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The Germans and Allies are again involved in a fierce battle that begins with an artillery bombardment, followed by an infantry attack. Baumer and his friends are in the trenches. Before the charge begins, Baumer feels like he is in a cage, waiting to be killed; the new recruits are hysterical. All the soldiers know that it is only chance that will cause them to live or die.
As both sides advance and then retreat, they leave behind a scene of death and destruction. There is blood everywhere, and several soldiers, who are still alive, have had their skulls blown apart; others have had both feet severed. Corpse rats run amidst the battlefield debris. Ironically, a stack of new coffins is placed against a nearby school, visually depicting the life vs. death theme. The schoolhouse causes Baumer to think about his former life.
The soldiers fight fiercely, motivated by self-preservation. Baumer comments that he would even kill his own father, flinging a bomb into him, if he were with the Allies. The fighting continues in the trenches throughout the summer. When it is time for Baumer's company to retreat, there are only thirty-two men, out of one hundred and fifty, who return to the rear line. The remaining soldiers are relieved that they have lived through the offensive.
The battle depicted in this chapter is very typical of the trench warfare that took place on the Western Front throughout World War I. The fight would begin with artillery bombardment. Then the infantry attack would begin. One side would move forward, only to be repulsed by the enemy. Later a counter-attack would ensue and be repulsed. Month after month and year after year, this type of give and take continued between the Central Powers and the Allies. Little territory was lost or gained; in fact, the Western Front stayed fairly stable through much of the war.
The vivid description of the death and destruction given in the chapter is typical of the mayhem caused by infantry fighting. The author has deliberately emphasized the brutality of war by giving horrible and grim details, like the soldiers who have had their skulls blown apart. He forces the reader to see and feel the pain of the infantrymen. But Remarque constantly contrasts the death and destruction with pictures of life. Near the trenches, there are colorful butterflies flying about; and the stack of new coffins is placed against a schoolhouse, where young children once went to learn about life.
In the chapter, particular attention is paid to the new young recruits who have never before experienced a battle. As they wait in the trenches for the fight to begin, they are hysterical to the point of madness. Once the battle begins, they fight like gawky young children who are ill-trained; as a result, they are killed like flies. Baumer identifies with these youth in their ill-fitting uniforms; he feels as lost as they do. In fact Remarque makes a reference to the fact that Baumer's generation will become the lost generation, never fully recovering from the emptiness and devastation of the war.