Late in life I have made it my goal to educate myself in the great literature of western civilization. So I am reading the stories we never got to in high school or college English: the writings of Homer, Cervantes, Tolstoy, and the like. Yesterday I just finished “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque.

No wonder this book is a classic. The author was actually a German soldier fighting in the trenches of World War 1, and was wounded five times. He tells the tale, writing as the young recruit Paul Baumer, in the most gritty, gut-wrenching way. It is clear from this story, that there is no glory in destroying our fellow human beings, no matter who they are.

Like almost all wars, World War 1 was senseless, pointless, idiotic, and left 20 million people dead. (World War 2 just picked up where we left off and killed 60 million.) I believe that sometimes there are circumstances in which we must take up arms to defend freedom, the innocent, and the helpless.

But why was World War 1 fought? As a soldier in the book asks, did a mountain in Germany insult a mountain in France? Was anyone really threatened by anyone else? No, it was fought over prestige, a distorted sense of honor, money, and royalty jockeying for power through alliances and colonialism.

A Serb killed an Austrian archduke, so Russia and Austria went to war against each other. Well naturally that is cause for the Germans and Turks to help the Austrians and for the British and French to help the Russians. Makes sense, right?

No, it doesn’t. And after a few months of combat and losing friends, it made no sense to Paul Baumer either. I believe in a strong military in this fallen world, and I salute those who volunteer, but this is a book they (and everyone else) need to read to get a serious, sobering view of mankind and our purpose and goals in this life.