By Muhammed Khan
Erich Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front and Timothy Findley's The Wars are considered by many to be two of the best novels ever written on The Great War. The novels revolve around Paul Baumer, a 19-year-old German, and Robert Ross, a 19-year-old Canadian, going off to fight in The War To End All Wars. They find themselves in a nightmare world of trench warfare with mud, smoke, deadly gas, and rotting corpses. In this world, death hovers around like a black cloud, killing millions in its process. There are many horrific moments in the two novels, but none that desensitize the main characters to death more than these major incidents involving: two fatal accidents, alienation, a suicide, and lastly, the characters' own deaths.
The first up-close death of the enemy that Paul Baumer takes part in is that of a French soldier.
Before this experience, he has gotten used to seeing corpses. Death, being the most feared thing in the world, no longer has an effect on him. Nevertheless, he has never observed death up-close. As he is caught in the trenches, Paul is forced to kill the French solder who jumps into it while attacking the German lines. Paul is horrified: "This is the first man I have ever killed with my own hands, the first one I've seen at close quarters whose death I've caused" (Remarque, 156). In his grief, Paul takes the dead man's pocket-book from him so that he can find out the deceased's name and family. Realizing that the man he killed is no monster, that he had a family and is very much like himself, Paul apologizes to the corpse for killing him. "Why do they keep reminding us that you are all miserable wretches...