Paul and his diminishing band of comrades notice the signs all around that
Germany is losing the War. They liken the War to a deadly disease that will slowly engulf them all.
Despite the messages given to them from their Commanding Officers, the
soldiers know that time is running out for Germany. The replacements that they receive for the dead men are fewer and younger, and now include the maimed from the Hospitals who have not fully recovered.
Their equipment is falling apart and their own worn out artillery is killing more and more of their own troops due to misfires. They have become mindless animals in constant fear of death, and this continuous
pressure is now making itself felt on the troops.
Detering sees a tree in bloom and takes one of the branches to remind him of
his own orchard back at home. A few days later, he deserts, but instead of fleeing to Holland, he tries to head back home and is captured and tried as a deserter. He is not seen again.
Muller receives a fatal wound in the stomach and dies a long painful death.
Paul inherits Muller’s boots that had previously belonged to Kemmerich.
To make matters worse, many of the troops are now struck down with
dysentery. It is only a matter of time before the Germans capitulate and now the biggest fear amongst the men is that they will be killed before the Armistice is signed.
The food supplies have become almost non-existent which forces Kat to
increase his scavenging patrols.
On one of these he is wounded and is bleeding profusely. Paul decides to carry Kat to the dressing station because he does not have the time to find a stretcher. Whilst carrying Kat to the station Kat is hit in the head by a piece of shrapnel. Paul’s closest friend is dead.
We observe that just as peace is on the horizon, Paul’s close band of
soldiers is being systematically killed by the war machine. We know that our narrator meets his end at the end of the next Chapter and this bitter irony hangs over this story like a black cloud.
The war machine is fast wearing out its last components. Presumably Detering’s reward for the years of service he has rendered will be a firing squad.
Again Remarque reinforces his view that there is no honor at all in this
War. It is a rampant disease, infecting and killing the mankind of all those countries involved in the conflict. Those that have survived the psychological effects of the War have done so by blocking out
their humanity, but now as the War approaches its end, they are unable to remain dispassionate.
The disease not only affects their bodies, but also their minds. They now have no hope, and all that they can look forward to is a quick death, not a slow lingering one.
We note that those taken to the Hospital with wounds to their limbs dread
the thought of amputation. They would rather be dead than continue life as only half a man.
In all of this confusion there seems to be nobody exercising common sense
and humanity. The leaders and generals regard their fighting soldiers are merely flags on a map. The German High Command must now realize that their situation is hopeless, especially with the
introduction of the fresh American troops into the conflict. What they now seem to be trying to avoid is losing badly.
They realize that they must lose, but if they can lose slowly, they might be able to sue for an honorable peace. They are oblivious to the suffering of their soldiers in the trenches and in the Hospitals.
The systematic deaths of Paul’s colleagues are traumatic for the reader, and
we are saddened by their loss, but we also feel pity for Paul and the survivors, because the bonds of comradeship are slowly being dissolved.
For a while, their group seemed to live charmed lives - Kat, Muller, Tjaden, Kropp, Detering and Paul. We note that Remarque states that this is a specific type of relationship between these men and it grows out of the fact that they are all sentenced to death.
So far as the generals are concerned, Paul and his friends have no
individuality, no distinguishing features, they are all identical. They are all cogs in the war machine carrying out the same job. Should one of these cogs wear out, it will be replaced by another.
Detering’s assumed death as a traitor provides us with a different ironic
slant. He deserts because he is homesick for his farm and his land, and this was the reason why he has fought so long and hard at the Front in order to defend his Fatherland.