It is always easier to say how you would respond to war while looking upon it as an outsider who has seen little outside of movies and pictures. We tell ourselves 'I could never imagine doing that', or 'How could any human be so corrupt? ' That is what we say, but I wonder what those same men said just prior to their war time experience. Surely they would not follow the same path that so many before them had, choosing to allow war to consume them from the very destructive nature of its existence.
In the novel 'All Quiet On The Western Front' by Erich Remarque, the author conveys the message of how war can corrupt how people view, respect, and handle authority. Through his writing, he has helped to enlighten the world as to how exactly war can change our views on authority that we once stood firm on. No matter who you are, war can find a way to work into your character, at least in some slight way. One example of this, in regards to the respect for authority, was the way in which soldiers treated Himmelstoss. Before the war had begun, Himmelstoss was merely a mailman with very little going for him in life.
When the war initiated, he joined up just as many others were doing and was advanced to a high position. For this reason, it may have been difficult for soldiers to take him seriously and respect him in his position. One extreme case occurred when 'Paul Baumer's friends take their revenge by beating him up one night' (Wagener 16). It is assumed that this was done since he had treated them poorly during training, and this was their means of getting back. Surprisingly, it was the same students that had so admired their teachers prior to their war involvement. Could war have changed their beliefs on respect for authority?
This has also been interpreted as a symbolic attack on the older generation who surged to power during the war (16). Whether it be revenge or a symbolic attack, one thing is certain, and that is respect for authority had changed for the worse. The impudence towards his authority climaxed when Tjaden deliberately verbally insulted Himmelstoss. Although he was given several days in confinement, it did not seem to phase him since he had been treated so poorly by Himmelstoss in the camp. Since the soldiers can now 'see all of the patriotic phases of their teachers in perspective' (17) they feel less inclined to show hem any respect. Even if it means straight out insulting them as Tjaden did. Another example, in regards to the change in view of authority, was made present when Paul Baumer is stopped by an officer while on leave. When he fails to salute, he is made to turn around and approach him properly. Although he follows the protocols after being stopped, it is obvious that he does not care what position that the major holds and views him the same as any other man he passes while walking down the street. 'The reality of the front line and the dream world of those who have stayed at home are contrasted time and again' (Wagener 20).
While on the front lines it would be suicide to follow every single regulation. For this, soldiers such as Baumer are in a way forced to change their views of authority and the way that they might have once approached someone with such authority. Through this, 'one may see how badly war upset these lives' (Kronenberger 5). A final example, demonstrating how the handling of authority has been corrupted, was revealed while Baumer goes to visit his old friend Mittelstaedt who by 'coincidence' is training his former teacher, Kantorek.
To Baumer's surprise, he 'takes revenge on the teacher for former humiliations in the classroom' (Wagener 21). Every little phrase that he can remember his teacher saying to him is thrown back at Kantorek like a bullet. This shows how when given an ounce of authority, any one can let it go to their head. He could have just as easily made his teachers training easy on him resisting the temptation of revenge. This would have surely been the mature thing to do. However, he chose to make it a nightmare without the slightest of hesitation. So why would he choose to do this when he could be making the past right?
I believe that Lord Acton said it best when he stated 'power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely' (qtd. in 'Quotations by Author: Lord Acton'). In this novel, Erich Remarque demonstrates time and time again how war can change how people tend to respect, view, and handle authority. Those who outside of war did not show the slightest signs of being corrupted were forever changed by their experiences that they encountered on the battle front. It makes one wonder just how steadfast we can really be in our beliefs. Apparently there is one sure way to tell. Place anyone in the