LEST WE FORGET (Im Westen nichts Nueus)

I read this work for the first time this week and I was moved by it and in particular the paragraphs below. The whole work takes me into the guts of war, it’s horror and the inhuman impact on humans. Our inhumanity to each other and we haven’t learned much.



(Im Westen nichts Nueus by Ullstein, Berlin 1929)

P 38

For me, the front is as sinister as a whirlpool. Even when you are a long way away fro its centre, out in calm waters, you can still fee its suction pulling you towards it, slowly, inexorably, meeting little resistance.

But the power to defend ourselves flows back into us out of the earth and out of the air-and most of all it flows out of the earth. The earth is more important to the soldier than to anybody else. When he presses himself to the earth, long and violently, when he urges himself deep into it with his face and with his limbs, under fire and with the fear of death upon him, then the earth is his only friend, his brother, his mother, he groans out his terror and screams into its silence and safety, the earth absorbs it all and gives him another ten seconds of his life, ten seconds to run, then takes hold of him again-sometimes for ever.


Earth, with your ridges and holes and hollows into which a man can throw himself, where a man can hide! Earth-in the agony of terror, the explosion of annihilation, in the death-roar of the shell bursts you gave us that massive resurgence of reconquered life. The madness, the tempest of an existence that had practically been torn to shreds flowed back from you into our hands, and so we burrowed deep into you for safety, and in the speechless fear and relief of having survived the moment, our mouths bit deeply into you!

With the first rumble of shellfire, one part of our being hurls itself back a thousand years, an animal instinct awakens in us, and it directs and protects us, It is not conscious, it is far quicker, far more accurate and far more reliable than conscious thought. You can’t explain it. You are moving up, not thinking of anything, then suddenly you are in a hollow in the ground with shrapnel flying over your heat; but you can’t remember having heard the shell coming or having thought about taking cover. If you had relied on thought, you would have been so many pieces of meat by now. It was something else, some prescient, unconscious awareness inside us, that threw us down and saved us without our realizing. But for this, there would long since have been not a single man left alive between Flanders and the Vosges.

We set out as soldiers, and we might be grumbling or we might be cheerful-we reach the zone where the front line begins, and we have turned into human animals

P 39