CP Sophomore English - Green
2 May 2018
The Loss of Innocence and Abuse of Power
War is a very powerful thing that can change people as seen in Erich Maria Remarque’s
novel, All Quiet on the Western Front. In the book, which is written from the Germans’
perspective, there are many examples showing the negative effects of war such as the loss of
innocence and the abuse of power. In All Quiet on the Western Front, the loss of innocence and
the abuse of power can be seen through Paul, his comrades, and Himmelstoss.
The loss of innocence can be seen through the conversation exchanged between Paul and
his comrades about how their youth was lost long ago. In the letter that Kantorek wrote to Paul
and his friends, he calls them the "Iron Youth”, which angers Kropp. Paul reflects on the letter
saying that they are no more than 20 years old, yet their youth was long ago (Remarque 88). Paul
saying that their youth was long ago implies that even though they are still young in age, they
lost their innocence a long time ago. Albert expresses, “He is right. 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”
(Remarque 87-88). Paul and his friends are so young, yet they have lost their youth to the war.
They talk about how they were just beginning to love life and the world and had to "shoot it" to
pieces, meaning that they destroyed their previous life. This is an illustration of the destructive
nature of the war and how it has consumed the innocence of Paul and his friends.
The abuse of power is shown through Himmelstoss’ treatment of Paul and his comrades.
Remarque says, “The question revives Kropp, more particularly as he hears there’s no more beer
in the canteen. ‘It’s not only Himmelstoss, there are lots of them. As soon as they get a stripe or a
star they become different men, just as though they swallowed concrete’” (Remarque 43). The
stripe or star is a representation of authority which can give the wrong idea to people, usually
resulting in them taking it to an extreme such as Himmelstoss did. In the book, Paul talks about
how the army is based on one man having more power over the other. The problem with this is
that one man has too much power. He gives the example of how a non-com will torment a
private, a lieutenant will do the same to a non-com, and a captain to a lieutenant, until he goes
mad. The men in charge all acquire this habit eventually (Remarque 44). This shows how the
status rank of a person makes one feel as if they have a lot more power. They take advantage of
this authority that they have and misuse it. Himmelstoss exploitation of his authority during the
war demonstrates the theme of abuse of power.
The loss of innocence and abuse of power are major effects of the war seen in All Quiet
on the Western Front. The loss of innocence is primarily shown through the conversations held
between Paul and his friends, while Himmelstoss' treatment of the soldiers demonstrates the
abuse of power in the book. In both instances, the men are changed in a negative way, which
shows the reader the terrible effects that war has on people.
Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on Western Front. Ballantine Books, 1982.