The Banning of All Quiet on the Western Front

Written by Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front illustrates how horrifying and haunting war is. This story, which follows Paul Bäumer through his life on the front lines of World War I, has been banned in several countries since its publication in 1929. This has happened for several controversial issues that are brought forth in the novel. Censors, especially in Germany, have felt threatened by the political views it depicts. Others are not comfortable with the amount of foul language, sexual references, and drug usage that is present in the book.

As per the norm, the soldiers in All Quiet swear often. “Damn you again! (63)” and “God! For God’s sake! (62)” are just two of the many instances of offensive language. This would be particularly inappropriate to one whose religion looks down upon using God’s name in vain. Sexual innuendos are also present in the novel, albeit in strange ways: “When he presses himself down upon her long and powerfully, when he buries his face and limbs deep in her… Earth with they folds, and hollows, and holes (55).” Although Remarque is speaking of the earth, he sexualizes the description profusely. There is also a copious amount of drug abuse by the soldiers: at least one cigarette is smoked in every chapter. It is apparent why some might find the novel offensive and want to have it banned.

Being that it is a book about war, All Quiet also illustrates its author’s view on politics. Right off the bat in the first chapter, Remarque writes “the idea of authority… was associated in our minds with a greater insight and a more humane wisdom. But the first death we saw shattered that belief (12).” The authorities in World War I, and in Germany for that matter, are shown to be unworthy of their positions and abusive of their power. Corporal Himmelstoss and even the Kaiser are perfect examples of this. Himmelstoss is deeply disliked by his soldiers as a result of how brutal and verbally abusive he is towards them. Along with several other authority figures in the novel, Himmelstoss also does not comprehend the cruelness of the war until he is at the front line himself. The Kaiser, even, is drawn as someone who is only acting for show, and does not actually embody what the people believe he is. “We stand at attention and the Kaiser appears… I am really rather disappointed (202).” The moments leading up to the reveal of the Kaiser give the impression that we will finally meet the authority we have been looking for: someone who understands and sympathizes with the soldiers. Instead, he is just like the previous ones we have encountered. Real-life authorities may be overthrown by people who take All Quiet to heart, and so many censors have banned it for this reason.

Additionally, Remarque writes war itself as unproductive and more damaging than helpful. “‘Then exactly what is this war for?’ … ‘There must be some people to whom war is useful’ (205).” Paul, his fellow soldiers, his family back home, and even authority figures cannot seem to find an answer to this question that lingers everywhere in the novel: why is the war happening? The book also illustrates war honestly, describing battles in frightening detail, and bringing to light the fact that millions upon millions have died unnecessarily as a result. “... it must have been a very tiny, stray splinter. But it has sufficed. Kat is dead…. I stand in the midst. All is as usual. Only Militiaman Stanislaus Katczinsky has died (291).” Censors may want to keep anti-war ideals away from the public, and thus would ban the novel.

The banning of All Quiet on the Western Front, and any novel for that matter, is absolutely ridiculous. Books like this are written in order to make sure that these stories are never forgotten. In addition, reading novels gives us as humans a better understanding of each other, and as a result, makes us less prone to taking negative action against one another. Governments should not be capable of taking that enlightenment away from their people. And although it is understandable that some may find the usage of profanity and innuendos offensive, we cannot shelter ourselves from the reality that we live in a world full of crude words and sex. It’s not logical or even possible to deny this truth. For these reasons, the action of banning itself should be banned.






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