French and German Soldiers in WWI
The first World War was a horrible experience for all sides involved. No one was immune to the effects of this global conflict and each country was affected in various ways. However, one area of relative comparison can be noted in the experiences of the French and German soldiers. In gaining a better understanding of the French experience, Wilfred Owen's Dulce et Decorum Est was particularly useful. Regarding the German soldier's experience, various selections from Erice Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front proved to be a valuable source of insight. A analysis of the above mentioned sources, one can note various similarities between the German and French armies during World War I in the areas of trench warfare, ill-fated troops, and military technology. Trench warfare was totally unbiased. The trench did not discriminate between cultures. This "new warfare" was unlike anything the world had seen before, millions of people died during a war that was supposed to be over in time for the holidays. Each side entrenched themselves in makeshift bunkers that attempted to provide protection from the incoming shells and brave soldiers. After receiving an order to overtake the enemies bunker, soldiers trounced their way through the land between the opposing armies that was referred to as "no man's land." The direness of the war was exemplified in a quotation taken from Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, "Attacks alternate with counter-attacks and slowly the dead pile up in the field of craters between the trenches. We are able to bring in most of the wounded that do not lie too far off. But many have long to wait and we listen to them dying." (382) After years of this trench warfare, corpses of both German and French soldiers began to pile up and soldiers and civilians began to realize the futility of trench warfare. However, it was many years before any major thrusts were made along the Western front. As soldiers past away, recruits were ushered to the front to replenish the dead and crippled. These recruits were typically not well prepared for the rigors of war and were very often mowed down due to their stupidity. Both the French and Germans were guilty of sending ill-prepared youths to the front under the guise that "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country." (380) Owen's Dulce et Decorum Est is a prime example of this "false optimism" created by the military machine in
to recruit eager new troops to die a hero's death on the front lines. Remarque also alluded to the fact incompetent young recruits were sentence to death. In reference to the young recruits Remarque stated, "It brings a lump into the throat to see how they go over, and run and fall. A man would like to spank them, they are so stupid, and to take them by the arm and lead them away from here where they have no business to be." (383) Millions of French and German soldiers, both young and old lost their lives during this world-wide struggle for survival. It is not necessary for one to go through an intense amount of abstraction in order to note similarities in the weaponry each side employed during the first World War. "Bombardment, barrage, curtain-fire, mines, gas, tanks, machine-guns, hand grenades" were all weapons that served the same purpose. (383) It did not matter if these weapons were in the hands of German or French soldiers, they all indiscriminately dealt death to the opposition. Gas was a particularly horrid creation. It would seeming spring out of the ground without much notice and if one did not seek the security of a gas mask, dreams would be smothered "under a green sea" and as one solider stated (in reference to those who were caught up in the pungent clouds of death) "He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning." (380) Typical sights for soldiers on any given day were "men without mouths, without jaws, without faces; we find one man who has held the artery of his arm in his teeth for two hours in order not to bleed to death. (384) The destructive weapons of war contributed to the massive amount of death neither the French nor German army could escape. Both the accounts looked at in this inquiry unveil a mass of similarities between German and French soldiers during the First World War. Based on Remarque's firsthand encounters with trench warfare in World War I and Owen's vivid descriptions of the French soldiers experiences it is unduly apparent that many perished along the Western front. All of this death rarely yielded more than a few hundred yards for the "victor." However, regarding trench warfare, one could argue that there were no victors, only losers in a hopeless battle for territorial supremacy.