This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war.
Though an extreme comparison, it is an accurate depiction of what high school feels like and what lies beyond that.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and in the case of high school it is both right and wrong.You may be up all night doing the homework and studying for that one test or maybe sacrificing one for the other and this work kills you and potentially your grade. This also builds up your mental toughness, a higher tolerance level where you push your learning skills, ability to adapt, process, and apply to overload and your sleep time to a… minimum load. And so though we may have survived the war and escaped the teachers, we were destroyed by the sleep. Or lack of rather.
It’s left a scar in you. Sometimes you wake up having nightmares of not having studied for that one exam and then you remember that it’s the weekend or that class was last year’s. It’s PTSD from school and the daunting idea of the arriving final exams are practically like charging through No Man’s Land and hoping for the best. It’s all what we’re trying to do anyway. We’re just trying to survive until what comes next. Or maybe it’ll all end and that’s what school is really about. It’s the end destination. The end product should not be finishing college. Finish college for what? There should be a reason, a purpose. What we learn throughout our young lives in school should be applicable in real life and it’s the same in war. The young men like Paul and Kropper and the like feel that they’ll have nothing for themselves after the war. Their whole “adult” life, they’ve been sitting in a trench waiting for the next meal and hoping to not get hit by shrapnel or receiving the order to charge. Others like Katczinksy who’s a cobbler already has a profession and even the dreaded Himmelstoss has a job waiting for him after.
All this pressure to go to college and no one really talks about the other options. So many people go to college but have no idea what they’re doing there or if they should even be there. The crippling debt catches up and nobody ever taught you how to deal with all of this. You’re just blindly told what to do because it’s the right thing to do and hey, everybody’s doing it! It’s right because society makes it right and it is what is expected of you. Kantorek the almighty, all-knowing teacher from Paul’s youth insists on the boys joining the army. The nationalism is almost tangible, palpable and it’s sickening. Joseph Behm, a reluctant recruit, joins with the harassment of Kantorek behind him and dies a horrible death. That’s what many of today’s youth is heading to. None of them are told about trade school where they can take up carpentry or become an electrician or plumber and earn a lot more money than a 9-5 desk job. When you get a little bit older in school, you start to realize that a lot of this is baloney but you also have a little sense of denial that maybe you should wait a little longer and do a little research about society says.
For us lads of eighteen they ought to have been mediators and guides to the world of maturity . . . to the future . . . in our hearts we trusted them. The idea of authority, which they represented, was associated in our minds with a greater insight and a more humane wisdom. But the first death we saw shattered this belief. We had to recognize that our generation was more to be trusted than theirs. . . . The first bombardment showed us our mistake, and under it the world as they had taught it to us broke in pieces.
This is when reality sets in. Our former beliefs, what we held to be true, were wrong. But that’s not a terrible thing. Once we get past this hump we accept it. It’s all part of growing up and realizing. And perhaps that’s what the moral of the story is to start questioning everything because you shouldn’t be taking everything literally from everybody you meet. College in itself is not the end all be all, but it’s a potential medium, a very respected and prestigious medium, through you can get to whatever profession you desire.