Sunday, March 21, 2010

All quiet on the western front

Eric Maria Remarque's 1928 novel is to this day known as one of the best anti-war novels of all time and the novel about WW1. Remarque (born 1898) was drafted when he turned 18 and the novel is full of the kind of details only a man who has actually seen war can come up with. There will be !!!Spoilers below the pic!!! so just let me say in short that I read the 195 pages in an afternoon and an evening. It's a classic that will add to our cultural capital & a very good book. The anti-war message war-is-hell is nothing new for the non-ostrich-people; and the theme trench-warfare is a a bit outdated... but Remarques main theme is ptsd and that is as actual today as it was then. Recommended.

The title on the book reflects the ending. When protagonist Paul Bäumer dies on the last page, as the last of the 20 boys from his class who enlisted at the outbreak of the war, 'looking like he did'nt suffer long' (which he did - but perhaps not from the fatal wounds), the military news dispatch of the day only states its standard "All quiet on the western front."

The norwegian 1955 translation by Ragnar Kvam switches with ease between antiquated and stiff, almost danish, language and easy (almost) modern norwegian to illustrate the different you/thou relationships between the soliders and their superiors.

Personally the strongest part of reading this novel of kids (they are 18 at the start of the book) trying to survive hell and the alienation they feel on leave in the civil world is how similar their psycology is to my own. While I am suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome, I have experienced nothing close or even resembling the hell these boys goes through. Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemmingway describes the shellshocked boys of WW1 as 'un generation perdue' - the lost generation; and Remarques main point is that the boys that had'nt yet "started" life was the ones that got destroyed, while the older men with lives and wifes mainly were OK (if they managed to survive the fields of slaugther).

"We are not youth any longer. We don't want to take the world by storm. We are fleeing from ourselves, from our life. We were eigthteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces." My own vulnerability to this inflamation of my thoughts and soul was mainly due to my young age at the time of the catastrophe. Had I been settled with an education, a life and a strong sense of identity I would likly not have succumbed to my wounds; becoming lost to the world of the normals.

Whats interesting to me with this is that in all my readings about ptsd I've never read anything about this link. But if there indeed exists such a link we probably should reexamine our practice of sending our boys&girls to war in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere - for the main body of our expeditionary forces are exactly that: Young men and women who have yet to find their station in life. If these are the very ones that are most vulnerable to ptsd (unlike true proffesional soliders and older, more settled, individuals) we will soon have our very own 'generation perdue' - thousands of ex-service persons lost to the civillian world.

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