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Paul travels for several days and then loafs, awaiting his company. He is worried about his friends; the company has been designated a "flying division," one assigned wherever the need is greatest. How relieved he is when they return, and Kat, Muller, Tjaden, and Kropp have all survived! The slightly moldy potato cakes serve for a meal of celebration. All are delighted to be issued clean new gear for once, too. But they get to keep the clothing for only eight days of drill and polish- and a visit from the Kaiser. Then it's back to rags. The Kaiser turns out to be a disappointingly small man (like Kantorek and Himmelstoss?) and that leads the friends to a discussion of his power. Would there have been a war if he had said no? Paul says he knows for sure the Kaiser did say no. We know from history that Paul, like many people who are certain, is wrong. Nobody directly contradicts him at this point, but later Kat observes that every grown-up emperor wants his very own war, so maybe the Kaiser figured it was his turn. Meanwhile everyone does agree that if 20 or 30 leaders had said no, there couldn't be a war. Kropp notes how strange it is: everybody's fighting for his own fatherland, sure that he's right. There must be something they are missing. War has always existed; it must be some kind of fever. But that is too philosophical for the others, and it is Kropp who finally growls that they might as well just drop the whole rotten discussion.
Think about Kropp's contributions to all the discussions. How do his ideas differ from those of his companions? Is he as willing as they to speculate that his own leaders might be wrong? What do you think the defeat of Germany will do to his ideals and emotions? Even if he survives, will he be destroyed in exactly the same way as the others?
After Kropp's outburst, a line of white space is our only transition to the next sentence: "Instead of going to Russia, we go up the line again." The Setting section of this guidebook points out the geography: they are going west, to France, despite rumors of going east.
This time they barely notice things that would have horrified them earlier. Bodies, many naked from the concussion of trench mortars, hang in some trees they pass. They casually report the situation at the next stretcher-bearers' post; there's no point getting upset. Back at the front, they volunteer to scout out the enemy position. Paul, separated from his friends in the dark, is overcome with fright until he again hears their voices. He blames his leave; it has thrown his instincts off. But the experience makes him realize that friendship is the one solid element he has left in his life: it steadies him.
In the darkness Paul is pinned down by a bombardment. When a French soldier suddenly stumbles into Paul's shell hole, Paul stabs wildly with a small dagger, hitting the man again and again by reflex. Then, still trapped by the firing, Paul's guilt and horror grow as he bandages the man and waits until he finally dies, about three the next afternoon. He looks through the man's papers and vows not to forget the name: Gerard Duval, printer. He has killed a man, not some abstract enemy. When it is dark again, Paul is able to creep out and find his friends. When he mentions the dead printer the next morning, Kat and Kropp reassure him: "Mat else could you do?" They point out Sergeant Oellrich, a sniper who boasts about how his targets jump and about how high his kill score is. Paul comments that war, after all, is war.
That appears to be the end of the issue. From your own knowledge of Paul, do you think he does forget his vow to make amends? Remarque doesn't tell us; he leaves it open. Some readers think Paul is totally brutalized and that he does forget. Others notice rather that there is just no mention of Duval's wallet and pictures again. What do you think?