By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Erich Maria Remarque
Narrated by: Frank Muller
Suffering is fiercely defended and reviled in war. Defense of war’s suffering comes from many; condemnation comes from survivors who view war as diplomacy’s failure. Staunch defenders come from war’s “winners”. Condemners come from war’s losers. “All Quiet on the Western Front” is written by a former German soldier in WWI. As loser of that war, Erich Remarque uses a narrative that sounds like poetry. But, it is poetry that assaults the senses and reminds one of the smoke-stained Aleppo boy sitting on an orange chair in Syria.
How do intelligent human beings turn into warriors of hate and murder? As a former veteran, military boot camp provides discipline, physical stamina, and age transition from adolescence to adulthood. Modern American boot camps break down social barriers and build teams of soldiers that depend on each other. In Remarque’s story, boot camp is a laboratory of pain. It successfully creates soldiers that depend on each other but trains them to hate the “other”.
Modern American boot camps expose one to long marches, military armaments, and bivouacking. Many recruits return home after enlistment and move on with life.
In Remarque’s story, every boot camp leads to combat. Today, many American boot camps are once again leading to combat. Sadly, hate of the “other” has become part of American military training. Yesterday, it was American internment of the Japanese; today it is Muslim profiling, incarceration at Guantanamo, and threats of deportation.
Remarque’s war smells of foxholes, gun powder, and poisonous gas with blown off appendages and scarred lungs. It is the war of Vietnam in the 60s and Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, and Syria in the 2000s; all seem to be wars of failed diplomacy. America lost the war in Vietnam. We, and the indigenous people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, and Syria are not winning.
Erich Maria Remarque clearly illustrates how war is not the answer in “All Quiet on the Western Front”. Everyone loses. As Remarque notes one tribe says this is their homeland; then, another says this is their homeland; each cleaves to each, and without diplomacy murder and mayhem follow.
Every tribe or country leader that wins a war says suffering of the people is justified. Every tribe or country leader that loses a war says suffering of the people is wasted. History will record whether Obama, Putin, Assad, Ghani, al-Abadi, Abbas, Netanyahu, and Trump are right. Omran Daqneesh and our children bear the consequence.