All Quet on the Western Front, Erick Maria RemarqueOn the next floor below are the abdominal and spine cases, head wounds and double amputations. On the right side of the wing are the jaw wounds, gas cases, nose, ear and neck wounds. On the left the blind and the lung wounds, pelvis wounds, wounds in the joints, wounds in the kidneys, wounds in the testicles, wounds in the intestines. Here a man realises for the first time in how many places a man can get hit.

Two fellows die of tetanus. Their skin turns pale, their limbs stiffen, at last only their eyes live – stubbornly. Many of the wounded have their shattered limbs hanging free in the air from a gallows; underneath the wound a basin is placed into which drips the pus. Every two or three hours the vessel is emptied. Other men lie in stretching bandages with heavy weights hanging from the end of the bed. I see intestine wounds that are constantly full of excreta. The surgeon’s clerk shows me X-ray photographs of completely smashed hip-bones, knees, and shoulders.

A man cannot realise that above such shattered bodies there are still human faces in which life goes its daily round. And this is only one hospital, one single station… How senseless is everything that can ever be written, done, or thought, when such things are possible.

That about says it all. This is as truthful, direct an account as any – warm, alive, horrifying – of what war is. War in general; the first world war in particular, the trench warfare of the Western front to be precise. It is the story of one ordinary soldier, a boy when he joined up, a boy of 18 who endures life at the front for four long years. It is the story of his generation, rootless, brutalised, lost.

Every time I read it, it makes me feel cold, empty – at a loss. How senseless is everything that can ever be written, done, or thought, when such things are possible?

Here’s an Amazon link.
My copy, pretty well thumbed.

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