In the novel All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, one follows the life of Paul Baumer, a private in the German military in World War 1. He and his friends try to survive as the people around them get slaughtered. Slowly one by one his friends die while the others fight for their own lives. This is a war with many inhumane actions that lead to unnecessary death or injury. In the story many inhumane actions spark guilt within a character, causing a humane action to be done in response.
The slow inhumane death of Kemmerich, Paul’s best friend, lead him to lie to Kemmerich’s mom about his death due to the guilt he would feel for her reaction and sadness. Kemmerich’s death was slow and painful. It involved getting his leg amputated, “‘He has a flesh wound in his thigh; a good blighty…’ Kemmerich raises himself off the pillow with his elbow, ‘They’ve amputated my leg (6, 27).’” He had been shot and had his leg amputated when it wasn’t his war to fight. He should not have had to suffer with the hundreds of other innocent lives. The leaders of the countries should be fighting their argument out themselves; not put thousands of men’s lives at risk.
Kemmerich should not have to die for something he didn’t start. Also what was meant to save him killed him. He died in the hospital, not on the front. He died in the place where he should be mended, not killed. When Paul goes home on leave he visits Kemmerich’s mom to give details of how he had died so she could have some closure and know he went with dignity: “I tell her he was shot through the heart and died instantaneously…I will never tell her, she can make mincemeat out of me first (180-181).”
If Paul had told her the truth he would feel exceptionally guilty because Kemmerich is his best friend, and Paul was not there when Kemmerich was shot. He also could not tell his mom that he died in the hospital because he should have been saved there, and then she would know how close her son was to being saved and being able to spend time with her. Also she would know that Kemmerich had not died in battle, but died slowly behind the front in a hospital because of infection not by a bullet, which is not how one would like to picture their son dying in war. She would know that he suffered before he died.
The inhumane injury of the horses, and everyone just listening to them suffer caused Detering to go mad with guilt for the horses and try to put them out of their misery. There had just been a battle and many of the horses had been injured: “It’s unendurable. It is the moaning of the world, it is the martyred creation, wild with anguish, filled with terror and groaning… We are pale. Detering stands up, ‘For gods sake shoot them…’ ‘They must take care of the men first’” (62-63). The soldiers are ignoring the soldier’s cries and Detering wants to kill the horses. The horses don’t even realize what they’re involved in. They can’t even speak German. As the soldiers are fighting a battle they are not responsible for; at least they have an idea what it is all about. The horses do not. They don’t even know what they’re meant to be doing, or what is happening to them. They do not deserve to be in the war, or to die for its cause, so when they’re injured without any hope of survival, no one will put them out of their misery.
It’s barbaric. He gets his rifle, but is batted down. He feels as if he has failed because he could not save or kill the horses. All he can do is watch them suffer. It tears him apart because it is not his nature. Detering is a farmer and cares more for animals than he does people, so to sit and listen to these cries drives him crazy, for he loves them so much. Why can’t a soldier near them hand off the man they are caring for for a second, so they can kill the horses and put them out of their misery. It’s incredibly simple and much more humane than listening to them suffer as they trip over their intestines. Detering is the humane person for at least trying to kill them and for considering them for a second, whilst everyone else is being extremely selfish.
The inhumane torture used to dissuade the Germans for using the saw-bayonets led to the humane reaction of Paul and his company not using them, and giving people that had them regular bayonets. They stopped using them for the guilt they would feel if a young clueless man was to be tortured for something he didn’t even know about. The Germans had just moved forward when found out why Germans were being brutally tortured: “If the fellows over there catch a man with one of those he’s killed at sight… some of our men were found whose noses were cut off and their eyes poked out with their own saw-bayonets. Their mouths and noses were stuffed with sawdust so that they suffocated” (103).
The French tortured these men because they were using the German saw blade-bayonet, which hacked apart the French brutally. The French only tortured them because they were using these bayonets inhumanely. The Germans however were just following orders. They did not have the choice of which bayonets they were using. They were being tortured for something that was above them. They did not know how the use of the bayonets would affect the French. The French tortured the wrong people. When Paul sees other recruits he quickly gets to them and takes their bayonets away: “Some of the recruits have bayonets of this sort; we take them away and give them the ordinary kind (104).”
They do this because they know the recruits don’t know any better and, they do not deserve to be tortured so brutally. Also, the bayonets aren’t very useful anymore. They get stuck in people. Paul knows that if he didn’t switch the recruits’ bayonets for the regular one he would be torturing them himself. When he would hear of their torture he would know it was his fault and he knew he could have stopped it if he took the time. So he switched them to avoid the extreme guilt he would feel for sending a man to a torturous death, and devastating a young man’s family. He was saving these men’s lives without being asked. He was going out of his way and against orders to make sure these men would not be tortured.
In the story humane actions are sparked from guilt in response to inhumane actions having to do with Kemmerich’s death, Injury of the Horses, and the torture of the Germans. This is very similar if an animal is abused it sometimes is killed after being rescued. They do this for the animal’s own good. If they let him live he may not trust anyone and harm others. Then he would be put down anyway. Also, he is hurt or injured he will not trust a veterinarian to help him so is just put out of his misery before trying. If there is no chance for something to live or an animal to survive with society or in the wild, it should just be put down to stop the creature from going through the stress it would go through for it will most likely suffer or get killed anyway.
Courtney from Study Moose
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