BRUNSWICK — Rising seas; tens of thousands dying of drug overdoses; hunger in the richest country on earth; superbugs, which can’t be stopped by antibiotics; enormous student debt, which prevents people from getting ahead; high rents, which force people to choose between food and medicine; a disintegrating infrastructure. Those are the real and present dangers facing us. Are our tax dollars working on these problems? No. They are spent fighting Islamic radicalism, which poses no existential threat to us.

How have we Americans been persuaded that dropping bombs on the people of Niger, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Somalia and Libya is more necessary for our welfare than fixing our crumbling bridges, addressing the problem of climate change, providing health care and education to our citizens and building affordable housing?

I think it works this way: Our politicians hammer away at keeping America safe from terrorism, because of the huge donations they get from arms manufacturers. The arms manufacturers need wars to justify the continuation of weapons making, and the military justifies the increases in the Defense Department budget by reminding us of our duty to “support the troops.”

What we’re really supporting is giant death-producing corporations, which, in 2016, gobbled up almost $100 billion of our tax dollars. Much of the money is wasted on useless overhead, fat executive salaries and cost overruns on weapons systems that can’t perform and aren’t needed.

Meanwhile, politicians and the media have abandoned any effort to look into what the troops are doing or why.

It’s possible to get away with this sort of thing because unlike what happened during the Vietnam War, thousands of troops aren’t coming home in body bags. The military uses proxies and contractors and relies heavily on air power, so that U.S. casualty rates are low. In addition, only embedded journalists are allowed to observe the war now. Reporting is planned; there is no daily live reporting as there was during the Vietnam War. Of course, thousands of people are dying in these wars, but as far as our military operations are concerned, they don’t count.

The most important difference between how we fought the Vietnam War and how we’re fighting the ones we’re engaged in now is the elimination of conscription. Faced with a huge anti-war movement in the early 1970s, President Nixon decided that the way to diminish the power of the anti-war movement was to end the draft, and with it the resistance of the young people who were demonstrating against it. The military high command was doubtful that men would volunteer for such a disgraced military, but they could not foresee what would happen to our economy. Hard times left young people with little choice but to join the military if they wanted an education, a career and health care. Living-wage jobs such as their fathers had are gone – offshored and automated. Higher education is prohibitively expensive, as is housing.

It cannot be a coincidence that the glorification of war saturates our movies, TV shows and video games. The Blue Angels show that we’re treated to every year at the former naval air base in Brunswick is a good example of how much money and effort is put into recruitment at such venues and at athletic events and job fairs. Recruiting commercials expound on the good that the military does around the world. Military recruitment that used to start in high school now starts – covertly – in grade school, via initiatives that show off military equipment or offer tutoring and “increased career awareness” to children as young as fifth-graders.

Substituting a volunteer military for a citizens’ military has made it possible for the Pentagon to carry on endless wars. As author and editor Tom Engelhardt noted last fall in the op-ed ” ‘Tell Me How This Ends?‘ “: “Can you truly imagine such silence in the homeland if a U.S. draft were continually filling the ranks of a citizens’ army to fight a 16-year-old war on terror, still spreading and now considered generational? I doubt it.”

Both Barack Obama and Donald Trump came to power in large part because they promised to disengage from war in the Middle East. As soon as they were in office, however, they went back on their word, and continued George W. Bush’s war on terror.

Are we facing another period, like the 50 years of the Cold War, of arms races and escalating proxy wars? How many millions more must die before we wake up?