Saturday, March 13, 2010

All Quiet on the Western Front

image from http://www.teachwithmovies.org/guides/all-quiet-on-the-western-front.html

All Quiet on the Western Front
is a novel by Erich Maria Remarque describing the physical and mental suffering of German soldiers during World War I, and their alienation upon returning home from the front. The novel was so powerful in its anti-war sentiment, that Adolph Hitler banned the book and burned all copies in Nazi Germany.

The western front for Germany was France. The words "all quiet on the western front" referred to the daily dispatches that were sent from the trenches in the front to the rear headquarters. "All quiet" meaning that no action had taken place. The phrase became a synonym for the drudgery and routine of surviving daily warfare. This drudgery was punctuated only occasionally by fearsome and deadly combat. More often survival was a search for food and an escape from boredom and the deadly fire of snipers.

Captain James Madison Pearson served in Second and Third American Infantry Divisions in and around Graffigny, France. He and his soldiers faced and fought the same soldiers Remarque wrote about in his novel.

It is my grandmother's father's family that I wonder about when thinking about Remarque's novel. Captain Pearson's future wife, Marguerite Chevallier Meine was raised in the little French town of Graffigny, a town close to Remarque's western front. Marguerite's father was Charles William Meine and he came from Freiburg, Germany. He served in the German military rising to the rank of colonel, but as he died in 1911, it would seem that he saw his action in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. In that war, the German armies decisively defeated the French. Following the surrender of first Paris and then France, the German armies pulled back from Paris and stationed in the French provinces of Alsace and Lorraine.

Although Colonel Meine died before the outbreak of World War I, he came from a large German family. Undoubtedly, he had many nephews of military age who fought in the German army during World War I. It is not hard to imagine that one or more of my grandmother's cousins were young German privates alone and afraid in the trenches along the western front facing Captain Pearson.

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