“Youth? That is long ago. We are old folk.”

I just finished reading the first chapter of All Quiet and the last sentence really struck me. In it, Kropp says,

“Youth? That is long ago. We are old folk.” (18)

It got me thinking a lot about the lecture Dr. Scanlon gave last week. Specifically, about the soldier who was around 14.

I’m a senior now and I can’t put into words how many times I’ve been taught about war. From the Revolutionary to the War of 1812 to the Mexican American War–thanks to public education I’ve had decent exposure to learning about them and something that has been added to every lesson I’ve encountered is the idea that war changes a person. I can’t be one to dispute that–I’ve never been in war much less the military, but that statement always felt like an afterthought. I don’t come from a military family and the most change I ever experienced was going into my freshman year of college. Some of the people fighting in WW1 were my age or younger. Not to offend anyone that’s still early on in their college career, but I can’t help but think how scared and immature I was then. There was no ready I would’ve been even slightly ready for war, much less for a “war to end all wars.”

I guess the whole point of this post is to say that I never really put much thought into how young some of these people were and how quickly a life of normalcy was robbed from them.  In the book these boys are talking about how they’re “old folk.” How the war has changed them so much already. It’s disturbing.

3 thoughts on ““Youth? That is long ago. We are old folk.”

  1. Something that gets mentioned a lot as the book progresses is how unique Paul and his fellow soldiers’ experiences are because they don’t have something to anchor themselves with. They were just beginning to experience lives, to think for themselves and to go out into the world. But unlike the older soldiers, they don’t have marriages or careers. The idea of reconnecting with civilian life is unfathomable. I definitely agree with you. I don’t think, even now, that I would have the mental resilience you would need to cope, or even just to keep moving.

  2. I rthought it was really interesting how throughout “All Quiet” there is this commentary about the death of who these men were before they got involved in the war. Like what was stated above, these younger men have nothing to hold onto when it comes to their life before the war, the war engulfs their whole identity. Though they are young, around the same age as us, if not younger, we are told we have so much life to live whereas these men feel like they have already lived and died. This death of who they were before the war gives to this idea of “rebirth” into who the war has molded them to be: what was discussed in class today as the ideal masculine male and how men are told they should be during this time.

    I never really thought about the men and young boys who’s lives were swallowed up during this violence. Maybe this was the goal of the education system. They never shined light onto the actual age range of these boys, like the 14-year-old Dr. Scanlon told us about, and how their lives were drastically altered in order to shelter us from the mental and social destruction of the war and maybe to keep us believing that war made these men, and the war itself, heroic.

  3. In response to your comparison between freshman year of college and young, WWI soldiers, I thought Paul’s discomfort when he returns home for leave is similar to how some college freshman feel when they go home for the first time. Although Paul’s case is a lot more extreme, I believe change and time away from home prompts young people to mature, causing them to feel distant from their family and foreign in their own home. I remember feeling nostalgic and strange when I first visited my bedroom back at home. The old books, pictures, and toys on my shelves seemed so different.

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