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On leave in his hometown, Paul relishes the way his classmate Mittelstaedt torments their old schoolmaster Kantorek, now a pitiful specimen of a soldier in the reserve unit Mittelstaedt commands. Nowhere is Paul comfortable. Duty drags him to visit Kemmerich's mother, but his own sensitivity has been dulled by the carnage and he can't begin to comprehend her hysterical grief over a single soldier. His own books and papers no longer comfort him, his civilian clothes don't fit, old men lecture him on how they think the war is really going, and his mother, whom he adores, is seriously ill. So out of place does he feel that he is glad to report for duty at a nearby camp. There he often guards Russian prisoners of war, whom he begins to identify as men like himself and his comrades. The more he sees their suffering, the less he can grasp why he must call them enemy.
When Paul rejoins his company, he is relieved to find that all his closest friends have survived. Polishing is the order of the day; the troops are preparing for an inspection by the Kaiser. The whole ridiculous display leaves them burning with resentment at the blindness of their leaders. Up at the front again, Paul volunteers for a scouting mission with his friends. He is briefly separated from them in the dark trenches and panics until their distant voices steady him. Only comradeship sustains him now. Later, trapped by shelling, he blindly, repeatedly, stabs a French soldier who falls into his foxhole and must listen and watch for hours as the man's life slowly ebbs. He is guilt stricken at having personally killed a plain soldier like himself. It takes the cool way the sniper Oellrich tallies up his kills to snap him back to front-line reality.
By sheer luck Paul's entire group next find themselves guarding an abandoned village and supply dump. For two glorious weeks they lose themselves in feasting sleeping, and joking. Then, again by chance, both Paul and Kropp receive leg wounds while helping to evacuate a village. During their stay in a Catholic hospital, the wonder of clean sheets soon evaporates, and Paul discovers just how many ways a man can be killed-or maimed for life. The wards seem worse than the battlefield. Kropp's leg is amputated, but Paul recovers.
After a short while Paul is back to animal existence at the front, except that conditions have grown even worse. Starved and short of supplies, the men are emaciated and their nerves so frayed that they are prone to snap at the slightest provocation. It takes only the wonder of cherry blossoms at the edge of a field to madden one man with thoughts of his farm: he deserts and is court martialed. Another, who stoically bore the screaming of the horses in the earlier battle, dies in an insane attempt to rescue a messenger dog.
As the summer of 1918 wears on, existence is reduced to a paralyzing round of filth, mud, disintegrating gear, dysentery, typhus, influenza-and battle. Muller, shot point blank in the stomach, gives Kemmerich's boots to Paul-the boots are sturdy and may survive them all. When pleasure-loving Leer collapses of a hip wound, all Paul has left is his friend Katczinsky. Then even Katczinsky is wounded: his shin is shattered. Paul doggedly cames him far behind the lines to an aid station. But the medics can only shake their heads. Katczinsky has died on Paul's back from a tiny splinter of shrapnel that freakishly pierced his head.
The months wear on to October, and Paul is alone. Back at the front after two weeks of rest for a trace of gas poisoning, he has nothing to hope for. He is killed on a day so quiet that the army report consists of a single line: "All quiet on the Western Front."