The cook was quite disconcerted as the facts dawned on him. He was staggered. “And I have cooked for one hundred and fifty men—” Kropp poked him in the ribs. “Then for once we’ll have enough. Come on, begin!”
Here, Paul’s comrade Kropp implores a stubborn cook to think more practically. Kropp is a rational thinker and often able to see the big picture. This combined with his hardening through battle give him a remorseless, necessary logic that serves him well in the war-torn environment. Kropp reminds the cook that rules are of no use when survival is on the line.
Kropp on the other hand is a thinker. He proposes that a declaration of war should be a kind of popular festival with entrance-tickets and bands, like a bull-fight. Then in the arena the ministers and generals of the two countries, dressed in bathing-drawers and armed with clubs, can have it out among themselves.
Paul is recounting one of Kropp’s ideological reflections. Kropp often serves as a mouthpiece for the story’s themes. One of the story’s major ideas is the stupidity of sending people to die for other people’s disputes. Kropp reasons that politicians should just fight each other themselves. His logic is sound, but tragic, since the power structure is so ingrained as to be unchangeable.
Kropp had even gone so far as to propose entering the postal service in peacetime in order to be Himmelstoss’s superior when he became a postman again. He reveled in the thought of how he would grind him.
Paul remembers how even Kropp, who knows the uselessness of revenge and conflict, couldn’t help but embrace his spite after being wronged. This knee-jerk anger is one aspect of human nature that makes war possible. When we are made to feel small, we feel we must make ourselves feel bigger by making others feel small. Even the most sensible among us, like Kropp, fall prey to this anger.
[W]e are here to protect our fatherland. And the French are over there to protect their fatherland. Now who’s in the right?
Here, Kropp ponders the moral confusion of nationalism. We are just picking teams because of where we live, he reckons. Everybody has a fatherland that they want to see remain safe. Kropp’s ideas hint that perhaps they all would be better off if they could all just agree to leave each other alone. The other soldiers often suppress such thoughts, for fear of undercutting any will to fight on.
You don’t need to lose any sleep over your affair.
Here, Kropp gives a pep talk to Paul, who has just spent hours lying in a foxhole with a man he stabbed to death. Though Kropp understands the horror of Paul’s experience, he also knows that psychological numbness and callousness are necessary to survive. Kropp encourages Paul to shrug off the encounter.