All Quiet on the Western Front Chapter 1
The book opens with Paul Baumer, the narrator, and the rest of Second Company a few miles from the front. They have just returned from the front the night before, having suffered unexpected and heavy losses. Half of the men from the company are dead or wounded. Ginger, the cook, has made a meal for 150 men instead of the 80 that are left. The men get out of bed around noon to line up for food. First in line is Albert Kropp, then Muller, Leer, and Paul. All four boys, aged 19, were in school together, and joined the army on the same day. Behind them is Tjaden, a 19-year-old locksmith; Haie Westhus, a 19-year-old peat-digger; Detering, a peasant farmer, and Stansislaus Katczinsky: "the leader of our group, shrewd, cunning, and hard-bitten, forty years of age, with a face of the soil, blue eyes, bent shoulders, and a remarkable nose for dirty weather, good food, and soft jobs." Chapter 1, pg. 3
Once in line, the men get impatient when Ginger ignores them. The men dislike Ginger because he is a coward and won't bring food very close when the men are being shelled. He tells them that he can't serve them until everyone is there. Katczinsky tells him of the losses they suffered, and Ginger gets angry that he has cooked too much. He doesn't want to give out all the food or the double ration of tobacco. Kat, angry, tells him that he has cooked for Second Company and he should give everything to Second Company. They are about to fight him when the company commander arrives and orders Ginger to give all the food as well as the full bread and tobacco rations to the men. Ginger, flustered, gives the food out to the men. Everyone happily eats the huge meal, and Muller and Tjaden even take extra. After the meal, the stuffed men read their mail. Paul, Kropp, and Muller decide to go to the bathroom to play cards.
Out in the meadow near camp, there is a common latrine and several small boxes that the men use to go to the bathroom. Paul thinks back to how embarrassed they were when they were first forced to go to the bathroom in a common room as recruits. Now, they don't care. They have no modesty, and going to the bathroom outdoors is an enjoyable experience.
"The soldier is on friendlier terms than other men with his stomach and intestines. Three-quarters of his vocabulary is derived from these regions, and they give an intimate flavour to expressions of his greatest joy as well as of his deepest indignation. It is impossible to express oneself in any other way so clearly and pithily. Our families and our teachers will be shocked when we go home, but here it is the universal language." Chapter 1, pg. 8
They pull three boxes together, read their mail, and smoke. Using a lid from a margarine tub as a table, they sit and play skat, a three-man card game. "One could sit like this forever."Chapter 1, pg. 9 Sometimes they mention something about the battle, but they never really discuss it. There is no need to. Kropp asks if anyone has seen their friend, Kemmerich, who is in the hospital, wounded. They decide to go visit him later that afternoon. Kropp pulls out a letter from their old teacher, Kantorek, who sends his greetings. They all laugh, trying to imagine him there on the front.
Paul thinks back to Kantorek, who encouraged them all to join the army. Kantorek was a small, short man. He lectured them so much about the importance of joining the army and patriotism that he convinced his entire class to volunteer. Only Joseph Behm though twice about joining, but he didn't want the others to think he was a coward. None of the boys knew what going to war meant, but they went anyway.
"The wisest were just the poor and simple people. They knew the war to be a misfortune, whereas those who were better off, and should have been able to see more clearly what the consequences would be, were beside themselves with joy. Katczinsky said that was a result of their upbringing. It made them stupid. And what Kat said, he had thought about." Chapter 1, p. 11
Ironically, Behm was one of the first of Paul's class to die. He was left for dead on the front, and when he tried to crawl back, blinded, he was killed before anyone could help him. Paul believes that they cannot blame Kantorek for Behm's death. There were too many teachers and older people in authority who sent boys who trusted them off to war, and would never know the truth of combat.
Paul, Muller, and Kropp go to the hospital to visit Kemmerich. The hospital stinks of infection. Kemmerich is very weak. Someone has stolen his watch off his wrist. He will not live long. His foot has been amputated, but he doesn't know it. The others don't tell him. They try to be encouraging, telling him he will be going home soon, but Kemmerich can barely respond. Paul thinks of Kemmerich's mother, who cried when they left home and asked Paul to look out for him. Now, Paul can barely look at Kemmerich's waxy skin.
Muller puts Kemmerich's things underneath his bed. He sees Kemmerich's prized pair of boots, more comfortable than what they wear, and asks Kemmerich for them. He wants to get them before they are stolen as well. Kemmerich doesn't want to give them up, and Paul stops Muller before he can argue. After a while, they leave, bribing an orderly to give him some morphine for his pain. As the walk back to their camp, Muller talks about how nice the boots are. Better that he should have them when Kemmerich dies than anyone else. There is no hope for him. Paul thinks about the letter he will have to write to Kemmerich's mother. Kropp gets very angry and swears, upset about Kemmerich. Once he calms down, he tells them that Kantorek called them "the Iron Youth" in his letter.
"Yes, that's the way they think, these hundred thousand Kantoreks! Iron Youth! Youth! We are none of us more than twenty years old. But young? That is long ago. We are old folk." Chapter 1, pg. 18