Ok, ok. So yes, it’s about World War I and yes, I too thought when I started that I would hate it. I suppose classics used to be for me as Mark Twain says: “‘Classic’-a book which people praise and don’t read”. (You may notice I’ve been liking Mark Twain quotes a lot lately). But I’m liking classics now. I mean, I generally prefer fantasy, but I loved this book! Sad story for sure, but I still loved it. Alright, now to the point of this post. Well, probably not right away, but I’ll get there.
Remember when we were little kids and everything was black and white? People were either good or evil, and the good guys always beat the bad guys. Or so the superhero comics taught us. Then you grow up, and nothing is that simple anymore. Everything is ugly gray.
When I was little and just starting to learn history, I saw the it in the same way. Black or White, Good or Evil. This is how I looked at wars. I used to think one side is Good and the other side is Evil. So when I learned about World War I, I saw the Allies as the good guys and the Central Powers as the bad guys, just because I lived in America, and I thought America is good. And if America is good, then the other side must be bad, so therefore the Central powers are bad. Or so reasoned my young mind. Then I got older, and I found that America is not as good and the opposing powers are not as bad as grownups had made me think. That’s why I found All Quiet On The Western Front so interesting; it tells the story of World War I from the perspective of a German soldier name Paul Baumer, or the “bad guy” as I used to think.
Paul Baumer is an ordinary young man. His teacher fills his and his classmates heads with ideas about the glory of war and the nobility of fighting for your country. His words convince Paul and some of his other students to enlist. Throughout the war, Paul undergoes a complete transformation. He begins as an eager, naïve boy and becomes a bitter and battle-hardened man. His values and perspectives change. His whole life, adults had told him the importance of education and preached the perfection of his country. Then he goes to war, and he realizes that all his years of schooling do him no good in battle and he begins to question his country and his government. He realizes that most men on the Allies side who he thinks of as the “bad guys” are actually not bad guys. Most are men like Paul who only try to kill the men on the other side because their government has told them to. I suppose I could compare Paul to myself, except on opposite sides. When I was little I thought the Allies were the good guys and Paul thought the Central Powers were the good guys. Then we became older, and we found that neither were Good or Bad, Black or White. Just gray.