

in such things no longer, we believe in the war. (Remarque 87-88)

The boys know that the war effects all involved. Some take it better than others, but it

is going to kill an entire generation either way. They do not have any desires, drives

or motivation. Dreams they once had of growing old became dull long ago. In the

war they accomplish nothing. They don?t even use the knowledge they learned in

school. Everything is meaningless. This is also because society treated them like

machines. ?Remarque accused a mechanistic civilization of destroying humane values,

of negating charity, love, humor, beauty, and individuality.? (Eksteins 337) In war

everyone is treated the same; they are fed the same amount, they dress the same, and

they must live in a harsh, strict environment. The doctors used war victims as

experiments. They tested them like animals. No one single man was important, they

all fought like robots. This destroyed their moral. Then society brushed them aside.

They had no feelings; the boys were machines. Machines have no practical use for

hope or emotions. This was the only way to get through the war. Paul doesn?t believe

in the older generation. Before the war, the boys looked up to these people, and

trusted them. They were wiser. ?The first death we saw shattered this belief. We had

to recognize that our generation was more to be trusted than theirs.? (Remarque

12-13). If Paul?s generation was in charge, there would be no silly war, where the

wrong people do the fighting. The boys agree that the people in charge should fight

themselves, in a ring, one on one. Instead they are against authority, and people like

Himmelstos, who abuse their power. Paul has no hope in his future, his elders, nor

anything else anymore. He is lost. At the end Paul realizes, ?They can take nothing

from me, nothing more.? (Remarque 295) Paul dies without hope, and only knowing

the most terrible things that the world has to offer.

The lost generation has great difficulty dealing with society. They no longer

remember what living a normal life is like, so they can?t relate to their families or

friends away from the war anymore. These social problems first appear when Paul

goes on leave. ?I prefer to be alone, so that no one troubles me…They talk to much.

They have worries, aims desires, that I cannot comprehend.? (Remarque 168). He

gets home and is burdened by his families questions, and people he does not

understand. Paul does not remember this life they know, so sits alone in his room, and

awaits his return to the front. He then goes to his bookshelf. He looks at his books

and magazines. He can read them, but he cannot understand them. ?I stand there

dumb. As before a judge. Directed. Words, words, words- they do not reach me.

Slowly I place the books back on the shelves. Nevermore. Quietly, I go out of the

room.? (Remarque 173). Paul hates leave. He cannot relate to anything, and he

cannot find any old interests to pass the time. He no longer knows what interests are.

Leave made everything worse. He then says, ?I am nothing but in agony for myself,

my mother, for everything that is so comfortless and without end. I ought to never

have come on leave.? (Remarque, 185) He regains some feeling while on leave. This

does nothing but damage. After Paul returns, to save his own life, he must kill a man

with his hands. This makes him feel very guilty, and feels he must rationalize his acts

of violence. He tells the man, ?I did not want to kill you…why do they {the generals}

never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as

ours, and that we have the same fear of death…forgive me, comrade; how could you

be my enemy?? (Remarque, 223) Paul could not tolerate this feeling. He had not felt

emotion in so long, and it ruined people in the war. He had not felt it on leave because

on leave he only felt like a soldier; indifferent and hopeless. Paul?s warm family life

drove him into serious thought; and he began to understand the damage war did to his

psyche. ?Scenes, incidents, and images were chosen with a purpose to illustrate how

the war had destroyed the ties, psychological, moral, and real, between the front

generation and society at home.? (Eksteins 336-37) Eksteins believes that Remarque

carefully chose these scenes to emphasize the effect of war on homelike. This had the

most devastating effects on the generation because even if they did live, it would be

impossible to lead a normal life. When they came home, if they survived, and the war

was over, Paul felt:

Men will not understand us-for the generation that grew up before us, though it

has passed these years with us already had a home and a calling; now it will

return to its old occupations, and the war will be forgotten-and the generation

that has grown up after us will be strange to us and push us aside…the years will

pass by and in the end we shall fall into ruin. (Remarque 294)

These war victims will never have a place in society, and they will always be looked

upon as outcasts. The war will be done and forgotten, and people will no longer

remember the men who saved them. The younger generations will contribute to the

destruction of this generation, even though it was fought for them and their kids. It

is better for the men who didn?t return because they won?t have to face the trouble

that is given to them by society?s pressure. They would have died with honor,

instead of lived on in misery. The war destroyed an entire generation and left a

generation unable to cope with life afterwards.

World War I was the cause of the lost generation. Remarque shows this in

his book: ?…It is meant only to try to report on a generation that was destroyed by

the war-even when it escaped the shells.? (Remarque epigraph) The trouble this

generation faced was caused by the war and its effects. The war took their

innocence, their hope, and turned society against them.

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