Foot Soldiers vs., Commanding Officers
As common with every war, there was a divided point of view among various stakeholders of the World War I. One of the most conspicuous divisions of this of point of view was between the foot soldiers of this war and their commanding officers.
When the war first broke out, a sense of nationalism swept through Europe and a lot of individuals dutifully volunteered. Many of these volunteers thought the war would be an enthralling adventure that they could not afford to miss. Some even lied about their ages to be allowed to enlist. They were however in for a rude awakening as the war proved to be more than they had bargained for. This was going to be an unfamiliar kind of war, one that would prove to be very dearly. According to Adams and Andy, the war was characterized by poor organization of the troops, dreadful war conditions and emotional scarring, factors that took an enormous toll on the soldiers (34). Most of these foot soldiers only had a few days of training which were not nearly enough to prepare them for them for the fierce battle. With the knowledge of only a few basics of combat accompanied by lack of practice and vital techniques, they stood slim chances of survival (Orlow 21).
Although the deplorable conditions of the war that included pointless suffering led some soldiers to their breaking point, most of them especially the German soldiers were unfazed by these occurrences. Their point of view was that the whole adventure was a “gigantic test of their manhood”. With this in mind, the soldiers were oblivious to the appalling conditions that they faced at the war’s forefront. They became devoid of any self pity or sentiment and fought fiercely under the authority of their commanding officers (Ellis and Michael 19).
Orlow states that the sight of dead colleagues was a common thing among the foot soldiers in the trenches at the war’s forefront. The foot soldiers learnt to take the death of a colleague as a normal war occurrence and not become too emotionally attached (12). They realized that they need maximum attention during the war since a small lapse of judgment of attention could inadvertently culminate in their death. They accepted the deaths as collateral damage which only helped to fuel further their desire for revenge as well as the destruction of the “enemy”.
However, as the war went on, the conditions of the war became even more appalling. Young men like Paul Baumer who had joined the war with a lot of enthusiasm that emanated from feelings of naturalism and patriotism started to become frustrated with the war. Paul for example, witnesses the death of almost all his friends, sees dismembered bodies and these only help to further fuel his disillusionment with the war (Remarque 24).
Unlike the foot soldiers, most of who had no formal training, most of the commanding officers during the World War I were very skilled individuals who had undergone intensive battle training. It was these commanding officers who dictated the course of the battle. These officers stifled initiative and their orders were expected to be followed to the wire. Perry states that it was this massive placed into their hands that made the commanding officers to adopt a special kind of mentality and point of view- send as many men a possible over the trenches to battle the enemy. Unfortunately, in spite of their formal training, the commanding officers who led battalions in the First World War were from traditional cavalry background. This led them to bring in to the war a cavalry commander’s mentality into the war where there was use of huge machine guns and thousands of artillery weapons on one battle field (Ellis and Michael 35).
The commanding officers were of the view that a great push against enemy lines stage surprisingly would ultimately make them win the war. This was the reason behind them pushing as many soldiers as possible towards enemy lines. Although the foot soldiers were often inspired by a lot of naturalism and loyalty, they were particularly not always very happy about being told to crawl over trenches and stage surprise attacks against the enemy. Disobeying a commanding officer was however unheard off and when the foot soldiers were summoned by their commanding officers, they obliged without kind of complaint.
The commanding officers did not share the deep sense of naturalism and patriotism possessed by the foot soldiers of World War I. They did sometimes consider the toll that their commands had on the foot soldiers. They arrogant sent most of the foot soldiers to their deaths through their commands (Ellis and Michael 32).
As a result, discipline was often a difficult task to maintain. The foot soldiers develop hatred for the commanding officers who gave arrogant orders without considering the consequences or outcomes. The soldiers could not however dare to disobey their superiors since there was there were harsh punishments for disobeying a commanding officer. Some foot soldiers even went to the extreme level of killing their commanding officers so as to protest the conditions.
In all Quiet on the Western Front, Himmelstoss Kantorek is used to represent this mentality of the war by the commanding officers. Paul Baumer together with his friends makes an observation of how petty and small men can become hungry for power and arrogant because of war. Himmelstoss for example is a former mailman who is given authority in the battle field and who becomes a fierce bully because of this (Remarque 78). He demands that every soldier salute him and in the process exemplifying the useless formal army rituals. In a nutshell, it is evident that unlike the soldiers who gave their all the battlefront, the commanding officers were obsessed with their authority and could have even contributed to their loss in the war. Outmoded propriety was given too much attention such that actual fighting techniques were abandoned.
Foot Soldiers vs. Enemy in the Trenches
The foot soldiers of the First World War were motivated by a deep sense of naturalism and patriotism for their respective nations. They enlisted for the war in huge numbers so as to fight for the interests of their home nations and protect their territory. They had one desire and that was to eliminate as many of the enemy soldiers in the trenches as possible.
Perhaps not so surprising is the fact this was a view shared by both sides of the war. In fact, this was one of the reasons why the war dragged on for so long. No one side was willing to give and there was a deep belief on both sides (soldiers and the enemy) that they would be the eventual winners of the war.
Most of the soldiers however, had a deep longing for the end of the war so that they could go back to their families at home. The only way to do this was by winning the war against the enemy. It was this longing for the end war; ending that gave the soldiers further motivation (Ellis and Michael 65).
The negative view of the foot soldiers was further propelled by propaganda their home governments. For example, most of the allied nations against the Germans often published inaccurate propaganda about the German enemies terming them as merciless creatures who were capable of killing nay walking creature. Most of this propaganda was taken as accurate information and this left even more soldiers wanting to enlist in their respective countries forces so as to fight the enemy.
Foot Soldiers vs. the enemy” (female version) in the village
Before the onset of World War I, women were generally expected to only do specific “women duties” or to be housewives exclusively. However, the World War I changed the outlook of women completely. When the men were at war, women were often called upon to fulfill their jobs which were previously uncommon for the women. For instance, women were called upon to work in factories that manufactured aircraft parts and bombs.
The foot soldiers were well aware of this and therefore developed a special kind of hatred for them. Whenever, these soldiers conquered an enemy’s residence, they left behind a wave of destruction. They raped, tortured and killed the enemy’s women blaming them for supporting their men by providing them with food supplies as well as war artilleries (Perry 45).
However, most of the foot soldiers did not harbor any ill feelings about the enemy’s women. In fact it was quiet common for soldiers to form relationships with the enemy’s women in the village. Most of these were however convenience relationships and it was common knowledge that they were bound to fail.
Sometimes, the “women enemy” at home also had deep loathing for the other side’s soldiers. To them, they were responsible for dragging their men to war where they were bound for definite execution they therefore did as much as they could to help their women although they were rarely at the forefront of the war (Ellis and Michael 89).
In All Quiet on the Western Front, Paul the young German foot soldier met a young French woman and a sexual relationship ensued. It was no doubt that this relationship was bound to fail because on the first place, the woman was French and so was technically an enemy (Remarque 67). In fact, this confusion led to an even ambiguity of love vs. war. In literature, war and love are often starkly contrasted. Love brings about happiness and rebirth while war results in ultimate destruction. Although the young soldier wanted to separate the two vices (love and war), it was clear that this was virtually impossible. In fact, the French woman possessed hidden feelings of loath for Paul and was only interested in him as long as death waited for him in the corner.
It is occurrences such as these that help to exemplify the differing points of view that foot soldiers the “female enemies” in the village had in regards to the World War I.
Foot Soldiers vs. their families back at home
When World War I broke out, a lot of the young men enlisted enthusiastically. Most of them did not require much convincing to leave their families behind and proceed to the war’s forefront. Although the families of these enthusiasts harbored some apprehensiveness, they allowed them to proceed to war because at this time, it was thought that the war would be a short term affair and would not have any major toll on the soldiers’ lives (Woodward 52).
The soldiers felt it was their duty to fight for their country. Their families at home on the other hand came to loathe the war after seeing the effects that the war had on their family members. Although they had initially supported the decision to join the war, they could not wait for them to come back home. The feelings of patriotism and naturalism previously shared by both the soldiers and their family members slowly diminished as the war unfolded and brought with it massive devastation. The family members started to view the war as detriment to their family relationships and even their basic happiness (Adams and Andy 62).
Foot Soldiers vs. other townsfolk Paul encounters while home on leave
In All Quiet on the Western Front, Paul, the young German soldier was given seventeen day leave during which he went to visit his family back at home. During this visit, he encountered a lot of townspeople. Paul unfortunately had trouble connecting with these people because according to him, they did not understand their plight (Remarque 45). .
The former enthusiastic Paul was heavily disillusioned by the war by this time after the atrocities he had witnessed at its forefront. The townspeople did not however understand this and it was no surprise that Paul felt total disconnection from them. To him, these people had no idea of the truth. For instance, the people in the pub try to give him advice as if the Germans were winning or kick the war was just game (Remarque 48).
Paul’ experiences are a classic example of the differing points of view between foot soldiers and civilians back at home. Some of the civilians had no idea of the deplorable conditions that the foot soldiers lived in or the constant struggles and suffering that they faced each day. This ultimately led to a difference in point of view between the two sets of individuals.
Paul’s Discovery that he cannot really go home
The experiences of the World War I left definitely left foot soldiers like Paul Baumer disillusioned for life. For older who had jobs and families before, the war was merely an interruption to them that they thought would ultimately end. They already had concrete identities as well as functions within the society. For young soldiers like Paul and his classmates however, they did have any prewar concrete identities. In fact, they joined the war at their adult lives threshold.
It was this fact that made Paul and his friends unable to answer the persistent questions by Muller about their after war plans (Remarque 69). Paul and his friends could no longer conceive anything of themselves after the war further emphasizing one theme: the ravaging effect of the war on the soldier’s humanity.
Paul regarded the war as an event that would never end because he could not imagine anything else (Remarque 81). To him, his adult life was inextricably linked to his life as a soldier, and he could no longer differentiate the two.
In fact, Paul could not envision functioning in a normal civilian society after his war experiences and the things that he had commited in the war. His visit to his family during his leave made hi realize that there was no hope of him ever fully connecting his family. During this time, Paul was unable to even bond with his mother who was dying and regretted why he had decided to come home (Remarque 87).
Paul and his comrades cult answers to the persistent questioning by Muller only betray their anxiety about the war’s end. It was as if they feared the war’s end just as the war itself. Planning the future or even thinking about it is an even that requires concrete or solid basis of hope. However, the horrors that Paul saw at the trenches do not allow hope for anything else other than self survival. He has absolutely no experience as an adult that did not involve daily struggle for survival and maintenance of sanity. The only option available to him and in fact the only plan that he and his friends had was to revenge on Himmelstoss for what he had done to them (Remarque 86).