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There is a difference between friendship and comradeship. In friendship, individuality is praised; in comradeship, commonality. The distinction of the two is born out of the distinction of the circumstances. During peacetime there is friendship. Why? There is friendship because in peacetime there is a concentration in self-awareness, self-knowledge and all that surrounds oneself. Friendship is self-serving. But comradeship is not. Comradeship can only be born through hard times, wartime. Why? War creates comradeship simply because it destroys. It annihilates lives but it annihilates spirits as well. There is lose of identity in war and that common loss unites - it unites and emphasizes unity. That is comradeship. Friendship and comradeship demonstrate the two sides of human nature. Friendship represents human selfishness when times are good. Comradeship represents human altruism when times are tough - after all, it's better to despair together than to despair alone. In All Quiet on the Western Front, characters like Paul Baümer experience the importance of comradeship. Upon entering the war, Paul finds that camaraderie is the most important aspect of his life.
In war, there is reformation. There is change of perspective. What was once taken as propriety is dismissed. What was once considered vulgar is commended. This shift in behavior is explained when Paul comes to understand "latrine-rumor":
I well remembered how embarrassed we were as recruits...Since then we have learned better than to be shy about such trifling immodesties. In time things far worse than that came easy to us.
Here in the open air though, the business is entirely a pleasure. I no longer understand why we should always have shied at these things before. They are, in fact, just as natural as eating and drinking. (5)
The loss of embarrassment over trivial modesty is the starting point of comradeship. It is the beginning of oppressing self-awareness and promoting unity. Modesty promotes individuality. Lack of privacy promotes commonality - the path to camaraderie. Unity is an important factor of comradeship and in All Quiet on the Western Front it is enforced in different ways. The common resentment towards the older generation that many soldiers shared helped to strengthen their comradeship. Paul expresses "We had to recognize that our generation was more to be trusted than theirs. They surpassed us only in phrases and in cleverness." (8) That sentiment of betrayal only bound them more together. They realize that they can only trust themselves and this creates the reliance on one another that comradeship calls for. It becomes part of their being through the drill, the battle, and the war. They become comrades through their common cause - their common purpose. There is no patriotic fervor in their camaraderie - there is only commonality in their loss and in their pain. The militia calls for the renunciation of their very beings. They are now part of a machine that demands them to unite and loose their humanity. It demands them to not think, question, or believe - it demands them to simply do:
At first astonished, then embittered, and finally indifferent, we recognized that what matters is not the mind but the boot brush, not intelligence but the system, not freedom but drill. We became soldiers with eagerness and enthusiasm, but they have done everything to knock that out of us. (15)
It all becomes the process of their comradeship which helps them to adjust and survive throughout the war - "Kropp divides a cigarette and hands me half. Tjaden gives an account of his...broad-beans and bacon...Kat appears...he has two loaves of bread under his arm and a bloodstained sandbag full of horse-flesh in his hand."(27) This aiding of one another becomes of great importance in every soldier's life and Paul understands its significance more and more as the war proceeds. He understands that without the essence of individuality they are comrades - they are one in the same.
Comradeship is the ability to understand. It is not the ability to sympathize but to empathize with your fellow comrades. This is vital and Paul comes to see this when he deals with new recruits who are fresh to the war:
Beside us lies a fair-headed recruit in utter terror. He has buried his face in his hands...He looks up, pushes the helmet off and like a child creeps under my arm, his head close to my breast. The little shoulders heave. Shoulders just like Kemmerich's. I let him be. (41)
Paul comforts this new recruit and understands his suffering. In a similar situation, Paul and the others come to the aid of another recruit who seems to be on the brink of insanity during bombardment:
One of the recruits has a fit. I have been watching him for a long time, grinding his teeth and opening and shutting his fists. These hunted, protruding eyes, we know them too well...Though he raves and his eyes roll, it can't be helped, we have to give him a hiding to bring him to his senses. We do it quickly and mercilessly, and at last he sits down quietly. (73)
They must be cruel to be kind. Perhaps, it was not the most humane ways to comfort the new recruit, but comradeship is not about being humane. It is about aiding and understanding. Comradeship is profound understanding and this is seen when Paul and Kat have caught a goose to roast:
We don't talk much, but I believe we have a more complete communion with one another than even lovers have. We are two men, two minute sparks of life; outside is the night and the circle of death... What does he know of me or I of him? Formerly we should not have had a single thought in common-now we...are so intimate that we do not even speak. (64)
The intimacy between comrades is unique and platonic. It is a relationship Paul comes to experience with Kat and the rest of his comrades. He -knows them - "I know their every step and movement; I would recognize them at any distance." (101) He knows them because he is them. It is their comradeship that makes him who he is and that is why camaraderie is the most important part of his life.
No one survives war. Those who do not perish physically, perish emotionally and psychologically. With this loss, there is also a loss of comfort in what once was consoling in the past. The only consoling for a war torn soul is the comfort comradeship offers. Paul realizes this after having been on leave and seeing his comrades again - "I could almost weep. I can hardly control myself any longer. But it will soon be all right again back here with Kat and Albert. This is where I belong." (130) Paul's comrades are who inspire him to live, to fight for his life. Without them, Paul would not have felt the need to keep on fighting. This is seen when Paul hears the voice of his comrades when he has lost his nerve:
At once a new warmth flows through me. These voices, these quiet words, these footsteps in the trench behind me recall me at a bound from the terrible loneliness and fear of death by which I had been almost destroyed. They are more to me than life, these voices, they are more than motherliness and more than fear; they are the strongest, most comforting thing there is anywhere: they are the voices of my comrades. (137)
He finds the voice of his fellow soldiers reassuring. This motivates him to keep on fighting. This is the beauty that is seen in comradeship. The will to live is built on the foundation of camaraderie and on the dependence upon one another. There is no selfishness in camaraderie:
I am no longer a shuddering speck of existence, alone in the darkness;-I belong to them and they to me; we all share the same fear and the same life, we are nearer than lovers, in a simpler, a harder way; I could bury my face in them, in these voices, these words that have saved me and will stand by me. (138)
There is only harmony, unity, and endless companionship. There is infinite empathy and the redeeming desire to live. The bond between comrades is one greater than that of family. It is much more powerful. Paul experiences this when he tries to save Kat and fails - the orderly is perplexed at Paul's desperate need to save Kat:
The orderly is mystified. "You are not related, are you?"
No, we are not related. No, we are not related. (184)
The bond in camaraderie flows deeper than blood. It something that Paul comes to understand at Kat's death. To him Kat was the world; to the orderlies, another number. Comradeship is the nucleus of Paul's life throughout the war. It is his reason for fighting, for living, for existing.
For Paul, the war meant renouncing to all that he was and all that he could have been. The intensity of war and the situations paved the path to the comradeship that would save Paul's life and desire to live. Paul came to know camaraderie as the most significant part of his existence. Upon entering the war, Paul lost his individuality but gained commonality.