Aged Wisdom of a Young Soldier

There were thousands of Kantoreks, all of whom were convinced that they were acting for the best—in a way that cost them nothing. 

And that is why they let us down so badly. 

For us lads of eighteen they ought to have been mediators and guides to the world of maturity, the world of work, of duty, of culture, of progress—to the future. We often made fun of them and played jokes on them, but in our hearts we trusted them. The idea of authority, which they represented, was associated in our minds with a greater insight and a more humane wisdom. But the first death we saw shattered this belief. We had to recognize that our generation was more to be trusted than theirs. They surpassed us only in phrases and cleverness. The first bombardment shows us our mistake, and under it the world as they had taught it to us broke in pieces. 

While they continued to write and talk, we saw the wounded and dying. While they taught that duty to one’s country is the greatest thing, we already knew that death-throes are stronger. But for all that we were no mutineers, no deserters, no cowards - they were very free with all these expressions. We loved our country as much as they; we went courageusouly into every action; but also we distinguished the false from the true, we had suddenly learned to see. And we saw that there was  nothing of their world left. We were all at once terribly alone; and alone we must see it through. 

- All is Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque