First, some context. Thomas Paine wrote: “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

When I see a politician wearing a lapel flag pin, I always cringe. The United States suffered more than 291,000 combat deaths in World War II, more than 54,000 in World War I, more than 47,000 in Vietnam and more than 33,000 in the three years of the so-called Korean conflict. Those deaths, and the more than 1 million other American casualties during these four wars, make the cynical use of the flag pin for political gain a true abomination.

A Minneapolis news source recently ran a photo of state Sen. Scott Dibble wearing enough lapel pins to suggest he was a delegate at a political or other convention. Dibble is not unique. He happens to be a Democrat. (So am I.) But this cynicism is one of the few nonpartisan acts being done by our politicians.

I imagine that these summer patriots hope to suggest their patriotism, and by inference their courage, on America’s behalf. It seems most likely to me, however, that the politician never served in combat, or at all. That he or she cares not a wit about the ultimate sacrifices made in the name of this symbol of our freedoms, and is capable of other dishonorable acts in pursuit of his or her career. To be fair, I see many fewer women wearing lapel flags, however.

What do I want ? I want every politician in America who wears a flag pin to be asked: “Sir or Madam, did you serve, and if so, where and for how long?”

If that happens we will see far fewer symbols of this kind of cynicism.

Michael Goldner lives in Minneapolis.