For Paul, the one positive aspect of the war experience is that it forges extraordinarily strong bonds between soldiers. The men of the Second Company are comrades-in-arms, closer than family or even lovers. They have seen unspeakable horrors and endured unimaginable suffering together, experiences they will never be able to share with those who did not fight. The war creates sharp distinctions between soldiers and civilians, but it erases other distinctions. Class divisions, for example, are no longer significant: well-educated young men like Paul fight and die alongside peasants like Detering.
Comradeship is such an intense bond that one would expect the death of one soldier to trigger a strong emotional reaction from the others. But grief is a luxury these battle-hardened soldiers cannot afford. Apart from brief outbursts of rage or sorrow, the men are unable to properly mourn their fallen friends. Paul becomes increasingly numb to these losses over the course of the novel, as he watches every single one of his friends die. Paul continues fighting after the death of his last and closest friend, Kat, but he seems to have lost the will to survive. The novel’s final paragraph suggests that Paul accepts and even welcomes his own death.
Comradeship Quotes in All Quiet on the Western Front
Though Müller would be delighted to have Kemmerich's boots, he is really quite as sympathetic as another who could not bear to think of such a thing for grief. He merely sees things clearly…We have lost all sense of other considerations, because they are artiﬁcial. Only the facts are real and important for us. And good boots are scarce.
Had we gone into the trenches without this period of training most of us would certainly have gone mad. Only thus were we prepared for what awaited us. We did not break down, but adapted ourselves; our twenty years, which made many another thing so grievous, helped us in this. But by far the most important result was that it awakened in us a strong, practical sense of esprit de corps, which in the ﬁeld developed into the ﬁnest thing that arose out of the war—comradeship.
If you train a dog to eat potatoes and then afterwards put a piece of meat in front of him, he'll snap at it, it's his nature. And if you give a man a little bit of authority he behaves just the same way, he snaps at it too. The things are precisely the same. In himself man is essentially a beast, only he butters it over like a slice of bread with a little decorum. The army is based on that; one man must always have power over the other.
We sit opposite one another, Kat and I, two soldiers in shabby coats, cooking a goose in the middle of the night. We don't talk much, but I believe we have a more complete communion with one another than even lovers have. We are two men, two minute sparks of life; outside is the night and the circle of death. We sit on the edge of it crouching in danger, the grease drips from our hands, in our hearts we are close to one another…What does he know of me or I of him? formerly we should not have had a single thought in common--now we sit with a goose between us and feel in unison, are so intimate that we do not even speak.
I am frightened: I dare think this way no more. This way lies the abyss. It is not now the time but I will not lose these thoughts, I will keep them, shut them away until the war is ended. My heart beats fast: this is the aim, the great, the sole aim, that I have thought of in the trenches; that I have looked for as the only possibility of existence after this annihilation of all human feeling; this is a task that will make life afterward worthy of these hideous years.
Now I hear mufﬂed voices. To judge by the tone that might be Kat talking…These voices, these quiet words, these footsteps in the trench behind me recall me at a bound from the terrible loneliness and fear of death by which I had been almost destroyed. They are more to me than life, these voices, they are more than motherliness and more than fear; they are the strongest, most comforting thing there is anywhere: they are the voices of my comrades. 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, we are nearer than lovers, in a simpler, a harder way; I could bury my face in them, in these voices, these words that have saved me and will stand by me.
This is the ﬁrst time I have killed with my hands, whom I can see close at hand, whose death is my doing. Kat and Kropp and Müller have experienced it already, when they have hit someone; it happens to many, in hand-to-hand ﬁghting especially— But every gasp lays my heart bare. This dying man has time with him, he has an invisible dagger with which he stabs me: Time and my thoughts.
"Comrade, I did not want to kill you…But you were only an idea to me before, an abstraction…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…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? If we threw away these riﬂes and this uniform you could be my brother just like Kat and Albert. Take twenty years of my life, comrade, and stand up—take more, for I do not know what I can even attempt to do with it now."