All Quiet on the Western Front: Novel Summary: Chapter 2
The chapter opens with Paul reflecting on how the war makes them feel cut off from their former lives. He recalls how it was when they went to the District Commandant to enlist. They had idealistic views of life and of war. Then they went through ten weeks of military training, where they were made to conform to a system that often did not make sense. They were being trained for heroism as though they were circus ponies. But they got used to it, and were able to distinguish between the things that were necessary and the things that were not. During their training, Paul and his friends ended up in a platoon under Corporal Himmelstoss. There was a mutual dislike between Himmelstoss and the men. He was a ruthless and petty disciplinarian who made them suffer as much as he could, making them do pointless drills and never being satisfied with how they performed. The men defied him as much as they could, and eventually he left them in peace.
Paul visits the dying Kemmerich, who has been his friend since childhood. He tries to encourage him, but he knows Kemmerich will be dead within a couple of hours. He feels helpless. Kemmerich dies. The orderlies remove his body at once, since they need the bed for another man. Paul gives Kemmerich's boots to M�ller.
When Paul says that the comradeship the men forged with one another in training camp was the finest thing that came out of the war, he is stating one of the main themes of the novel. It is illustrated not only in Paul's tender attempts to soothe Kemmerich's last moments, but in Paul's comments about M�ller's desire for Kemmerich's boots. M�ller realizes Kemmerich is dying, and having been made hard by the war, his desire for the dying man's boots is simply practical. But Paul is also careful to point out that had Kemmerich survived, M�ller would have run "barefoot over barbed wire" rather than scheme to take his boots.
The death of Kemmerich also shows the injustice of life and of war. "There he lies now-but why?" Paul asks. It is a question that he cannot answer, and it will be raised many times again in the course of the novel. Kemmerich's death is only the first of many.