During drill-time Kantorek gave us long lectures until the whole of our class went, under his shepherding, to the District Commandant and volunteered.
Paul reminisces about how Kantorek, a teacher in his hometown, encouraged the young boys to enlist and bring glory to their country. Now, far from home and wasting away in the trenches, the men blame Kantorek’s sloganeering for tricking them into this horror. Their experience reveals Kantorek as an ignorant fool.
There were thousands of Kantoreks, all of whom were convinced that they were acting for the best—in a way that cost them nothing.
Paul explains that Kantorek was by no means the only one of his kind. Kantorek comes to represent the dangers of blind nationalism. Propaganda swept up Kantorek and convinced him the war was good and just. Kantorek, having a measure of authority, passed this fervor on to his subordinates, who in turn marched off to their deaths. To Kantorek, the war is just an idea.
Kantorek would say that we stood on the threshold of life. And so it would seem. We had as yet taken no root. The war swept us away.
Paul realizes that, when Kantorek said the boys had their whole future before them, the proclamation was more sinister than he thought. For Kantorek, an older man who wasn’t a soldier, it was easy to believe the war represented the boys living life to its fullest. Instead, the war defined these young men by their trauma, removing any hope for their future.
He was about the same size as Corporal Himmelstoss, the “terror of Klosterberg.” It is very queer that the unhappiness of the world is so often brought on by small men.
Paul reflects on the fact that most conflict stems from insecurity, exemplified by Kantorek. Kantorek and Himmelstoss both wield their small authority with relish, but Kantorek is even further removed from the reality of war than Himmelstoss. This uninformed zeal makes Kantorek the most dangerous kind of patriot. People like Kantorek don’t realize what they have done in encouraging young boys to enlist, because they will never see the dreadful consequences.
These teachers always carry their feelings ready in their waistcoat pockets, and trot them out by the hour.
Here, Paul notes that Kantorek’s fervor is essentially hollow. Kantorek tells himself he serves as a necessary mentor to these young men, preparing them for a manly life of toughness and glory, but the truth is he just wants to hear himself talk. What happens to the boys is of no concern to Kantorek, as long as he feels he has some influence in the world.