Peace Through Law? The Failure of a Noble Experiment

Ever since its publication in 1929, Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front has been regarded as a landmark of antiwar literature. Appearing a decade after the end of the First World War, the novel became a literary sensation almost overnight. Within a year of publication, it had been translated into twenty languages, including Chinese, and by April 1930, sales for twelve of the twenty editions stood at 2.5 million. Remarque was reputed to have the largest readership in the world. Hollywood took note, and an equally successful film appeared in 1930. The success of the novel was as unexpected as it was spectacular. Readers across Europe had displayed little interest in books about the war throughout the 1920s, but after Remarque’s success, the public’s appetite proved voracious. It was as if the publics of the great belligerents needed the perspective of a decade before they could begin to relive the experience of the war.