5 November 2008
War: Man v. Man, or Animal v. Animal?
Killing another human is a difficult task, but what if it was only the helmet being shot ay not the person wearing it? In the mind, would it be easier to try to “kill the helmet” than to think about ending another life forever? In All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, there are multiple instances where his main character Paul uses animals as a metaphor to dehumanize war. When actually describing soldiers in a human form, it is only to express despair and regret. He ultimately shows that not thinking about the enemy as a person can help keep a soldier sane.
In a Russian prison camp that Paul is helping to guard, he already sees the enemies as animals saying, “They seem nervous and fearful, though most of them are big fellows with beards – they look like meek, scolded, St. Bernard dogs” (189). In this part Remarque uses an anthropomorphism to describe how even prisoners-of-war are considered some form of animal.
A standard firing squad uses 20 riflemen, but only one of the mens’ rifles has an actual bullet in the chamber so that the person who actually took the life of another does not know it so as not to end up feeling guilty for killing another human being. In the heat of battle the enemy must be killed no matter what: In this passage, Paul has just stabbed a man and is now having to watch him die slowly since he is trapped next to the groaning soldier.
“This the first time I have killed with my hands whom I can see close at hand, whose death is my doing…every gasp lays my heart bare. This dying man has time with him, he has an invisible dagger with which he stabs me” (221).
After killing an enemy with his own hands, Paul feels remorse for his actions. He sees for the first time a living, breathing person instead of the faceless, evil “enemy”. As the realization is had, Paul vainly attempts to save the soldier from dying.
While retaliating against...