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This analogy also reflects a grim self-understanding among Paul and his friends. Their individual identities no longer have any real meaning for them; rather, they see themselves as coins—de-individualized tokens used by the German army. All semblance of individuality has been “stamp[ed]” out, and the only identity that matters is that of German soldier. Paul and his company also resemble coins in that they are valuable only as means to an end—they are exchanged unsentimentally by those in charge of the war for the deaths of enemy soldiers or for a few yards of ground. Should they perish, they are easily replaced by another group of de-individualized tokens.
Paul and his friends know that Germany is losing the war. Rumors of peace are an endless torture to endure because they see the end in sight, yet they know that they might be killed when they return to the trenches, before the peace can be put into effect. Detering cracks under a particularly bad episode of shell shock, and he deserts. In the German army during World War I, the penalty of death was often applied to deserters. After several years of faithful service in the worst possible war in history, Detering meets his end as a traitor to his country. The irony is that he gives into homesickness for the very homeland that he is supposed to defend.