As a veteran of the Vietnam conflict, I know all too well the discontent I felt on my homecoming: A terrible sense of abandonment from citizens of a country that, at the time, I believed had forsaken me for my sense of patriotic duty.
Over time, I realized that it was not me who was forsaken, or the lives given of so many of our brave military personnel. It was rather our leadership's justification and continuance of a "no win" conflict that had forsaken us.
Our country's leaders were wrong. It took American citizens to challenge this country's decisions in the justification of that cause. The right and obligation of Americans to challenge this country's direction was and is, indeed, patriotic.
Our flag flew at many of the anti-war demonstrations, helping define our America: to defend our beliefs, to speak out, to ask questions when rhetoric appeared to rule the day. Our soldiers did not die in vain. They did what was asked of them, and many more went beyond. They did so because our country asked them.
Politics is not a defining factor of a soldier's honor or vindication in any conflict when called upon by his or her country to take arms.
Nor should any politician, regardless of elected position, imply that citizens exercising their rights and obligations to question our leader's decisions, in pursuing armed conflict, equates to dishonoring our military. That is a distortion of patriotism, and that is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
Should we feel we have been misled by our country's leaders, then speak out and demand answers. It's our right. That's the honor due our military troops.
If we don't get answers, then it's our obligation to demand them again. That's neither liberal nor conservative.
That's American patriotism.