A few thoughts, if I may:
American military personnel do not fight for the flag of the United States of America. They might express reverence for it as a symbol of the nation they swore an oath to protect, preserve, and defend, but they don’t consciously fight for the flag per se. That conservative extremists have hijacked the notion that our troops fight for the flag is undeniable. And perhaps the rawest, most naive recruits may believe that they joined the military to defend the flag, but that’s a bill of goods that they’ve been sold.
If anything is true about the men and who fight and die, or suffer wounds, or are captured while serving their country, it is this:
They don’t consciously fight for a flag. They don’t go to battle thinking, “This is for Mom, Dad, apple pie, or democracy.” They are too scared, too caught up in the horrors of war to be thinking Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.
John McCain suffered severe injuries during the Vietnam War, first as a survivor of the fire aboard the USS Forrestal, then as a prisoner of war who was not treated as such by North Vietnam. Instead, because the North Vietnamese took the position that the U.S. had not declared war on their country, any American serviceman they captured was considered to be a war criminal. Pilots who were shot down over North Vietnam were called “air pirates.” From Hanoi’s perspective, John McCain III and his fellow aviators were not considered prisoners of war, so the protections generally accorded to POWs under the Geneva Accords and international law didn’t apply to them.
McCain needs to be remembered as a hero, not so much for his political stances as a member of both houses of Congress, but as a naval officer who followed his father and his grandfather (both namesakes) into the service. I respect him more for his sacrifices as a military man than for his long career as a Republican politician.
He fought and got tortured in the call of duty…not for his country’s flag, but for other, more prosaic reasons.
What do America’s fighting men and women fight for, then? In theory, they fight because, like the Cheeto in Chief, they took an oath to uphold, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Some cynics might say that they fight because that’s literally their job.
But when it is all said and done, they don’t fight for flag, country, Presidents, or personal glory.
They fight for their buddies, for their unit, and to come home alive.