Back at the Front, Paul is reunited with Kat, Muller, Tjaden and Kropp, who
have remained uninjured. He shares what is left of the rations his mother made with them.
They are to be inspected by the Kaiser (Emperor), and everything has been
prepared for his visit. They have been given new uniforms. His visit fails to inspire them and they regard him as rather an innocuous man.
When he goes their new uniforms are taken back. The men conclude that the Kaiser and probably around thirty other men in the world are responsible for the war in which millions are involved and have died. If these men had said ‘No’ in the first place, then none of this horror would have happened. Perhaps these leaders just want to be in the history books.
Someone is required to crawl out into no man’s land and assess the enemy’s
strength, so Paul volunteers. As he has been away from the Front he is unfamiliar with the ever-changing landscape.
He becomes disorientated and finds himself lost. A bombardment begins, which is usually a prelude to an attack, so he takes refuge in a shell-hole and will play dead to avoid detection. He is soon joined by a French soldier, and Paul quickly stabs him. It is still not safe for Paul to return to his lines, so he is forced to stay in the shell-hole with the Frenchman. However, the French soldier is not dead and Paul regrets his initial instinctive reaction. It is some hours before the Frenchman eventually dies from his wound and Paul takes this badly. It is the first occasion on which he has actually killed somebody face-to-face in combat. Paul looks through the dead soldier’s effects and finds that he is called Gerard Duval. He is married and has a young daughter. Paul is filled with remorse and guilt. He resolves to send money to Duval’s family anonymously. At last darkness falls and Paul is able to return safely to his lines.
He confides in his comrades regarding his experience, stressing that they
have often picked off enemy soldiers when they are at a distance, but to kill someone up close like this is totally different.
We now witness another aspect of this type of warfare.
The killing is mainly done from a distance.
Here Paul has the rare experience of killing someone in hand-to-hand combat.
He clearly caught the Frenchman on the hop, who was not expecting the shell-hole to be occupied. The detached Paul instinctively stabbed the Frenchman. Only after he had committed the act did he consider the action he had taken. Forced to share the shell-hole with the Frenchman, a tenuous bond was created, which brought home the true realization that he had murdered this man due to the conditioning that he had undergone at the hands of the war machine.
One can ask why Paul volunteered for this dangerous mission.
Was he being conscientious? Did he wish to flirt with death and tempt the fates? Was he offering himself up for sacrifice, saving one of his comrades? Who knows? Remarque wishes us to witness the face-to-face confrontation between Paul, the German, and Gerard, the Frenchman.
Remarque is commenting that this type of war is dehumanizing. It is an
anonymous war, conducted at a distance.
Prior to this episode, Paul did not fully understand the consequences of his
Those that he had killed previously were featureless, were totally anonymous, but now Paul has killed Gerard Duval, a printer, a married man with a daughter. For the first time Paul realizes the price of taking another human life.
In the space of two Chapters we have read that Russian soldiers are
individuals, and so now are the French.
Remarque forces us to view this ‘murder’ with eyes wide open, and note that
Gerard’s widow and child are also victims of this act which was carried out in the name of patriotism.
You will note towards the end of this Chapter that Paul already returns to
his former detached self. If he dwells on the grief of killing Duval, it will lead to his own breakdown and death.