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Wednesday, 11 May 2011

All Quiet on the Western Front - Part 2

Hey guys, time for chapter two of All Quiet on the Western Front. But firstly, a little notice for those of you who follow my blog regularly. Because of my university exams, I'm probably only going to post intermittently until I finally finish them on the 20th. Considering the regularity I've gotten into the swing of recently, it's a bit annoying, but it's pretty important if I want to continue going to uni. Anyway, last chapter we'd learnt a little bit about Bäumer and his companions, and visited one of their dying friends in hospital. Fun times all around. 
We start off the chapter with Bäumer musing about the lack of ties to pre-war lives that the younger soldiers have. An interesting topic, not necessarily one I'd think of either. The implication seems to be that the older soldiers, the ones with jobs, wives and children, have more ties to life before the war, so that they can see past the end of the war to a point where life continues as normal; the younger soldiers don't seem to have that option as they've been sent away at the point where they're just about to start lives of their own and the bonds between parents and girlfriends are at a particularly weak point. If that holds true, going back home will be singularly awkward then. 
The next paragraph is quite a short one and tries to defend Müller for wanting to take Kemmerich's boots: it makes sense seeing as the orderlies will most likely steal them after he's dead and he wouldn't need them even if he did live, considering he only has one leg now. The argument is well-reasoned, but somehow seems a bit out of place. Why insert it into the chapter after Müller has tried taking them? 
There's another fairly short paragraph about the effect that basic training had on them. Having gone in with enthusiasm and naive patriotism, they have all that beaten out of them through drudgery, routine and abuse from above. And while I will admit that discipline is essential for any large group of people, there's usually more chance of discipline actually appearing when you earn people's respect, not just shout at them to respect you. That and I could never understand the emphasis on marching drills in basic training; okay, you're increasing discipline, but you're also not actually training them for trench warfare or modern warfare in general. I mean, strategy would sort of dictate that everyone marching in straight lines would be very easy to kill, wouldn't it? 
It skips in time a bit to when their class is split into threes and fours, and shipped off to different squads. Bäumer and his mates seem to have gotten a real bastard for a squad leader, who seems to hate them for little to no reason at all. Hence giving them tasks like clearing the parade ground of snow with a dust-pan and brush, in response to petty things like having your underwear protrude a little too far when it's laid out for inspection. It seems to stop after they threaten to start an inquiry on him. Got to love turning the system back on people who abuse it. Anyway, despite all that, they seem to appreciate the basic training because it toughened them up. Granted, the marching probably never came in handy, but I imagine the tougher attitude helped. 
So now we switch back to the present, where Bäumer is sitting by Kemmerich's bed as the doctors go round picking out patients that can be moved, in order to send them home. Kemmerich seems oddly lucid for a dying man, realising that his leg's been amputated and that he's probably going to die. There's a slight diversion into how small these boy soldiers are underneath their thick boots and uniforms, and just how fragile the human body really is. So Kemmerich dies and the complete and utter apathy that the doctors and orderlies have is sickening really. He hasn't been dead more than a few minutes or so and they're already bundling him up in tarpaulin. I mean, you can kind of understand them wanting to use the beds for another injured person, but it's still a bit much when none of them could really give a crap. Anyway, that's pretty much where the chapter ends, right after Bäumer gives Müller those boots. 

Again, a very well-written chapter. That I'm vaguely depressed now is testament to that. Thus far not much of a plot as such, but then I suppose this is more a slice-of-life/character study kind of affair. 

Signing off, 

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