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A Soldier’s Business

A young man dreams about what he is going to do in life. He starts planning and wondering what he is going to do to leave his mark on the world. The world is his oyster he has endless possibilities, but the war changes all of that. He soon finds himself in a trench fighting for his life engulfed with death. The novel All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque is about the life of Paul Baumer, a German soldier, who is faced with immoral situations and goes through Lawrence Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development while he is in war. Consequently, Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development illustrates the progressions of people’s moral reasoning. As people get older and go through more and more conflicts, they develop a more mature behavior, and proceed to the next stage. There are three levels in Kohlberg’s theory: pre-conventional, conventional, and post-convention, and each level has two stages (Barger). Paul Baumer is nineteen years old when he signs up for war he has just started to love life he has just started to live his life, but all that soon changes once he joins the war. He is no longer able to see the world the same way, he has high hopes and dreams, but his youth and eagerness, is destroyed by the war. His parents and his teachers give him false ideas about war, telling him war is a brave and heroic act, but soon realizes nobody knows what they are truly talking about. Paul starts to forget what the value of life really is but gradually, he realizes that every man has the same fear, worries and problems and that war does not always define moral excellence. By learning this important lesson he is able to move on from stage three of Kohlberg’s morality scale to stage five because it helps him increase his level of morality.
Paul Baumer is in stage three of Kohlberg’s stages of moral development because he strives to live up to the expectations of his family, friends, and community by joining the war. In stage three, people follow a stereotypical image of what the majority is doing; they please their family, they focus more on intentions, and they believe polite behavior should be exhibited (Barger). For example, Paul realized, that if he does not sign up for the war, “he would have been ostracized. No one could very well stand out, because at that time everyone’s parents were ready with the word coward” (Remarque 11). Paul signs up for war because that is the group mentality by going to the war he and his classmates are accepted and honored by the community. It is Paul’s and every young man’s duty to sign up for war because it is the right thing to do. Furthermore, when Kemmerich, Paul’s friend is hurt, Paul remembers of “the time when we went away” and Kemmerch’s mother “implored me to look after Kemmerich out there” (Remarque 15). Paul wonders what Kemmerichs’s mother would feel and think if she knew that her son had died. He feels like he disappointed Kemmerich’s mother because he could not do anything to help her son. Paul put himself in Kemmerich’s mother’s shoes and considers how she would feel; therefore, he corresponds to stage three. Paul also fits in to Kohlberg’s stage three because when his mother asks him about the war, he lies to her, but only because he means well, and does not want to make her feel any more anxious. When Paul’s mother tells him to “be on (his) guard against the women out in France. They are no good.” Paul answers, “Where we are, there aren’t any women” (Remarque 183). He lies to his mother because if he tells her he has been with a French woman, it will not please her and her approval means everything to him. By telling her that he has been with a French woman, Paul would not be doing what his mother thinks is right. Paul stays in stage three throughout the novel because he always does what he is supposed to do, thus, acting the way a person in stage three should act.
As Paul goes through more and more situations, he moves on to stage four because of all the knowledge and experience he has accumulated. In stage four, a person obeys laws, respects authority, and maintains the given social order for its own sake (Wood). During the time Paul is on leave, he is confronted by a Major, who demands a salute from him. Paul acknowledges that he “would like to hit him in the face, but controls himself” (Remarque 162). Paul respects his superior because he knows his leave depends on it, therefore, a fear of chaos makes him follow orders (Wood). On the other hand, an example that shows that Paul has not fully reached stage four is when he and his friends ambushed Himmelstoss, the corporal who trains them, and beat him to a pulp. Paul “seized the bed-cover, made a quick leap, threw it over his head from behind and pulled it round him so that he stood there in a white sack unable to raise his hands” (Remarque 48). Paul does not respect Himmelstoss who is the authority in this situation, and respecting authority is a major part of stage three. Paul just wanted revenge for everything Himmelstoss did to him; he did not follow the rules or respect the social order. Although Paul has had complex challenges, he has been able to overcome them, and reach stage four .
At the end of the book, Paul advances to stage five as he truly cares about the feelings of other people and matures socially. Stage five is the Social Contract and Individual Rights, people consider the rights and values that society ought to uphold (Wood). There is a genuine interest in the welfare of conscience and social mutuality (Barger). Before Paul goes back to war, he goes on a training course where he meets war prisoners. As he looks into the men’s faces, he begins to wonder if “a word of command has made these silent figures our enemies; a word of command might transform them into our friends” (Remarque 194). Paul gives the prisoners a couple of cigarettes without trading anything with them like the other men because he thinks that it is unfair since the prisoners barely have anything to exchange. By giving the prisoners the cigarettes, he feels hope because he knows he is doing the right thing and that the small act of kindness proves his beliefs that if there were no war, there could be a chance that they could be friends. Paul grasps the idea that his enemies are not truly his enemies because only “a document is signed by some persons, and that very crime is formerly the world’s condemnation” (Remarque 194). Paul strongly believes in this idea which fuels his need to make it through the war because he believes through it, he will find peace in his heart. Another example of Paul being on stage five is when he tries to save the injured French soldier, “I want to help you comrade, camerade, camerade” (Remarque 220). Paul helps the man by giving him water and bandaging his injury. Not many soldiers in his position would do that, but he has and to him it is the right thing to do. Paul helps the man because he cannot live with his conscience knowing he has killed a man. By helping the man he makes peace with the fact he has caused the man’s death. To Paul, helping the injured soldier is important no matter what side he is fighting on, because he realizes that the man is just like him, with the same fears, worries, and dreams. Through this, he sees that human life is not something cheap and expandable, the way war makes life seem; he sees that life is precious and valuable. Paul has gone a long way to reach stage five; he has finally learned that all men are the same and that there is always a way to help people.
Paul Baumer, a young man who only knows about war, death, and the cheapness of human life, begins at stage three of Lawrence Kohlberg’s scale of Moral Development as he eagerly signs up for war, not because he is doing his duty, but because he is following the belief and attitude of others. Throughout his experiences in war. he moves on to stage four and soon progresses on to stage five because of all the social interactions he has with other people that makes him realize that everyone in the world is the same and that life is the most valuable thing in the world. In spite of the fact that Paul is faced with immoral situations in the war, he is able to look within himself, and find a resolution to his conflicting emotions, and duties during the war.



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