All Quiet on the Western Front: Novel Summary: Chapter 10
Paul and his friends are assigned to guard a village that has been abandoned because of heavy shelling. They make their headquarters in a cellar and do their cooking in a small house about twenty yards away that had been used as an officer's billet. One day when Kat and Paul are cooking up a feast, including two pigs, the house is shelled. But they escape unharmed, with all the food. They have a grand feast that day.
Three weeks go by in this manner, as Paul and his friends eat, drink and roam around. They hope they will be able to stay there until the end of the war. But eventually they are called away. They are given the job of evacuating a village, and they come under shell-fire. Albert Kropp is hit in the leg and Paul is injured too. They are picked up by an ambulance and taken to the dressing-station. They both hope that with their injuries, they will be sent home. That night Paul is operated on. A surgeon removes a piece of shell from his leg, and tells him he will be sent home the next day. His leg is put in plaster. Paul bribes a sergeant-major to ensure that he and Kropp are put on the same hospital train. On the third night of the journey, Paul fakes a fever just so he can be put off the train at the same station as Kropp. He has promised Kropp that he will not leave him.
Paul and Kropp lie in the same room in a Catholic Hospital. Many of the wounded are in worse condition than Paul and his friend. No one is able to sleep well, and toward morning they are always awakened by the sounds of the nuns' morning prayers that can be heard through an open door. The men protest loudly, and Paul throws a bottle into the corridor. The nuns close the door.
Another man, Josef Hamacher, takes the blame for throwing the bottle. He later explains to the men that he has a "shooting license," which means he has a certificate that says he is periodically not responsible for his actions. This means that he can do what he likes, and is never punished.
There are eight men in the room that Paul occupies. They are cared for by the overworked nuns and by the rather unskilled Red Cross voluntary-aid sisters. One of the men, Franz W�chter, dies. Another man, Peter, has a severe lung injury. One day, the nuns come to take him to what they call the bandaging ward. But Peter knows he is instead being taken to the Dying Room, a room at the corner of the building, near the mortuary, where the dying are taken. Peter protests loudly, but in vain.
Paul is operated on, and he vomits for two days. His bones will not grow together. Kropp has his leg amputated, and he sinks into depression. A new arrival, a youthful musician, stabs himself in the chest with a fork. In the morning he has lock-jaw. There is only one bright moment: Peter returns from the Dying Room, the first man ever to do so.
After a few weeks, Paul attends the physical therapy department each morning. Kropp is also recovering, and will soon be sent to an institute for artificial limbs. Paul gets convalescent leave, visits his mother, and is then sent once more to the front. It is hard for him to part from his friend Kropp.
It is no surprise to find that comradeship and anti-war are the themes of this chapter. The comradeship is seen in Paul's touching desire not to leave his more severely wounded friend, and the ingenious lengths he goes to in order to keep his promise.
Having shown the horror of war at the front, Remarque here turns his attentions to the distressing sights in a military hospital. He describes the wounds of the men in detail, and once again the horror of war is made apparent. The full force of Remarque's devastating critique of war can best be conveyed by extensive quotation. This is how Paul registers his anger and disgust at what has happened:
And this is only one hospital, one single station; there are hundreds of thousands in Germany, hundreds of thousands in France, hundreds of thousands in Russia. How senseless is everything that can ever be written, done, or thought, when such things are possible. It must all be lies and of no account when the culture of a thousand years could not prevent this stream of blood being poured out, these torture-chambers in their hundreds of thousands. A hospital alone shows what war is.