Teaching the Movie “All Quiet on the Western Front”

Karen Snyder

OBJECTIVES: Students will judge if All Quiet on the Western Front accurately portrays the ways young men were influenced to join armies in World War I. They will view a section of the film, All Quiet on the Western Front, and judge whether it accurately portrays the costs of war and the attitude towards war. Students will be able to judge the physical and psychological pressures placed on the soldiers in the trenches. Through a gallery walk, they will be able to determine the effects of World War I and evaluate whether the war was worth the costs.

LESSON 1 AIM: How were young men influenced to join the war effort?

Activity 2: Segment from All
Quiet on the Western Front.
Answer the following questions as you view the video. (Beginning of him to shot of empty classroom –
eight minutes – 0:00 – 9:45)

1. What are some of the phrases
that the professor uses to urge to boys to enlist?

2. What are some of the images that the boys have of soldiers?

3. What are the boy’s feelings as
they throw their books around and march out of the room?

4. What does the empty classroom symbolize?

5. How does the speech by the
Professor reflect German

6. The Professor said, “I believe it will be a quick war, with few
losses.” How does this opinion
reflect the views of most Europeans about World War I?
Professor Kantorek’s speech:
“Now, my beloved class, this is
what we must do. Strike with all
our power. Give every ounce of
strength to win victory before the
end of the year. It is with
reluctance that I bring this subject up again. You are the life of the
fatherland, you boys. You are the
iron men of Germany. You are the gay heroes who will repulse the
enemy when you are called upon
to do so. It is not for me to suggest
that any of you should stand up
and offer to defend his country. But I wonder if such a thing is going
through your heads. I know that in one of the schools the boys have
risen up in the classroom and
enlisted in a mass. But, of course, if such a thing should happen here
you would not blame me for a
feeling of pride. Perhaps some will say that you should not be allowed to go yet that you are too young, –
that you have homes, mothers,
fathers – that you should not be
torn away. Are your fathers so
forgetful of their fatherland that
they would let it perish? Are your mothers so weak that they cannot
send a son to defend the land
which gave them birth? And after
all, is a little experience such a bad thing for a boy?

Is the honor of wearing a uniform something from which we should
run? And if our young ladies glory
in those who wear it is that
anything to be ashamed of? I know you have never desired the
adulation of heroes. That has not
been part of my teaching. We have sought to make ourselves worthy
and let a claim come when it
would. But to be foremost in battle is a virtue not to be despised.
I believe it will be a quick war that there will be few losses. But if
losses there must be then let us
remember the Latin phrase which must have come to the lips of many a Roman when he stood embattled in a foreign land: ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.’ ‘Sweet and
fitting it is to die for the
fatherland.’ Some of you may have ambitions. I know of one young
man who has great promise as a
writer and he has written the first act of a tragedy which would be a
credit to one of the masters. And he is dreaming, I suppose of following in the footsteps of Goethe and
Schiller, and I hope he will. But
now our country calls. The
fatherland needs leaders. Personal ambition must be thrown aside in
the one great sacrifice for our
country. Here is a glorious
beginning to your lives. The field of honor calls you. Why are we here? You, Kropp, what has kept you
back? You, Mueller, you know how much you are needed? Ah, I see
you look at your leader. And I, too,
look to you, Paul Baumer and I
wonder what you are going to
Activity 3: Joining the Army
Even before the United States
entered World War I, many young people were eager to become part
of the action. One was Alphonzo
Bulz, a teenager in Western Texas who later served in Europe with
the 36th (Texas) National Guard
Division. Here he tells about how
he learned about the war and
decided to join the army.  
1. Why did Alphonzo Bulz want to join the war?

2. In what ways did wartime
propaganda influence Bulz’s decision to join the army?

3. How is this propaganda similar
to the arguments used by the
Professor in the film, and in “A Call for Arms”?  
 “We didn’t have the radio and TV the way we do today. Why, we got
our information from what we
used to call the ‘drummers.’ These were the [salesmen] who’d go
through all the towns in places like West Texas selling all the
merchants their merchandise. They would paint such a dark picture
[of] what was going on there that
we all felt the Kaiser was going to
invade America. And all those awful things the Germans were doing to the Belgians. . . Then we’d hear
how they were riling up the
Mexicans so that they’d want to
fight us. I was only seventeen then, but I thought I better go over there and fight so that I wouldn’t be no
slave to any foreign country. Of c
ourse, my family wasn’t about to
let me go, so one day I stopped off
at the baker’s shop on my way to
high school. He was a good buddy
of mine, so I left my books at his
shop and told him to hold them for me because I was going to be gone a couple of days. A couple of days – that was a funny one. I was gone about two years. Now, I didn’t have any money, so I went down to the
railroad yard and hopped a freight train to Waco, then grabbed
another to [Fort] Worth. I told the
recruiting sergeant there that I was twenty-one. I lied you see; I had to get in. I told him I wanted to join
the infantry so I could fight those
Germans, and they said fine. Well, when my daddy found out where I was, he came down to get me to
come back home. ‘Al,’ he pleaded, ‘We need you at home. What do
you want to go over there to France for, get all shot full of holes? We
love you at home, boy.’ ‘No, Dad,’ I answered, ‘I don’t want to go back home. I want to go to war, show the Kaiser that he can’t fool around
with Americans.’ Poor Dad, he tried so hard for about an hour to get me to go home. But finally he gave
up. ‘Well, son, if that’s the way you feel,” he said, “remember one
thing: if you love God and your
country, and you do your duty,
you’ll come back safe.’ And he was right.” Source: Berry, H. (ed.) Make the Kaiser Dance: Living Memories of a Forgotten War: The American Experience in World War I, pp. 291-295

LESSON 2 AIM: How did the attitude of soldiers change after being in battle?

  Activity 1: Students read the
poem “The Soldier” silently
followed by the class reading the
poem aloud.
If I should die, think only this of
That there’s some corner of a
foreign field
That is ever England.
There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust
A dust whom England bore,
shaped, made aware,
Gave, once her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing
English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by the suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no
Gives somewhere back the
thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams
happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness
In hearts at peace, under an
English heaven.

Source: Brooke, Rupert
The Complete Poems of Rupert
Brooke (1933)
Activity 2: Segment from All
Quiet on the Western Front.
Soldier: (shocked) Dead. He’s dead.

Katczinsky: Why did you risk your life bringing him in?

Soldier: But it’s Behm, my friend.

Katczinsky: (admonishing) It’s a
corpse, no matter whose it is.
1. What are the soldiers doing?
2. Why were the boys surprised at their friend’s death?
3. What does Katczinsky mean?
4. Who is right in the dialogue
when the boys bring back Behm’s
Activity 3:
“Dulce Et Decorum Est.”
A. Distribute the poem and have
students read it alone. Answer
any questions about the
vocabulary. When the students are ready, read the poem aloud as a

B. Read the questions first so that
it is clear what they are to look

C. Put students into pairs. Have
each group answer one of the
following questions, quoting the
lines that support their

1. Where is the poet going? Where has he come from? (To their
“distant rest.”
They have travelled from the
front line: “Till the haunting flares we turned our backs.”)

2. How did he and the other
soldiers feel? (Very tired – “Drunk with fatigue”)

3. How do the soldiers look?
(Like old beggars; weak and
malnourished; knock-kneed,
covered in blood:
“Blood-shod”, in bare feet and
barely able to walk “Many had lost their boots/ but limped on. . . all

4. What do the soldiers try to
do to protect themselves? (put on
their gas masks: “An ecstasy of
fumbling / Fitting the clumsy
helmets just in time”)

5. Does every man mange to fit his helmet in time? (No: “But someone still was yelling out and

6 What happens to the man? (He
dies in agony: “flound’ring like a
man in fire or lime”)

7 What lasting effect does this
incident have on Owen? (He still
sees the man in his dreams: In all my dreams, before my helpless
sight, / He plunges at me”)

8 What is Owen’s final message? (If you saw such a thing you would
never repeat the slogan, Dulce at
Delcorum Est – there is no glory in war)  
“Dulce Et Decorum Est”
Source: C. Day Lewis, ed., The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen (1963)
Bent double, like old beggars
under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags,
we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we
turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep.

Many had lost their boots But
limped on, blood-shod. All went
lame; all blind; Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots Of tired, out stripped Five-Nines that dropped
behind. Gas! Gas! Quick boys! –An ecstasy of fumbling, Fitting the
clumsy helmets just in time; But
someone still was yelling out and
stumbling And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime. . . Dim, through the misty panes and thick green
light, As under a green sea, I saw
him drowning. In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He
plunges at me, guttering, choking,
drowning. If in some smothering
dreams you too could pace Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; If you could
hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted
lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, — My friend,
you would not tell with such high
zest To children ardent for some
desperate glory, The Old Lie: Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.* * (“It is fitting and proper to die for one’s country.”

Culminating Activity: Using their notes, the students will write several paragraphs explaining who they think was right.

LESSON 3 AIM: What were some of the emotional costs of the war?

Activity 1: Discuss the
psychological pressures that can
lead to insanity
1. Distribute the handout,
“Psychiatrists Case Study”

2. As students watch the film, they are to fill out the case study. They
are psychiatrists and are to write a clinical description of the conditions the soldiers are exposed to.

3. Show the film from the death of
their friend to the point where the soldiers are about to attack.
(Chapter Seven – 10 minutes – 26:35 – 36:35)

4. Have the students describe the
conditions in the trenches.

5. Start the film again, run it until the fade out. (Chapter Seven – seven minutes – 36:35 – 43:35) What
were the soldiers exposed to? How could this exposure lead to “shell shock?” Discussion.  
“A Psychiatrist’s Case Study” There has been an outbreak of
“shell-shock” in the German army. This is a situation where soldiers go insane. You have been called in to
complete a study of the conditions
that the soldiers face in the
trenches. Describe what you see the soldiers exhibiting as you watch
the film clip.
Physical Conditions:
Chance of injury:
Weather – it’s effect on the
Sleeping conditions and the effect
of these:
Privacy (or lack of) and its effect: Deaths and their effect:  
Summary: Each student will
pretend that they are a soldier in
World War I fighting in the
trenches, and are trying to describe this warfare to a loved one at
home. They may use any media
they want, e.g. letter, poetry, song, artwork.

LESSON 4 AIM: Was the war worth the costs?

Activity 1: Gallery Walk
1. Organize documents around the classroom: Texts should be displayed “gallery-style” – in a way that allows students to disperse themselves
around the room, with several students clustering around a particular
text. Texts can be hung on walls or placed on tables. The most important factor is that the texts are spread far enough apart to reduce significant crowding. Students should be given a definite time to be spent on each
prompt, e.g. two minutes. A timer can be used.

2. Instruct students on how to walk through the gallery: Students will
take the gallery walk on their own. They should fill out the question sheet as they rotate around the room. One direction that should be emphasized is that students are supposed to disperse themselves around the room. Be ready to break up clumps of students.

3. Assess: As the teacher, it is important to make sure that the students
understand each prompt, thus, it is important that you monitor the
stations while the students participate. Ask some students to explain
what they see. You may need to clarify or provide a hint if students don’t understand or misinterpret what is posted at their station. Read the
students’ writing (Specific problems may be that, in “Parade to War,
Allegory” the soldiers faces resemble skulls or in John Singer Sargent’s
painting some of the soldiers have their hands on other’s shoulders – this is because they have been blinded. They should also be aware of the
figures in the foreground and background of Sargent’s painting).

4. Reflect: Have students break into small groups to discuss what they
have seen. They should discuss how each document reflects an aspect of
the costs of World War I. As a group they should decide which document is the most important, explaining why.

5. Class Reflection: A representative from each group will explain to the
class which document their group decided was the most important. They will give reasons to defend their choice.
Station 1: How was Ypres affected by the war?
Station 2: How were participating countries affected by World War I?  
Station 3: What was the result of “A Call for Arms”?

Station 3: What was the result of “A Call for Arms”? “Untrained though they were (the conscription laws exempted them from service until their studies were complete), they volunteered almost to a complete body to form the new XXII and XXIII corps, which in October 1914, after two months of drill, were thrown into action against the regulars of the British army near Ypres in Belgium. The result was a massacre of the innocents (known in Germany as the kindermord bei Ypern), of which a ghastly memorial can be seen to his day. In the Langemarck cemetery, overlooked by a shrine
decorated by the insignia of Germany’s universities, lie the bodies of 36,000 young men interred in a common grave, all killed in three weeks of fighting; the number almost equals hat of the UnitedStates’ battle casualties in seven years of war in Vietnam. Source: Keegan, J. A History of Warfare, pp. 358-359

Station 4: What was the affect of poison gas?

Station 4: What was the affect of poison gas?
The aftermath of a mustard gas attack in August 1918 witnessed by the artist John Singer Sargent. Poison gas was probably the most feared of all weapons in World War One. Poison gas was indiscriminate and could be used on the trenches even when no attack was going on. “What we saw
was total death,” wrote a young German soldier named Willi Siebert in a
letter to his son. “Nothing was alive. All of the animals had come out of
their holes to die. … You could see where men had clawed at their faces,
and throats, trying to get breath. Some had shot themselves.”
Source: Everts, Sara “When Chemicals Became Weapons of War.”

 Refugees from Belgium flood into Holland.

Station 5: How did the war affect civilians? The magnitude of the wartime refugee crisis is difficult to establish with precision. It was characterized by multiple flows of human beings, and therefore an imaginary census at a given point in time would underestimate the real total of those who were displaced. Nevertheless, data from different countries suggest that at least 10 million people were displaced either internally or as a result of fleeing across an international frontier. Source: Gatrell, Peter Refugees | International Encyclopedia of the First World War (WW1)

Shell Shock

Station 6: How did the losses of World War I affect the soldiers? By 1917 the French army had lost nearly 1,000,000 dead, and after another disastrous offensive in Champagne in April, one half of its fighting divisions refused to obey further orders to attack. The episode, loosely described as mutiny, is better represented as a large-scale military strike against the operation of an unbearable probability; four out of nine Frenchmen enlisted in the fighting-units suffered wounds or death by the war’s close. At the end of that year, the Italian army, which its government had committed to war against Austria in May 1915, went the same way; it collapsed in the face of an Austro-German counteroffensive and was effectively immobilized until the armistice. The Russian army, its casualties, uncounted, had by then begun to ‘vote for peace with its feet,’ in Lenin’s phrase. Lenin’s political victory in the Petrograd Revolution of October 1917 could not have occurred but for the military catastrophes the army had undergone in East Prussia, Poland, and the Ukraine, which dissolved the units on which the constitutional government counted for support. Source: Keegan, J. A History of Warfare, pp. 359-362


All Quiet on the Western Front. Directed by Lewis Milestone.  Universal Studios, 1930.

Berry, H. (1978, ed.).  Make the Kaiser dance: Living memories of a forgotten war—The American experience in World War I.  Doubleday: New York.

Brooke, R (1933). The complete poems of Rupert Brooke. London: Sidwich & Jackson.

Eksteins, M.  (1989). Rites of spring: The great war and the birth of the modern age.  New York. A Peter Davison Book/Houghton Mifflin Company.

Everts, S. (2015). “When chemicals became weapons of war.” Retrieved from www.chemicalweapons.cenmag.org/when-chemicals-became-weapons-of-war 

Gatrell, P. (2017). Refugees. International Encyclopedia of the First World War. Retrieved from https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/refugees

Keegan, J. (1993).  A history of warfare.  New York, Random7). House.

Kostval, K.M.  (2017). Joining the fight: The United States enters World War I. National Geographic History, March/April 2017, 78-87.

Lewis, C.D. (Ed.) (1963).  The collected poems of Wilfred Owen. London: Chatto & Windus. Trueman, C.N. (2015). Poison gas and World War I. retrieved from https://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/world-war-one/the-western-front-in-world-war-one/poison-gas-and-world-war-one/

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