For most of the novel, Paul Berlin and his fellow soldiers are trying to travel to Paris. Paris is significant in the history of Vietnam, both because France once occupied Vietnam as a colonial power (affecting all its political turmoil since) and because it’s the city in which Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho negotiated peace in Vietnam in 1973. (Paris has also hosted many peace negotiations—the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I, for example). While the purpose of the soldiers’ mission to Paris is supposedly to track down Cacciato, a soldier who’s gone AWOL, it’s clear from very early on that the soldiers also want to go to Paris—a beautiful, peaceful city without any of the dangers they’ve become accustomed to in Vietnam. Paris symbolizes a physical place of security and ease, and also a state of mind in which the soldiers are untroubled by their trauma and guilt. It doesn’t take long for the soldiers to discover that Paris simply isn’t this place, however: there’s no way to run from one’s own psychological problems.
Paris Quotes in Going After Cacciato
He would go to Europe. That's what he would do. Spend some time in Fort Dodge then take off for a tour of Europe. He would learn French. Learn French, then take off for Paris, and when he got there he would drink red wine in Cacciato's honor.
Then they were falling. Paul Berlin felt it in his stomach. A tumbling sensation. There was time to snatch for Sarkin Aung Wan's hand, squeeze tight, and then they were falling. The road was gone and they were simply falling, all of them, Oscar and Eddie and Doc, the old lieutenant, the buffalo and the cart and the old women, everything, tumbling down a hole in the road to Paris.
Spec Four Paul Berlin: I am asking for a break from violence. But I am also asking for a positive commitment. You yearn for normality—an average house in an average town, a garden, perhaps a wife, the chance to grow old. Realize these things. Give up this fruitless pursuit of Cacciato. Forget him. Live now the dream you have dreamed. See Paris and enjoy it. Be happy. It is possible. It is within reach of a single decision.”
"I guess it's better this way," the old man finally said. "There's worse things can happen. There's plenty of worse things."
"True enough, sir."
"And who knows? He might make it. He might do all right." The lieutenant's voice was flat like the land. "Miserable odds, but—"
"Yes," the lieutenant said. "Maybe so."