Mr. DeVito/ Mr. Alter
01 October, 2018
The Great War was truly great in terms of the impact it had on the world that came after it. It was a time where there were great technological advancements, an introduction to new types of warfare and it sparked the beginning of a new take on art and literature. The Western Front was where the war was centered and became the site where it was very significant to the understanding of war through the soldier’s eyes. “Base Details” by Sassoon Sassoon and All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque gives two perspectives of the war; one from the British eyes and the other from the German Eyes. However, even through the eyes of the different soldiers it is recognizable that there is common theme of war. Which is that the war that Sassoon and Paul experience is a war that is like no other. The high ranked officials’ lack of understanding of combat, dehumanization of other soldiers and unawareness of the true nature of war proves the point that the war is far more deadly than the world has ever seen before.
Prior to 1914, the wars that the British and Germans fought where unlike the war that they were going to fight. Nations were not industrialized so, the the technology in past wars were not as brutal as the technology that is seen in World War I. However, with the introduction of industrialized nationalistic nations came with a price. Technological advancements and warfare became another world of its own. Machine guns, poison gas attacks and tanks were among the many new kinds of equipment that was in the trench warfare Western Front. As these materials usage increased, the casualty toll increased as well. From the British perspective, Sassoon points that “speed glum heroes up the line to death” in which there are many soldiers that are being killed and the majors are to blame for their deaths. Majors simply deployed troops into no mans land, and repeated that over and over to prove themselves that they had no idea of what to do on the western front. Then Sassoon notes that the officials are “Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel,” usually miles away from the Front, giving the same commands over and over again as they drink and eat with no understanding of the true warfare. Similarly, Paul notes that the commands that he is given are “attack, counter-attack, charge, repulse” (Remarque 129). These 5 words describe the action of attacking the enemy by defending the attack to the German trenches then charging into no mans land to attack the British and then retreating back. This process was done by both the British, French and Germans and was the command that was given to both sides. Everytime troops rushed into no mans land, many did not make it out, resulting in the repeat of action and creating a high death toll. The officers lack of understanding on combat techniques greatly contributed to the fact that World War I was the deadliest war that mankind had ever seen at the time.
Surprisingly, Sassoon’s poem echoes an idea from Paul’s experience; in which high ranked officials and war dehumanize other human lives. Sassoon states that if he was an officer he would be “Reading the Roll of Honor. ‘Poor young chap,’/ I’d say – ‘I used to know his father well; / Yes, we’ve lost heavily in this last scrap.'” Notice how the Roll of Honor takes a manner much like a piece of engrossing fiction. Sassoon dehumanizes the soldiers through the reaction of the army to their dead.There is no emotion in this poem and through that lack of emotion, he shows how callously the Majors, Generals and higher ranking men treated the privates and the soldiers. Even the use of the word ‘scrap’ – when put into the context of a battle such as the Somme, or Ypres – shows a ridiculous lack of respect for human life. In a more gereral context, Paul notes an important idea that has come to him after being in the front lines for most of his life in the war. Paul thinks, “When a man has seen so many dead he cannot understand any longer why there should be so much anguish over a single individual” (Remarque 181).
As the war machines became stronger and more deadly, the differences between war prior to The Great War and World War I itself, became distinct. Two time periods, everything in the past to 1914 and 1914-1918 were viewed as two different worlds, and in similarity, the world on the Western Front was truly distinct from the world a few miles away from the Front. Paul encounters a high ranked official who is clearly unaware of the true nature of war, Himmelstoss. During a counterattack against the British and French, Himmelstoss is found “with a small scratch lying in a corner pretending to be wounded. His face looks sullen. He is in a panic” (Remarque 131). According to Paul, being scared and afraid of going into no mans land, is usually found in new recruits or in this case, inexperienced officers that have not experienced the true nature of war. What Himmelstoss finds is that what he believed was war, was far off from the present situation because there were machine guns spewing bullets to no mans land and hundreds of bodies laid in the middle of the two trenches. In addition, Sassoon opens with “If I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath / I’d live with the scarlet Majors at the Base” – thus showing a distinct distance between the majors and the soldiers that they commanded. An aged gentleman is described with the words fierce, bald and short of breath, while ‘scarlet’ can be tied to the drunkenness of the general. The small description of the general himself, can already lead to the inference that he does not know what the true war is like because he is drunk and is positioned in a world that is far from the actual war itself. Coincidentally, the fact that the officers undermined the true nature of war is also an idea or purpose that Sassoon wants to address. Sassoon bitterly describes how his soldier toddles on home only to die in bed. The last line – “I’d toddle safely home and die” is shocking when compared to the rest of the poem. It is such a selfish, sharp poem that carries a bitter expression of human misery, hidden within the complete lack of emotion of the high ranked officials. The point made by Sassoon is that, because of the selfishness and lack of emotion, officers are unable to grasp the seriousness of the war. Instead of fighting alongside their troops and being part of defending the front lines, officers excessively and greedily drank in a world that was physically different from what the soldiers were going through. Throughout the war, the officials carelessness of the true nature of war became a factor of the fact that World War One was the most lethal war for its time.