All Quiet on the Western Front Chapter 2
Paul thinks of his home and the writing he used to do. Now, writing poems and plays is completely unreal to him. There is no connection for him or any of the younger men to their home. The older men had lives they will return to, but for Paul and his companions, there is nothing to return to because his life hasn't begun yet. Their lives are empty, but they are not sad.
Paul knows that Muller is very sympathetic about Kemmerich. He truly cares about him. But they all understand that Kemmerich can no longer use the boots, and Muller wants them because they no longer serve a purpose. As a foot-solider, it is better that he should have them than an orderly at the hospital. "We have lost all sense of other considerations, because they are artificial. Only the facts are real and important to us. And good boots are hard to come by." Chapter 2, pg. 21 Paul thinks back to when they first enlisted, when they were young and innocent. They were romantic and had no real plans for the future. They were just boys. But by the end of their training, they had their innocence knocked out of them by the army and its drills. There were just tools, not heroes, and even the drills they learned during training were mostly unimportant.
At the start of their training, Paul, Kropp, Muller, and Kemmerich were assigned to No. 9 platoon, where their commander was Corporal Himmelstoss, a short little man who was a strict and mean officer. Before the army, he was just a postman. Himmelstoss was especially mean to the boys, forcing them to do all kinds of ridiculous drills to break their spirits. He forced Paul to do things like clean the Corporal's Mess with a toothbrush. He made them clear snow with a hand-broom and a dust-pan in the cold until a superior officer stopped him. He heaped many different abuses on the boys. Finally, Paul and Kropp rebelled against him and refused to follow his orders. After that, he abused them and called them swine, but his power was gone. Through the whole training period, his abuse made the boys hard and mean, but it gave them a sense of comradeship that made the trenches of the real war survivable.
Paul goes to visit Kemmerich again the next morning. More wounded are flooding into the hospital. Kemmerich now knows that his foot has been amputated. Paul tries to encourage him, but Kemmerich knows he is going to die. He gives Paul his boots to give to Muller. Paul stays by him, sad that someone he grew up with is dying so horribly. He has seen death before, but it is harder when it is an old friend. Kemmerich slowly fades, barely talking. Finally, when he begins to die, Paul goes to get a doctor. The doctor passes him off to an orderly, because he has no time to look at Kemmerich. The orderly indifferently tells Paul that Kemmerich is the seventeenth to die that day. Paul takes his things and leaves. On his way back to camp, he feels the breeze in his face and begins to run, angry at Kemmerich's death but happy to be alive himself. At camp, he gives Muller the boots, and they drink rum and tea.