A young soldier faces profound disillusionment in the soul-destroying horror of World War I.
Paul Bäumer: You still think it's beautiful to die for your country. The first bombardment taught us better. When it comes to dying for country, it's better not to die at all.
Professor Kantorek: Paul! How are you, Paul? Paul Bäumer: [somber] Glad to see you, Professor. Professor Kantorek: You've come at the right moment, Baumer! Just at the right moment! [to students] Professor Kantorek: And as if to prove all I have said, here is one of the first to go! A lad who sat before me on these very benches, who gave up all to serve in the first year of the war. One of the iron youth who have made Germany invincible in the field! Look at him. Sturdy and bronze and clear-eyed! The kind of soldier every one of you should envy! Paul, lad, you must speak to them. You must tell them what it means to serve your fatherland. Paul Bäumer: No no, I can't tell them anything. Paul Bäumer: You must, Paul. Just a word. Just tell them how much they're needed out there. Tell them why you went, and what it meant to you. Paul Bäumer: I can't say anything. Professor Kantorek: If you remember some deed of heroism, some touch of humility, tell about it. [encouraging murmurs from the students] Paul Bäumer: I can't tell you anything you don't know. We live in the trenches out there, we fight, we try not to be killed; and sometimes we are. That's all. [students fidget, disappointed] Professor Kantorek: No, no Paul! Paul Bäumer: [angry] I've been there! I know what it's like! Professor Kantorek: That's not what one dwells on, Paul! Paul Bäumer: [bitterly] I heard you in here, reciting that same old stuff. Making more iron men, more young heroes. You still think it's beautiful and sweet to die for your country, don't you? [Kantorek nods firmly] Paul Bäumer: We used to think you knew. The first bombardment taught us better. It's dirty and painful to die for your country. When it comes to dying for your country it's better not to die at all! There are millions out there dying for their countries, and what good is it? [muttering from students] Professor Kantorek: [shocked] Paul! Paul Bäumer: [angry] You asked me to tell them how much they're needed out there. [to students] Paul Bäumer: He tells you, "Go out and die!" Oh, but if you'll pardon me, it's easier to *say* go out and die than it is to do it! Student: Coward! Paul Bäumer: And it's easier to say it, than to watch it happen! students: Coward! You're a coward! Coward! Professor Kantorek: No! No, boys, boys! I'm sorry, Baumer, but I must say... Paul Bäumer: We've no use talking like this. You won't know what I mean. Only, it's been a long while since we enlisted out of this classroom. So long, I thought maybe the whole world had learned by this time. Only now they're sending babies, and they won't last a week! I shouldn't have come on leave. Up at the front you're alive or you're dead and that's all. You can't fool anybody about that very long. And up there we know we're lost and done for whether we're dead or alive. Three years we've had of it, four years! And every day a year, and every night a century! And our bodies are earth, and our thoughts are clay, and we sleep and eat with death! And we're done for because you *can't* live that way and keep anything inside you! I shouldn't have come on leave. I'll go back tomorrow. I've got four days more, but I can't stand it here! I'll go back tomorrow! I'm sorry. [exit]
Albert Kropp: Ah, the French certainly deserve to be punished for starting this war. Detering: Everybody says it's somebody else. Tjaden: Well. how do they start a war? Albert Kropp: Well, one country offends another. Tjaden: How could one country offend another? Tjaden: You mean there's a mountain over in Germany gets mad at a field over in France? [Everyone laughs] Albert Kropp: Well, stupid, one people offends another. Tjaden: Oh, well, if that's it, I shouldn't be here at all. I don't feel offended. Katczinsky: It don't apply to tramps like you. Tjaden: Good. Then I could be goin' home right away. Paul Bäumer: Ah, you just try it. Katczinsky: Yeah. You wanna get shot? Tjaden: The kaiser and me... [the others laugh] Tjaden: Me and the kaiser felt just alike about this war. We didn't either of us want any war, so I'm going home. He's there already. Hair-peak soldier: Somebody must have wanted it. Maybe it was the English. No, I don't want to shoot any Englishman. I never saw one 'til I came up here. And I suppose most of them never saw a German 'til *they* came up here. No, I'm sure *they* weren't asked about it. Paul Bäumer: No. Detering: Well, it must be doing somebody some good. Detering: Not me and the kaiser. Hair-peak soldier: I think maybe the kaiser wanted a war. Tjaden: You leave us out of this! Katczinsky: I don't see that. The kaiser's *got* everything he needs. Hair-peak soldier: Well, he never had a war before. Every full-grown emperor needs one war to make him famous. Why, that's history. Paul Bäumer: Yeah, generals, too. They need war.
Albert Kropp: [speaking of school] They never taught us really useful like how to light a cigarette in the wind, or make a fire out of wet wood, or bayonet a man in the belly instead of the ribs where it gets jammed.
Tjaden: Me and the Kaiser, we are both fighting. The only difference is the Kaiser isn't here!
Paul Bäumer: War isn't the way it looks back here.
Katczinsky: I'll tell you how it should all be done. [spits] Katczinsky: Whenever there's a big war comin' on, you should rope off a big field... Cigar-smoking soldier: And sell tickets. Katczinsky: Yeah. And - [glares at interrupter] Katczinsky: And on the big day, you should take all the kings and their cabinets and their generals, put 'em in the center dressed in their underpants, and let 'em fight it out with clubs. The best country wins. [everybody murmurs in agreement] Paul Bäumer: Well, now that Kat's settled everything, let's go see Kemmerick.
[first title card] Title card: This story is neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the war...
Ginger - the Cook: [looking at soldiers lined up to eat] What do you want? Katczinsky: Beans, you homely-looking son of a frog's leg! What do you think I want? Ginger - the Cook: [the men shout that they're hungry] Shut up! I'll feed you when you're all here. Tjaden: We're all here now! Ginger - the Cook: Only half the company's here. Get the rest! Wake 'em up! Katczinsky: [the men laugh] I wish I could wake 'em up. There's 80 of us left. The rest is in dressin' stations or pushin' up daisies! Ginger - the Cook: [shocked] 80? And I cooked for 150! Westhus: All right, we'll have enough for once. Come on, dish out! Tjaden: You mean you've cooked beans for 150? [the cook nods] Tjaden: And you've got bread for 150 and sausage for 150 and tobacco for 150? Ginger - the Cook: Everything. It's all wrong. I should have been notified! Katczinsky: What a feast! Everyone gets two issues! [the waiting men shout] Katczinsky: [trying to keep order in the ranks] Get back in line! Get back in line! Ginger - the Cook: Oh, no, that woun't do. I can't give 80 men what's meant for 150. Katczinsky: [he starts to punch the cook but thinks better of it and tries to be persuasive] Listen, you drew rations for the Second Company, didn't yuh? Ginger - the Cook: Yes. Katczinsky: All right, we're the Second Company! [the men shout] Ginger - the Cook: I got my orders. Albert Kropp: [agreeing with Kat] That's right. Paul Bäumer: We're the Second Company and if only half of us get back, that's our good luck. Come on, dish it out! Ginger - the Cook: [the men shout] No! Katczinsky: [grabbing the cook by the throat] You're the yellowest baboon that ever drew a cook wagon, and you're scared, and it shows! All we want to hear out of you is one more little yip, and we'll cut yuh up and eat you raw! Why, you keep your kitchen so far back of the lines, we never get anything to eat until it's cold and we're asleep. Now, you low doen rat, get out, or we wreck the joint, so help me! [the men shout] Katczinsky: Come on, give us some food!
Franz Kemmerich: [to Mueller] Why it's an honor to have those boots in your face. They're the best pair in the army.
Franz Kemmerich: [after risking his life to bring back Behn] He's dead!... He's dead! Katczinsky: [angrily] Why did you risk your life bringin' him in? Franz Kemmerich: [very upset] But it's Behn! My friend! Katczinsky: He's a corpse - no matter who it is... [to the others] Katczinsky: Now, don't any of you ever do that again!
Hair-peak soldier: And manufacturers. They get rich. [murmurs of agreement] Albert Kropp: I think it's more a kind of fever. Nobody wants it in particular, and then all at once, there it is. We didn't want it. The English didn't want it. And here we are fighting.
Paul Bäumer: We live in the trenches out there. We fight. We try not to be killed, but sometimes we are. That's all.
Tjaden: There used to be some food in the sawdust. Now it's all sawdust.
Paul Bäumer: And our bodies are earth. And our thoughts are clay. And we sleep and eat with death.
Tjaden: They tell me there's some people in this world take a bath every week.
[first lines] Man cleaning doorknob: Thirty thousand. Maid: From the Russians? Man cleaning doorknob: No, from the French. From the Russians we capture more than that every day.
Mueller: Listen, the sum of an arithmetic series is S = A + L times N over 2. Interesting, isn't it? Katczinsky: What do you want to learn that stuff for...? One day you'll stop a bullet and it'll all be worthless.
Schoolmaster: [to his students] You are the life of the Fatherland! You are the iron men of Germany!
Katczinsky: [entering and seeing the new recruits] What is this? Tjaden: [sarcastically] Volunteers for the future general's staff. Katczinsky: [to the recruits] Oh, sometime I'm gonna take one of you volunteers apart and find out what makes you leave school and join the army. At ease. This is no parade ground.
Katczinsky: [to Detering, Westhus, and Tjaden] I wish you three would get bumped off. I'm tired of feeding you for nothing.
[last lines] Second orderly: Your deal. Get his name and number? Medic Orderly: Yeah. Corporal Stanislaus Katczinsky, 306.