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Paul first notes the change of identity that occurs at the front. The men turn into animals--and more likely the hunted, not the hunters: "there is suddenly in our veins, in our hands, in our eyes a tense waiting, a watching, a heightening alertness." He later calls the soldier's impulse to seek the earth for protection an "animal instinct," and says the soldiers become "human animals" on the front.
They are de-individualized as instruments of war; the marching men are a "column--not men at all." Real animals play a significant role here, as well. Remarque contrasts the cackle of the geese--which Kat playfully promises to get at the beginning of the chapter--with the dreadful, geese-like sound of the artillery. Moreover, the wounded horses jolt the soldiers out of their desensitized states more than wounded men do. Though both soldier and horse alike are exploited in the war, at least men make the decision to enter the war, however reluctant they may be; the horses have no choice but to submit to the destruction of man.