Published in 1928, written by Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front is the story of a group of German infantry – foot soldiers – in World War I. Their daily lives, the drudgery, the soul killing they pass through as they follow orders, live with little food and water, suffer tedium and then the insanity of being shelled in their foxholes for hours at a stretch. The fear of being gassed, the fear of being injured, the fear of fear.
It is really the story of soldiers and war everywhere and any time – thousands of year ago during Alexander’s campaigns to Afghanistan now.
Why do we continue? We are now changing war, with our bloodless drones. But the infantry continues to be required. What is the point of death with no purpose? Why do we send our young off to devour each other? Think how many wars there have been since that first ‘War to End All Wars’. And why do we pour our money and energy into death, rather than life?
It is not really a big question, and does not require a philosophical answer. It simply requires us to quit believing that violence is the answer, and just stop. Now. Focus on other solutions. Big walls. Force fields. Vulcan mind melds. If we look for solutions, we will find them. If we look to be the most powerful, the victor, the winner – that is what we will call the devastation (body, mind and spirit) that is war.
(I am so glad that Nick Kristof the New York Times recommended his own summer reading list: Action! Romance! Social Justice.)