Small Wars Journal

Small Wars Council Book Review: Journey into Darkness

Odom, Thomas P. Journey Into Darkness: Genocide in Rwanda. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2005. (Price - $18.96 Paperback on

Review by Council member Major Adam Strickland, USMC.

Marine officers are taught that the two most important components of any operations order are the commander's intent and mission statement. Above all else, each statement should be clear and concise so as to leave the recipient with no doubt as to what must be accomplished. In 1994, at the height of a humanitarian crisis in Goma, Zaire, US Army LTC Thomas Odom, an Africa Foreign Area Officer, was told by his superiors -- "We must stop the dying," and thus tasked to "stop the dying." Though clear and concise, these provided little true guidance as he tried to assess the needs of over one million Rwandan refugees escaping violent retribution in front of the steadily advancing Rwandan Patriotic Front as it consolidated its victory in the Rwandan Civil War. Did his superiors really want him to provide humanitarian assistance to the former Rwandan Army that had just been defeated, yet was still heavily armed? Was he to provide relief to the Interhamwe or Impuzamugambi militias and their collaborators who had just raped and murdered in excess of 800,000 Rwandans? Was he required to disarm the groups as a precondition to assistance? And finally, how was he to complete his mission without creating the perception of providing aide and comfort to thousands who just committed genocide? In his book Journey Into Darkness: Genocide in Rwanda, Thomas Odom provides a first-person account of the planning difficulties and selected courses of actions associated with Operation Support Hope (Goma, Zaire 1994) and follow-on operations associated with the Rwandan Genocide.

Over the past several years, we in the military have witnessed what some have labeled "a new-type" or "irregular" warfare, one in which there are multiple non-state competitors on the battlefield, the environment and root causes of grievance poorly defined and understood, and one in which religious, ethnic, and tribal affiliations matter more and more. However, Odom demonstrates that all of these and other problems that confront us today in Iraq or Afghanistan, whether interagency difficulties, the presence of militias, or the absence of necessary infrastructure, were present in Rwanda and Zaire in 1993-1994. By detailing the efforts that reconciled the limited means at his disposal with the policy goals or ends of Operation Support Hope, Odom makes this book a must read for all attempting to better understand operational art, planning, and the Great Lakes Region of Africa. Not only is Journey Into Darkness an easy and compelling read, but at 277 pages, one can finish it over a weekend. For a more complete understanding of operational art in the context of the Rwanda Genocide and United Nations Assistance Mission Rwanda (UNAMIR), Odom's book is a wonderful complement to Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire's Shake Hands With The Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. Journey Into Darkness: Genocide in Rwanda is a must read for all planners, foreign area officers, and those attempting to better understand the Great Lakes Region of Africa.


You can read Chapter Five: Operation Support Hope in the Small Wars Journal online magazine, Volume 3 - October 2005.