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The Aftermath of War Factoid: Half of all Frenchmen between the ages of 20 and 32 were killed in the First World War.

The Aftermath of War 


Half of all Frenchmen between the ages of 20 and 32 were killed in the First World War.Despite horrendous losses, the AEF stopped and, then, reversed the German offensive on the Western Front, and as more and more fresh American troops arrived, Germany concluded that the war could not be won and signed an armistice on November 11, 1918-the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. But there was little to celebrate. Nearly 10 million men in uniform had died: Germany lost 1.8 million; Russia 1.7 million; Austria-Hungary 1.2 million; the British Empire 908,400; and France lost 1.4 million. The America war dead totaled 115,000. Additionally, more than 20 million combatants suffered wounds, producing many permanent and disfiguring injuries. And in perhaps the greatest tragedy of all, wartime conditions in Europe helped to proliferate a particularly virulent strain of influenza, resulting in a pandemic that killed at least 25 million people in 1918, including 500,000 Americans. These numbers do not, however, speak to the tremendous human suffering occasioned by the war. For that, let's return one last time to All Quiet on the Western Front.

"All Quiet on the Western Front"

It is autumn [1918]. There are not many of the old hands left. I am the last of the seven fellows from our class.

Everyone talks of peace and armistice. All wait. If it again proves an illusion, then they will break up; hope is high, it cannot be taken away again without an upheaval. If there is not peace, there will be revolution.

I have fourteen days rest, because I have swallowed a bit of gas; in the little garden I sit the whole day long in the sun. The armistice is coming soon, I believe it now too. Then we will go home.

Here my thoughts stop and will not go any farther. All that meets me, all that floods over me are but feelings-greed of life, love of home, yearning for the blood, intoxication of deliverance. But no aims.

Had we returned home in 1916, out of the suffering and the strength of our experience we might have unleashed a storm. Now if we go back we will be weary, broken, burnt out, rootless, and without hope. We will not be able to find our way any more.

And men will not understand us-for the generation that grew up before us, though hit has passed these years with us already had a home and a calling; now it will return to its old occupations, and the war will be forgotten-and the generation that has grown up after us will be strange to us and push us aside. We will be superfluous even to ourselves, we will grow older, a few will adapt themselves, some others will merely submit, and most will be bewildered; -the years will pass by and in the end we shall fall into ruin.

But perhaps all this that I think is mere melancholy and dismay, which will fly away as the dust, when I stand once again beneath the poplars and listen to the rustling of their leaves. It cannot be that I has gone, the yearning that made our blood unquiet, the unknown, the perplexing, the oncoming things, the thousand faces of the future, the melodies from dreams and from books, the whispers and divinations of women; it cannot be that this has vanished in bombardment, in despair, in brothels.

Here the trees show gay and golden, the berries of the rowan stand red among the leaves, country roads run white out to the sky line, and the canteens hum like beehives with rumours of peace.

I stand up.

I am very quiet. 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 here it will seek its own way out, heedless of the will that is within me.

Exercise #15

  1. What has Paul concluded about his life? Based on this segment, can you anticipate how the novel ends?
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