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 France 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.


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