The author, Erich Remarque, was in combat in the First World War, and was wounded five times. His prose is beautiful. He powerfully conveys the intimate bonds that grow between the soldiers in his squad, which magnifies the impact as each, in turn, becomes a casualty. His vivid description of combat in the trenches is all the more horrifying because it is an eye-witness account. Remarque's description of the alienation he feels while returning home is also worthy of review.
As with my recent review of Tuchman's The Guns of August, I was particularly interested in considering the author's view of the causes of the war. There are several points where he touches on this topic. In general, he conveys the view that the people who suffer with him, regardless of the uniform they wear, have no tangible connection to the abstractions for which they fight.
For me, All Quiet on the Western Front is another powerful reason for each of us to insist on accountability from our government. We in the United States live in a time and place where we have unprecedented abilities to influence our government, yet we do not seem willing or able to exercise those abilities. We allow the members of Congress who can vote to send our sons and daughters into harm’s way to tell us that they will not take a political courage test because it exposes them to too much political risk. Certainly one of the causes of the First World War is that the leaders who committed their nations to the fighting had little or no political risk or accountability. From my perspective, we should read accounts such as All Quiet on the Western Front to remind ourselves of our duty to demand a high standard of accountability from each of our elected officials.
Reading, or re-reading, this book is a great resolution at any time.