In July 1994, Thomas P. Odom was part of the U.S. Embassy team that responded to the Goma refugee crisis. He witnessed the deaths of 70,000 refugees in a single week. In the previous three months of escalating violence, the Rwandan genocide had claimed 800,000 dead. Now, in this vivid and unsettling new book, Odom offers the first insider look at these devastating events before, during, and after the genocide. Odom draws on his years of experience as a Defense Attaché and foreign area specialist in the United States Army to offer a complete picture of the situation in Zaire and Rwanda, focusing on two U.S. embassies, intelligence operations, U.N. peacekeeping efforts, and regional reactions. His team attempted to slow the death by cholera of refugees in Goma, guiding in a U.S. Joint Task Force and Operation Support Hope and remaining until the United States withdrew its forces forty days later. After U.S. forces departed, Odom crossed into Rwanda to spend the next eighteen months reestablishing the embassy, working with the Rwandan government, and creating the U.S.-Rwandan Demining office. Odom assisted the U.S. Ambassador and served as the principal military advisor on Rwanda to the U.S. Department of Defense and National Security Council throughout his time in Rwanda. His book candidly reveals Odom’s frustration with Washington as his predictions that a larger war was coming were ignored. Unfortunately, he was proven correct: the current death toll in that unfortunate country is close to three million. Odom’s account of the events in Rwanda illustrate not only illustrate how failures in intelligence and policy happen, but also show that a human context is necessary to comprehend these political decisions.
What Readers Are Saying:
“Accounts by military officers who have actually served in the field are relatively rare and, as a memoir, this book is unique. [Odom] is also a perceptive observer and is skilled at translating his perceptions and conclusions into verbal images and in evoking the feel and drama of the events. In particular, the book offers valuable insights into the culture of the army at high levels, based on the author’s direct participation in key events, such as in the Gulf War, and his personal interaction with senior political and military officers. This is a darn good read!”--Norman Cigar, U.S. Marine Corps Command & Staff College
“Accounts by military officers who have actually served in the field are relatively rare and, as a memoir, this book is unique. [Odom] is also a perceptive observer and is skilled at translating his perceptions and conclusions into verbal images and in evoking the feel and drama of the events. In particular, the book offers valuable insights into the culture of the army at high levels, based on the author’s direct participation in key events, such as in the Gulf War, and his personal interaction with senior political and military officers. This is a darn good read!” --Norman Cigar, U.S. Marine Corps Command & Staff College
“Colonel Odom’s study is an important contribution to the literature on genocide and Africa. It should be of interest to every academic library in the country.” --W. A. Terrill, U.S. Army War College
“. . . an insightful book about Africa—most especially about the terrible humanitarian crisis, genocide and war that afflicted Rwanda and eastern Zaire in 1994 and 1995. In July 1994 over a million Rwandan Hutus, many of them implicated in the three previous months of ethnic carnage in Rwanda, sought refuge in neighboring Zaire. There they died from cholera and neglect by the tens of thousands under the glare of the world’s television cameras. Coming from Kinshasa, Odom was the man on the ground when the tragedy unrolled. In managing that disaster, Odom played a key role in assuring that aid providers, especially the U.S. military, focused on providing potable water and controlling disease. However, his characterization of the ineptitude inherent in the Zairian military coupled with the inattentiveness of the U.S. embassy in Kinshasa to the crisis set the context for problems that would linger for years. Both entities disgraced themselves by inaction. The corrupt, venal and incompetent Zairian military establishment was simply incapable of providing security in the east, particularly when over a million refugees arrived in Kivu Province. Instead Zairian troops extorted refugees and aid workers alike, and were soon working hand-in-glove with the perpetrators of genocide. Embassy Kinshasa’s myopia about the eastern crisis contributed to short-sighted U.S. policy that focused only on the easily visible symptoms of the crisis rather than the causes. Although Odom ably reported the truth, especially the fact that the leaders of genocide took over control of the refugee populations, both Kinshasa and Washington refused to accept that more was afoot than a very serious humanitarian disaster. Moving on to Kigali, Rwanda, Odom became an indispensable set of eyes and ears for the embassy, confidant of Ambassador Rawson and instrumental in re-establishing an American presence. He built relations with the newly installed victorious Tutsi military leaders whom he came to admire for their determination, stubbornness and discipline. He also liaised with and advised leaders of the United Nations Peacekeeping operation in the delicate months when peacekeeping activities resumed. Odom was the American officer on the spot who reported and evaluated the imbroglio at Kibeho refugee camp, where hundreds died in a resumption of ethnic violence, and later the battle for Iwawa Island between contesting Rwandan armies. Odom’s on-the-ground activism and his candor in reporting what he learned, helped re-shape U.S. policy towards Rwanda putting it on a more positive track designed to heal and help, rather than to ignore or punish. Odom’s crowning achievement in this regard was the establishment, over hurdles posed by the U.S. military and policy establishment, of a de-mining program that has over subsequent years saved hundreds of lives and effectively cleared Rwanda of dangerous mines and unexploded ordnance. Colonel Odom was the U.S. defense attaché in Kigali when I arrived as ambassador in January 1996. Although our over-lap was short, Odom’s contributions to the adoption of sound and appropriate policies designed to rebuild and reconcile Rwanda were long lasting. Odom’s book is a welcome contribution to the literature on Rwanda. He writes of a turbulent period not just on the ground, but also in the corridors of power and policy. While there were legitimate disputes, Odom’s recitation shows that the observations and expertise of those in the field provide the most realistic basis on which to frame policy. Sadly, it is a lesson that we continually confront, but never seem to learn.” --Robert E. Gribbin, former U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda
“Thomas Odom’s Journey into Darkness brings to the fore the anatomy of failure and inaction of the international community, including the United States of America, during and the aftermath of 1994 Rwandan genocide. His narrative provides a rare but accurate account of the real challenges facing Rwanda and the region and why the efforts to seek solutions to the very challenges have been elusive ever since. His assessment of the situation was as valid then as it is today. [His] story derives its strength from his unreserved honesty on all the events recounted, understanding the complexity about Rwanda and the region, professionalism as well as his empathy for the people he came into contact with. Journey into Darkness is an excellent contribution to the understanding of the Rwandan genocide and its regional consequences. It is a ‘must’ read piece of work for all decision and policy makers in governments or private civic organizations.” --Dr. Zac Nsenga, Ambassador of Rwanda, Washington, D.C.
“The list of books about the Rwandan genocide grows longer day by day. Most recent ones tend to be poor retellings of the basic story, usually derived from works such as Alison De Forges’s masterful Leave None to Tell the Story (1999), or they purport to tell the story from some novel angle or narrate personal involvement in the event. This one of the latter genre; what recommends it, however, is that it is both the first authoritative account of the US military mission sent in 1994 by the US Embassy in Kigali to respond to the Goma refugee crisis, and a larger appraisal of US failure to respond to the larger crisis, and a larger appraisal of US failure to respond to the larger crisis and heed Odom’s early warnings of a wider war in Rwanda and impending catastrophe. Odom joins the growing and honorable list of military men frustrated by what turned out to be the tragic US-UN hesitations over humanitarian intervention in Rwanda. Epitomizing that frustration is Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, commander of the shrinking UN force in Kigali, forbidden to act to save the thousands clamoring at his gates. Perhaps Dallaire’s heart-rendering account, Shake Hands with the Devil (2004), should be read after or in conjunction with Odom’s, if only to drive home the point both make. Summing up: Highly recommended. All levels.” --V.T. Le Vine, emeritus, Washington University
“Odom joins the rowing and honorable list of military men frustrated by what turned out to be the tragic US-UN hesitations over humanitarian intervention in Rwanda…highly recommended.” --CHOICE Review
“The book provides a unique insight into a multicultural and multinational environment and the associated high level politics that surround intense events such as genocide…Odom’s story is so vivid the reader can easily picture the events and feel the frustration resulting from the milieu of miscommunication, distance, culture, preconceived notions, and personal agendas…his account of the culture, the military, and the Goma refugee situation in Zaire provides an excellent background for the entire crisis.” --Military Review