Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

A grunt in Paris: After combat, I never expected the war would follow me here

It’s been four years since I left the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, places that to me will forever invoke misery, violence, and death.

Île de la Cité shortly before sunrise, West View


By Ryan Blum


By Ryan Blum
Best Defense Council of the Former Enlisted

It’s been four years since I left the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, places that to me will forever invoke misery, violence, and death.

My choice to leave the military and move to Paris involved a girl. The old adage of American men being seduced by French women turns out to be true. For a while, it was great. Then she left.

But, don’t worry, this isn’t the tale of my broken heart, it’s the story of finding a home.

Despite the breakup I decided that I would remain in Paris. Perhaps I had read too much Hemingway, but I thought this would be a great opportunity to live as an expat and vet while attempting to find meaning in my life.

I am getting an education, but what I enjoy most about Paris are the simple pleasures, such as enjoying a cigarette at my local café while watching the calming sunset over the River Seine.

Sure, it’s clichéd. But sometimes clichés are damned magnificent. There’s a reason so many writers, poets, and artists come here looking for inspiration — it works. Thomas Jefferson said that a walk about Paris provides lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life. The longer I stay the more I have a sense of belonging and purpose. I’ve built a new life here, a peaceful life.

Last Friday night, I found out my security blanket was false. I never imagined that the war could have followed me here.

France is a state of emergency. The capital feels traumatized and besieged. My local café feels precariously exposed despite the armed soldiers patrolling nearby. The emergency powers, normally reserved for times of civil war, grant far-reaching authority to the President and the interior ministry. The police have the authority to conduct searches without a judge’s approval, implement travel bans, and force home confinement. The state has the authority to take “all measures” to control the press and radio, and anyone unwilling to comply faces custody.

I am deafened by the volume of the war drums’ beating.

I despair when I think about how many young men will be now sent into harm’s way in this new, but yet, old war. And I fear France, specifically Paris, may have been indelibly changed, and not for the better.

I apologize. This did turn out to be a story of my broken heart.

Ryan Blum was a squad leader with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, deploying twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. He now studies International Affairs at the American University of Paris. He is a co-holder of the Army chair in Best Defense’s Council of the Former Enlisted. You can follow him on twitter @ryanblum1.

Photo credit: Daniel Vorndran/Wikimedia

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at Twitter: @tomricks1

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