Keeping Faith: Experiences in War and Peace
October 3, 2021
Rabbi Ronald E. Resnicoff
Keeping Faith: Experiences in War and Peace
Arnold E. Resnicoff was born and raised in Washington, DC. After graduating from Dartmouth College (and Naval ROTC) he served on a ship in the rivers of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, followed by assignments with Naval Intelligence in Europe. Largely because of the influence of a Christian chaplain in Vietnam, he left the Navy to attend rabbinical school becoming ordained a rabbi in 1976 by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Following ordination he returned to the Navy to serve 25 years as a chaplain, culminating as Command Chaplain for the U.S. European Command, serving as “top chaplain” for U.S. military personnel of all faiths in all branches of the military in Europe and most of Africa. His career in and out of the military is replete with firsts, not just personal, but notably by working with others to accomplish goals, e.g., integration of men and women during basic training; creation of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Washington, DC; Department of Defense participation in the U.S. National Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust; all the time supporting the rights of men and women of all faiths as well as sexual orientation (he helped expand military regulations to accommodate religious needs and he delivered the prayer at the Presidential ceremony repealing the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”). While serving on the staff of the Commander, US 6th Fleet, Rabbi Resnicoff was in Beirut at the time of the 1983 bombing of the Marine Corps Barracks and worked tirelessly to help and comfort the wounded and the dying. His after-action report was read by Pres. Reagan in his keynote address at the “Baptist Fundamentalism ’84” conference convened by Jerry Falwell in Washington, DC. While at the US European Command he worked for the concept of “spiritual force protection” within the concept of military force protection saying “…We don’t want our people just to come home physically whole; we want them to come back as close to the human beings they were before they went in…” to the military. After retirement from the Navy, Rabbi Resnicoff returned to Washington, DC, and has served as National Director of Inter-Religious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee and as Special Assistant for Values and Vision for the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the US Air Force. On numerous occasions he has delivered opening prayers for sessions of the Senate and House of Representatives. His experience in carrying faith through war and peace is woven throughout many published articles and books.
Keeping Faith: Religion in the Military in War and Peace
Since the beginning of the U.S. military, chaplains have helped to support the rights and needs of military personnel, ensuring that the men and women who risk their lives for the rights we cherish – including religious freedom – are themselves able to enjoy those rights and freedoms, to the greatest extent possible, given the military situation. Chaplains have a three -fold responsibility: to minister to those of their own faiths, to facilitate ministry to those of other faiths, and to care for all, including those who claim no religious faith. In pursuit of those goals, the work of chaplains ultimately has a profound impact on the overlapping concepts and visions of religion, faith, and unity amidst diversity. Always
mindful of both constitutional limits and requirements in the complicated areas of church and state, chaplains support personnel whose faith in better times (and sometimes, faith in themselves, as well) is often tested by the brutality of war. In short, chaplains help our personnel keep faith in dreams, even during times of nightmares. Examining some of the history of the military in general and the chaplaincy in particular can help our society as a whole. During WWII the story of the “Four Chaplains” – 2 Protestant, one Catholic, and one Jewish – who each gave away his lifejacket to save others after their ship had been torpedoed, going to their deaths side-by-side while comforting the wounded and dying, is a story of both physical and spiritual heroism for the sake of others that must be retold during today’s contentious times. The creation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial – purposely a veterans memorial not a war memorial – making no statement about the war so that Americans, regardless of their positions on that war, could come together to mourn our dead, is a lesson on uniting for a common purpose while respecting differing points of view. Military stories of religion, faith, and vision in a challenging and changing world can educate and inspire us all.