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WW1-Comparison of German and French Soldiers Experiences


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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