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They’re stranded, exhausted, empty, and just want to go home. Welcome to the world war lives of soldiers Paul Baumer and Louie Zamperini. In the novel All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque, Paul Baumer is a German soldier fighting for his life in the trenches during World War I. Baumer fought for almost four years before dying from poisonous gases. Unlike this soldier’s World War I story, Laura Hillenbrand tells about the life of an American Olympic runner named Louie Zamperini who became a bombardier during World War II in the biography Unbroken. Zamperini’s plane crashed in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, causing him to float with two other men for forty-seven days until they reached Japanese territory. These soldier’s war experiences had many similarities and differences. Baumer and Zamperini were peaceful men before entering their wars and were subjected to cruelty which caused mental anguish in the end.
Both Baumer and Zamperini entered their wars because they wanted to serve their country. Before enlisting in the army, Baumer wrote poetry and the beginning of a play (Remarque 19). He had a sensitive, compassionate side to him that no one out on the battle field would ever know about. Baumer enlisted to became a soldier “with eagerness and enthusiasm” (22). After he and his fellow soldiers started the training process, “[They] had fancied [their] task would be different, only to find [they] were trained for heroism as though [they] were circus ponies” (22). The general in charge of training the new soldiers was extremely harsh and cruel to them and gave them bizarre punishments and tasks. Similarly, Zamperini enlisted to be a soldier because he was angry about the 1940 Olympics in Tokyo being canceled (Hillenbrand 44). “He’d been uneasy about planes, but watching the P-38s, he felt a pull… Those who enlisted prior to being drafted could choose their service branch” (44). Zamperini chose to join the Army Air Corps. On the day he left to for air training, “Louie looked out the window [of the train]…he wondered if he’d ever see [his father] again” (55). At this point in their war journeys, Baumer and Zamperini aren’t stranded, exhausted, or empty. Their journeys had only just begun.
During the wars, Baumer and Zamperini had different tasks and feelings. Baumer fought on foot in the trenches with dead, ill, and injured soldiers surrounding him (Remarque 58). When he was on leave, he visited his family. When sitting in his old room he thought “But now I see that I have been crushed without knowing it. I find I do not belong here anymore, it is a foreign world” (168). Baumer realized that he was changing and knew there was no way he could stop it from happening. All the time he had spent at war had made him feel uncomfortable in his own home with his own family. Despite these changes in Baumer, he still had his sensitive side. After he killed an enemy soldier for the first time he said “Comrade, I did not want to kill you. If you jumped in here again, I would not do it…For the first time, I see you are a man like me… Now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship” (223). Unlike Baumer, Zamperini never actually fought in a battle or killed anyone because he was stranded in the ocean and then held captive in Japanese prison camps (Hillenbrand 119). When the life boat he was floating on finally reached land, “Louie felt deep relief, believing that at a POW camp, he would be treated under humane rules of international law, put in contact with the Red Cross, and allowed to contact his family” (188). His hopes of being treated nicely were shattered when he was not given enough food and then forced to do labor. To make matters worse, “No sooner had Louie stepped outside than the Bird found him, accused him of an imaginary infraction, and attacked him in a wild fury” (240). The Bird was a harsh Japanese prison camp leader who hated Zamperini simply because he saw him as a threat because of his Olympic background. Both Baumer and Zamperini were stranded and exhausted during the war. Zamperini wanted to go home and see his family, or at least let them know that he was alive, and when Baumer did visit his family, he felt even more alone.
The outcome of the wars changed both of these men for the better and for the worse. Baumer never got to see the end of the war, but his feelings did change by the time he died. He believes that “it has transformed us into unthinking animals in order to give us the weapon of instinct—it has reinforced us with dullness… It has awakened us in the sense of comradeship… It has lent us the indifference of wild creatures” (Remarque 274). The generals had trained all of their recruits so that they didn’t think because if they ever stopped to think about what they were doing, they would be dead. Being surrounded by death and living in a trench for a year reinforces a sense of dullness and boredom. Being in these conditions with other soldiers brought the men closer together and created friendships like no other. Baumer also believes “If we go back [into the real world] we will be weary, broken, burnt out, rootless; and without hope, we will not be able to find our way anymore” (294). He fears that he will not be able to go back into life outside of war because of the way he feels about life. On a different note, Zamperini was returned safely from Japan when the war was over. However, he was not mentally safe. “By day, he couldn’t stop thinking about the Bird. By night, the sergeant lashed him, hungry and feral” (Hillenbrand 351). Everything that Zamperini did or saw reminded him of the attacks. These constant flashbacks lead him to becoming an alcoholic (363). “The Bird had taken his dignity and left him feeling humiliated, ashamed, and powerless, and Louie believed that only the Bird could restore him, by suffering and dying in the grip of his own hands” (366). Zamperini made it his own personal goal to kill the Bird, no matter the consequences. For the sake of his mental health, Zamperini’s wife took him to church services in hope that his attitude would change. In one particular service, God spoke to Zamperini and he had his last flashback. He stopped drinking and his murderous thoughts about the Bird came to an end (397). At the Japan 1984 Olympics, Zamperini wrote a note of forgiveness to give to the Bird saying that he understands why he did such cruel things to him. At the end of the wars, Baumer felt empty and stranded and Zamperini’s life changed in many ways.
Both Baumer and Zamperini fought for their lives and their country while feeling stranded, exhausted and empty. They did absolutely everything they could just to survive another day longer. Based upon my research, I can conclude that war is fought between countries because their political leaders have a disagreement and then force their citizens to kill the others’. The leaders put their entire country in danger just because of a political argument that could have been solved in a less severe way. The world will continue to have war because of this and civilians will continue to die for their country because their leaders feel that war is the only way to solve political problems. Everyday men, like Baumer and Zamperini, will continue to be subjected to the cruelty of war and the mental and physical effects of it.
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