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By pure good luck eight men, including Paul's "whole gang"- Detering, Kat, Kropp, Muller, Tjaden-draw an assignment that feels like soldier heaven: guarding an abandoned village and supply dump. The only cloud is that by now Haie Westhus isn't with them; he has died even though Himmelstoss had rescued him. Despite some shelling, life near the supply dump means real beds, excellent food, and all the cigars they want. Even when they leave, they do it in style in a big truck loaded with extra food, a canopied bed, two red plush chairs, and even a cat pulling in a parrot cage. These wonderful two weeks are the last light moments of the novel.
A few days later, while they are helping evacuate a village, Paul and Kropp are each wounded in the leg. Picked up by a passing ambulance wagon and treated, somewhat roughly, at a dressing station, they bribe their way onto a hospital train going to the rear. Paul hates to haul his dirty body onto the clean sheets and suffers embarrassment over getting a bottle for urination. On the train Albert's fever begins to rise. To prevent their being separated, Paul heats a thermometer to raise his temperature also. His doing so is more than just a childish prank; he and Kropp need each other's presence as much as they need medical care. Put off at the same station, they are also placed in the same ward at a Catholic hospital. The nuns' morning prayers give them headaches till Josef Hamacher takes responsibility for the bottle Paul threw into the corridor, its noisy shattering getting the nuns to close the door. Hamacher says he threw it because he has what is known as a "shooting license," a paper that says he has periods of mental derangement because of his injuries. They also meet Franz Wachter, who suffers such neglect that he dies of a hemorrhaging arm wound, and little Peter, said to be the only patient ever to return from the Dying Room.
Paul's bones will not knit, so he is operated upon. Hamacher warns some new men not to let the chief surgeon try out his pet cures for their flat feet, but in the end they consent. If you've ever been seriously ill or hospitalized, you can understand their reaction; after awhile you'll let the doctor do almost anything, as long as it will get you out of there! Other men come and go; many die. Kropp's leg is amputated, and he becomes silent and depressed, but Paul can finally get around on crutches. At first Paul wanders the wards, doing so just to keep out of Kropp's sight (he doesn't want his friend to feel worse at the sight of his two legs). As he roams, he notices in how many places a man can be hit. The total image stuns him: shattered men in hospitals all over Europe. "It must all be lies and of no account when the culture of a thousand years could not prevent this stream of blood being poured out, these torture-chambers in their hundreds of thousands." He is utterly and completely disillusioned with the traditions and values handed down to him.
After a few weeks Kropp's stump is well healed and he is to be sent off to an institution for artificial limbs. Earlier he would have shot himself, had he been able; now he is more solemn than he was. Even that is quite a change from the hot-tempered arguer we've known. Paul gets convalescent leave. Parting from Kropp is hard, but he tells himself that "a man gets used to that sort of thing in the army." If Paul is so used to it, why is it so hard?
At home, he finds his mother very feeble; this time is worse than his first leave. He returns once more to the line.
NOTE: THE MEDICAL PROFESSION
Doctors are dealt a blow in this chapter. They are depicted as cruel, callous, preferring amputation to repair of shattered limbs, and too eager to perform experimental surgery. In the next chapter we hear stories of surgeons aiding the Fatherland by certifying everybody A-1. Each example is undoubtedly based on true cases, but consider also the pressures of mass operations under wartime conditions.