Summary and Analysis
After Second Company is reduced by nearly half, replacement troops arrive, seeming much younger than Paul and his friends. The replacements are actually only two years younger, but their lack of experience makes the age difference seem greater. Kat, the master scrounger, invites the newcomers to share beans, which he garnered in a trade with Ginger for three pieces of parachute silk. Later, Kat finds two loaves of bread, horse meat, a frying pan, salt, and fat. When they need a softer place to sleep than wire netting, Kat finds straw. As planes continue to drop explosives and battle for air superiority, Paul, who is quartered in a factory, sits below and observes the sky battle dispassionately.
Paul ponders how insignificant men like Corporal Himmelstoss, a former mail carrier, develop into bullies who abuse their authority with such meaningless games as "Change at Löhne," during which he forces men of lower rank to crawl under bunks. Keeping soldiers busy seems to be important so they won't have time to think or complain. The four friends recall how they plotted their revenge on Himmelstoss before they left for the front. Tjaden and Kindervater, whom the drill instructor humiliated for bed-wetting, have especially fond memories of their revenge. Following their former tormentor along a road from a pub on a dark night, the four soldiers joyfully wrapped Himmelstoss in a bedspread and, with Haie leading the attack, beat him mercilessly with kicks and punches and a whip, smothering his outcries with a pillow. Himmelstoss crawled away, and a veteran, impressed by the spirited young soldiers, proclaimed them "young heroes." Paul comments very simply, "We had become successful students of [his] method."
In counterpoint to the death scene in Chapter 2, Kat's jolly opportunism lightens the mood of the men and the novel. In this chapter, Paul also reflects on how war changes insignificant men. He is joined in his musings by the others, who complain and vent their frustrations over how they would change things if they were in charge of the war. Their commiserating leads to reminiscing about the night they joined in a lightning attack on Himmelstoss. The whole mood of the chapter is lighthearted, but it will be followed by a much darker account of life at the front.
Kat, although the veteran of the group, is not like the officers they describe. Kat explains to the raw recruits that they must barter tobacco or cigars when a scrounger like himself finds them food. He patiently listens to the plight of his friends and finds what they need. Besides the cold beans and beef, he finds straw, two loaves of bread, a frying pan, salt, and fat before the chapter is over. A pragmatist, Kat cannot understand why they need to practice an hour's saluting because Tjaden violated military protocol. Kat's sardonic philosophy is that if they are losing the war, it will be because they can salute too well.
In the meantime. there is an air fight going on above them and Paul is dispassionately watching it. No one seems particularly concerned with the fighting. The talk turns to postal carriers and why they turn into Himmelstosses when they get a little power. As Kropp notes about rise in rank, "As sure as they get a stripe or a star they become different men, just as though they'd swallowed concrete." Kat concurs, noting that military life brings out the worst in men, particularly the abuse of power over lesser men.
As they muse about the state of the war and particularly their officers, the men think back to the time they whipped Himmelstoss. They especially wanted to vent their rage over his inhumane treatment of Tjaden and Kindervater; joining ranks and illustrating their camaraderie, they unite against a common enemy. They will consider what they will have in store for their old nemesis after he joins them at the front.
mess-tin the compactly arranged metal plates and eating utensils carried by a soldier for use in the field; sometimes also referred to as mess kit or mess gear.
Prussians people of a historical region of northern Germany, on the Baltic. The Prussian ruling class was regarded as harsh in discipline, militaristic, arrogant, etc.
bog-myrtle a scented evergreen that produces black berries useful as a flavoring for stew.
bathing drawers loose swimming trunks.
98 rifle an upgraded Mauser rifle, which was safer and easier to use than earlier models. Adopted by the German military command in 1898, it had a 29-inch barrel and a five-round magazine.
Löhne a city in the western part of Germany.
piss-a-bed [Slang] a person who is unable to control urination, particularly during sleep.
regiments military units consisting of two or more battalions and forming a basic element of a division.
garrison a fortified place with troops, guns, etc.; military post or station.
reinforcement-depot a central receiving headquarters where supplies are delivered for distribution to the field.
black-pudding a hearty sausage made of blood, suet, and spicy, pungent flavorings.
old buffer [Slang] old fellow.