America may have been poorly served by its politicians. Too many Nixons, not enough Trumans. Too many scoundrels and self-servers, not enough statesmen. Too much conniving and catering to wealth, not enough respect for honesty and humility.

But the young men and women our politicians routinely send off to war and to lonely outposts in a dangerous world – they are the real deal. When they walk through airports, people stop and applaud. When they march onto the track at the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, 400,000 people rise and cheer.

It hasn’t always been this way. Many of us are ashamed at how poorly soldiers returning from Vietnam were treated. I think we learned something during that awful era: don’t expect much from politicians, but be grateful to the armed forces who stand in harm’s way.

Patriotism is a powerful force, and it can be misused. In the wrong hands, patriotism can destroy civilization. Patriotism – love of country – sometimes means protesting government actions, including the wars our politicians delight in starting. Patriotism leads to disagreements voiced freely by free people.

But I hope we can make common cause in thanking our armed services – present and past – for giving some years of their lives, and too often life itself, for the elusive dreams of peace, justice and democracy.