All Quiet On The Western Front

Bloganuary prompt: Has a book changed your life?

Maybe all good books change one’s life. I credit a lot of who I am as a person to the books I read, especially at a younger age. Stories and books have a big impact on shaping a person’s life and personality.
I am grateful for the fact that TV had only three channels with mostly grown-up content when I grew up. Being an introverted child that didn’t really fit in, I spent a lot of time devouring the youth section of the little library in the next bigger town.

I remember reading the book series about Captain Horatio Hornblower by C.S. Forester several times, taking me into a world of tall ships, pirates, and an abstract depiction of war on the open seas.

In contrast to books like these, one book I read a little later changed my life and a lot of my principles and political opinions.

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?

Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front

Erich Maria Remarque’s book, All Quiet on the Western Front had a deep impact on me. His depiction of life on the front lines of World War I shattered all romantic preconceptions of war and heroes. It makes me realize how humans are duped into fighting and dying for the interest of others. I often think of this book when I take part in the memorial services on Remembrance Day in my chosen home of Canada.

How the book changed my path

When I was a young man in Germany, any male citizen over 18 had to report to basic military training. The only way you could be released from this (other than health reasons) was to agree to spend a longer time period doing “Zivildienst” – or civil service as I translate it. I ended up working in a nursing home.

For the application, I had to write a convincing essay about why it would break me to learn how to be a soldier. I had to provide witnesses to this statement as well as defend my position in front of a tribunal of lay judges.

At the core of my reasoning was what I learned in “All Is Quiet At The Western Front” and the non-fiction books I had read about both world wars afterward.

The book changed my life. I will read it again soon.

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