I’m sure that if he were planted down in the middle of the desert, in half an hour he would have gathered together a supper of roast meat, dates, and wine.
Here Paul admires the skills of his comrade, Katczinsky. Kat, as he is affectionately known, is famed amongst the men for his resourcefulness, able to scrounge up food in the remotest of places. This usefulness makes him loved by and invaluable to the other soldiers. Out at the frontline, comradeship is earned through action, rather than gained through power structure or inheritance.
Kat has lost all his fun since we have been here, which is bad, for Kat is an old front-hog, and can smell what is coming.
Paul notices that Kat has become quiet and morose and fears an incoming attack. Since Kat is an older veteran, the younger men trust his judgment, using him as a metric for how things are going. Kat will continue to serve as the glue for this group of comrades throughout the story. His loss would be devastating.
I am very miserable, it is impossible that Kat—Kat my friend, Kat with the drooping shoulders and the poor, thin moustache, Kat, whom I know as I know no other man, Kat with whom I have shared these years—it is impossible that perhaps I shall not see Kat again.
Paul’s panic over Kat’s possible death reveals the kinds of bonds that war forms. Paul, a young man barely out of his teens, and Kat, a man in his forties, would never have been friends in civilian life. The chaotic circumstances of war brought them together, and now, through their shared trauma, they are bonded to each other more closely than most civilians will ever understand.
All is as usual. Only the Militiaman Stanislaus Katczinsky has died.
Here, Paul tries to process the death of Kat, who comes to represent the numbing of humanity by war. Kat was an extraordinary man, brimming with skill and knowledge. He meant so much to so many, and now he has died and suddenly he doesn’t matter. Kat is now barely a speck in the vast swaths of dead.
They are different men here, men I cannot properly understand, whom I envy and despise. I must think of Kat and Albert and Müller and Tjaden, what will they be doing?
After Paul returns home, he realizes that he can only really trust his soldier comrades, particularly Kat. He cannot help but think of them and wish to be with them. Even when they are apart, Kat looms large in Paul’s life. For these men, the bonds of war become a survival necessity just like food or water. They may never feel whole again without each other.