All Quiet on the Western Front: Novel Summary: Chapter 9
Paul returns to his regiment from the training camp and meets up again with his friends, Kat, Kropp, M�ller and Tjaden. He feels he belongs there with them, rather than at home or at the camp. There is a rumor that they will all be sent to Russia.
The company is issued with new uniforms, and for eight days there is nothing but drills. Then the men find out why: the Kaiser, the German leader, is to visit them. When he comes Paul is disappointed in him; the Kaiser is not as physically impressive as he had expected him to be. After the Kaiser has gone, Paul and his friends debate whether there would have been a war had the Kaiser been against it. Then they discuss what causes a war to happen. They acknowledge that each country believes itself to be in the right, and they can only hope that Germany is correct in its belief, but they cannot know this for sure. Detering and Kat agree that emperors and generals need wars, so that they can become famous. Kropp likens war to a fever-no one wants it, but it happens all the same. They all agree that whatever they, the common soldiers say, it will make little difference to the war.
The Company is not sent to Russia. Instead, they go up to the front line again. Paul goes with his friends on a night patrol to see how far advanced the enemy position is. They agree on a plan and all creep forward separately. Paul crawls into a shell-hole. As he lies there listening to the machine-gun fire, he has an attack of fear. He cannot bring himself to crawl out of the hole and continue moving forward. But then he hears the muffled voices of his comrades and this saves him. He pulls himself out of the shell-hole and shuffles forward. He advances for a while and then turns back in a wide curve. But he loses his sense of direction. He crawls onward, but is no longer sure he is heading in the right direction. An enemy bombardment begins, and he huddles in a shell-hole, knowing that an attack is coming. The first wave of enemy troops clatters over him, and then an enemy soldier falls into the shell-hole. Paul instantly stabs him with a dagger, and thinks he has killed him. The battle goes on, and Paul cannot risk leaving the shell-hole. He thinks his companions will have given him up for dead long ago.
In the early morning, the body opposite Paul in the shell-hole moves. The man is not dead. Paul drags himself over to him. The man opens his eyes and looks at Paul in terror. Paul gives him some water and bandages the three stab wounds in the man's chest. He knows the man cannot be saved, and the soldier dies that afternoon. It is the first man Paul has killed with his own hands. He is deeply disturbed by the experience. He talks to the dead man, asking forgiveness, saying he will write to his wife and help her, as well as his parents and child. He opens the man's wallet and sees photographs of a woman and a little girl. He finds the man's name in his pocketbook. It is G�rard Duval, and he was a printer.
At night the front is quiet. Paul crawls out of the shell-hole. He has forgotten all about the dead man now. Soon he is found by Kat and Albert, who have come out with a stretcher to look for him. They return to their trench.
This chapter is relentlessly anti-war in its message. When Paul comes face to face with the highest authority, the man who presumably can order the fighting to continue or stop it if he pleases, he is struck by how ordinary the Kaiser is. The Kaiser is just a man, like any other, and not especially impressive in his appearance.
The discussion the men have immediately after the Kaiser's visit demolishes with absurd ease the justifications they are all fed for the war. The conclusion they reach is that it is only the rulers of nations that want war; the ordinary Frenchman or German has no quarrel with his neighbor. Interestingly, Paul also blames the people who write pamphlets that attack the humanity of the enemy. Apparently some of the prisoners they have captured have pamphlets on them stating that the Germans eat Belgian children. Paul must be especially sensitive to this demonizing of the enemy because he has just observed how the enemy Russians prisoners are just as fully human as the Germans are.
Then when Paul kills G�rard Duval, the unfortunate French soldier who falls into the shell-hole where Paul lies, he finds out in an even more compelling way the humanity he shares with the enemy. He realizes that at the moment he stabbed the man, he was seeing him only in the abstract, as an enemy soldier. Now, as he sees the dead man, he knows "you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade." This discovery of real, concrete details about the man-his name, his occupation, the fact that he has a wife and child-humanizes him. It drives home the point that every single one of the almost numberless dead was also an individual who loved and was loved, who had ambitions and desires and fears like all other men. It is this realization that prompts Paul's statement, said out loud to the dead man: "Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy? If we threw away these rifles and this uniform you could be my brother just like Kat and Albert."
There is a big difference between how Paul feels about his killing and how the German sniper, Sergeant Oellrich, thinks of his. Oellrich stands on the fire-step of the trench picking off enemy soldiers with his rifle. He is proud of the hits he gets, but Paul is not proud of his own act of killing. His friends, pointing to Oellrich, tell him he should not worry about what happened. But Paul only half-heartedly agrees with them.