Stanislaus Katczinsky, or Kat, is the unofficial leader of Paul’s small group of comrades, and he serves to provide a very human response to dehumanized conditions. In this way, he complicates Paul’s understanding of war. On the one hand, the experienced, cunning Kat demonstrates ways to make the most of life as a soldier, raising morale among the men and sharing tips and cook-bribing hacks that contrast with the meaningless lessons taught by the likes of Kantorek and Himmelstoss. Rather than blindly following precedents, Kat seeks ways to make war more tolerable, and to lessen the suffering of his comrades.

However, Kat is not exactly an optimist; he believes humans possess an innate sadistic streak, and war allows them to enact this with impunity. The army, he argues, brings out the animalistic, reducing the veneer of civilization. At forty years old, Kat is older than Paul, and it’s unlikely the two would ever have met in peacetime. Kat’s life experience renders him reliable, a consummate survivor and a source of comfort to the men, and he becomes a father figure to Paul as well as his closest friend. But it’s this very experience that allows him to see modern warfare for what it is: their enemy. A cobbler by trade, Kat represents a preindustrial way of life, one which opposes the brutal hierarchies of the military. His knack for survival renders his already cruel and pointless death even more so, reinforcing the idea that there will be no elegant end for any of them—just more victims, unfairly slaughtered.