Two Reflections from Memorial Day

Opposition to the Vietnam war on many college campuses led to the cancellation of ROTC programs.  Subsequently the draft was ended with all branches of the military now relying on volunteers to fill their ranks.

One observer commented on the fewer ROTC programs and the elimination of the draft as incentives for college graduates to serve in an all-volunteer military.  He foresaw a possible outcome as follows:  Societies fall to folly when they draw distinct lines between their warriors and scholars. What this ultimately leads to is society’s thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools. 

What if we are called to serve and fail to answer?

The heydays of credit union charters began in the Great Depression with passage of the Federal Credit Union Act in 1934.   Post WWII saw another upsurge in new chartering activity.  From 1949-1970 between 500-700 new FCU charters were issued per year.

By yearend 1978, when NCUA became an independent agency, 23,278 federal charters had been granted of which 12,769 (55%) were still operating.

Many factors affected this chartering explosion.   One was the social ethic of the Greatest Generation.  The cooperative values of self-help, local leadership and community service were closely aligned with the ethos of the generation forged by depression and world war.

Some writers believe this capacity for social responsibility has been superseded in current generations by a more individualistic focus,  personal independence  and financial success.

A guest editorial by Margaret Renkl on this change of values was published Memorial Day, May 31, 2021 in the New York Times.

My question is whether this attitude might contribute to the virtual absence of new charters in this century.   There have been 193 FCU’s in first 20 years of this century, or fewer than 10 per year.  Here are several excerpts of the writer’s thinking:

“Young men of my father’s generation grew up during wartime and generally expected to serve when their turn came. No generation since has felt the same way. There are compelling reasons for that shift — the protracted catastrophe in Vietnam not least — but I’m less interested in why it happened than in what it tells us about our country now. What does it mean to live in a nation with no expectation for national service? With no close-hand experience of national sacrifice? . . .

 The need for some nonmartial way to nurture communitarian qualities is more urgent now than ever. We have lately been reminded of the absolute necessity for Americans to be motivated by warm fellow feeling across divides of region, race, class, politics, religion, age, gender, or ability; to cultivate a sense of common purpose; to make sacrifices for the sake of others. And that reminder came in the form of watching what happens when such qualities are absent, even anathema, in whole regions of the country. . .

If Vietnam exploded the unquestioned commitment to national service, the coronavirus pandemic should have been the very thing to bring it back.

That it did exactly the opposite tells us something about who we are as human beings, and who we are as a nation. There is more to mourn today than I ever understood before.” 

The Question for Credit Unions

To the extent that our society has lost capacity to “nurture its communitarian” responsibilities, how does this affect the cooperative model?  Credit unions rely on volunteers. Their greatest strength is the fabric of relationships they cultivate with members and their communities.   Has the model lost its way as a new generation of leaders takes control without a link or even knowledge of the qualities that created the institutions they inherit?

Have credit unions abandoned their capacity to cultivate a sense of common purpose; to make sacrifices for the sake of others now that they have achieved financial sufficiency and can stand apart from their roots?

Is credit union leadership today susceptible to the social folly described by the first writer?

One Reply to “Two Reflections from Memorial Day”

  1. Very timely comments, Chip. I too am greatly concerned about the future of the social benefits and commitment to service of others that credit unions have represented over the last century. I truly believe that we are but a microcosm of a greater ill in American society.

    By the way the, thanks for your service in the USN.

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