War quotes

A hospital alone shows what war is. We want to live at any price; so we cannot burden ourselves with feelings which, though they might be ornamental enough in peace-time, would be out of place here. On the steps is a machine-gun ready for action. The square is empty; only the streets that lead into it are jammed with people. It would be madness to go farther - the machine-gun is covering the square. I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another. But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me.
I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship.
Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late.
Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony - Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?
It is very queer that the unhappiness of the world is so often brought on by small men. We are not youth any longer. We don't want to take the world by storm. We are fleeing. We fly from ourselves. From our life. We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces. We are forlorn like children, and experienced like old men, we are crude and sorrowful and superficial — I believe we are lost. How senseless is everything that can ever be written, done, or thought, when such things are possible.
It must be all lies and of no account when the culture of a thousand years could not prevent this stream of blood being poured out, these torture-chambers in their hundreds of thousands.
We came to realise - first with astonishment, then bitterness, and finally with indifference - that intellect apparently wasn't the most important thing... not ideas, but the system; not freedom, but drill. We had joined up with enthusiasm and with good will; but they did everything to knock that out of us. He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: "All quiet on the Western Front".
He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come.
Bombardment, barrage, curtain-fire, mines, gas, tanks, machine-guns, hand-grenades - words, words, but they hold the horror of the world. With blinded eyes I stared at the sky, this grey, endless sky of a crazy god, who had made life and death for his amusement. Let the months and years come, they can take nothing from me, they can take nothing more. I am so alone, and so without hope that I can confront them without fear. The life that has borne me through these years is still in my hands and my eyes. Whether I have subdued it, I know not. But so long as it is there it will seek its own way out, heedless of the will that is within me. At school nobody ever taught us how to light a cigarette in a storm of rain, nor how a fire could be made with wet wood-nor that it is best to stick a bayonet in the belly because there it doesn't get jammed, as it does in the ribs. Our thoughts are clay, they are moulded with the changes of the days; when we are resting they are good; under fire, they are dead.
Fields of craters within and without.
To no man does the earth mean so much as to the soldier. When he presses himself down upon her long and powerfully, when he buries his face and his limbs deep in her from the fear of death by shell-fire, then she is his only friend, his brother, his mother; he stifles his terror and his cries in her silence and her security; she shelters him and releases him for ten seconds to live, to run, ten seconds of life; receives him again and again and often forever. I am no longer a shuddering speck of existence, alone in the darkness;
I belong to them and they to me; we all share the same fear and the same life... I could bury my face in them, in these voices, these words that have saved me and will stand by me.
Kropp on the other hand is a thinker. He proposes that a declaration of war should be a kind of popular festival with entrance-tickets and bands, like a bull fight. Then in the arena the ministers and generals of the two countries, dressed in bathing-drawers and armed with clubs, can have it out on themselves. Whoever survives the country wins. That would be much simpler and more than just this arrangement, where the wrong people do the fighting Come let me kiss you. Life was never so precious as today— when it meant so little. The days, the weeks, the years out here shall come back again, and our dead comrades shall then stand up again and march with us, our heads shall be clear, we shall have a purpose, and so we shall march, our dead comrades beside us, the years at the Front behind us:—against whom, against whom? The wisest were just the poor and simple people. They knew the war to be a misfortune, whereas those who were better off, and should have been able to see more clearly what the consequences would be, were beside themselves with joy. The train goes slowly. From time to time it stops, so that the dead can be taken off. It stops a lot. Beside us lies a fair-headed recruit in utter terror. He has buried his face in his hands, his helmet has fallen off. I fish hold of it and try to put it back on his head. He looks up, pushes the helmet off and like a child creeps under my arm, his head close to my breast. The little shoulders heave. Shoulders just like Kemmerich's. I let him be. Comrade, I say to the dead man, but I say it calmly, today you tomorrow me, but if I come out of it, comrade, I will fight against this, that has struck us both down; from you taken life - and from me? Life also. I promise you, comrade. It shall never happen again. A crude age. Peace is stabilized with cannon and bombers, humanity with concentration camps and pogroms. We're living in a time when all standards are turned upside-down, Kern. Today the aggressor is the shepherd of peace, and the beaten and hunted are the troublemakers of the world. What's more, there are whole races who believe it! This dead man is bound up with my life, therefore I must do everything, promise everything in order to save myself; I swear blindly that I mean to live only for his sake and his family, with wet lips I try to placate him - and deep down in me lies the hope that I may buy myself off in this way and perhaps even get out of this; it is a little stratagem: if only I am allowed to escape, then I will see to it. So I open the book and read slowly - "Gerard Duval, compositor".
With the dead man's pencil write the address on an envelope, then swiftly thrust everything back into his tunic.
I have killed the printer, Gerard Duval. I must be a printer, I think confusedly, be a printer, printer...
A man can gasp out his life beside you - and you feel none of it. Pity, Sympathy, sure - but you don't feel the pain. Your belly is whole and that's what counts. A half - yard away someone's world is snuffled out in roaring agony - and you feel nothing. That's the misery of the world. I always thought everyone was against war until I found out there are those who are all for it, especially those who do not have to go there. Monotonously the lorries sway, monotonously comes the calls, monotonously falls the rain. It falls on our heads and on the heads of the dead up in the line, on the body of the little recruit with the wound that is much too big for his hip; it falls on Kemmerich's grave; it falls in our hearts. I tell you this: it is the most despicable thing of all to drag animals into a war. I cannot bear to look at his hands, they are like wax. Under the nails is the dirt of the trenches, it shows through blue-black like poison. There were thousands of Kantoreks, all of whom were convinced that they were acting for the best - in a way that cost them nothing. And that is why they let us down so badly.