An Open Letter to President Obama Regarding Syria

09/04/2013 08:50 am ET | Updated Nov 04, 2013
  • Maria Rodale CEO and Chairman of Rodale, Inc. and book author

Dear President Obama,

I've tried very hard to support you all these years. I attended your first inauguration. (It was very cold.) I voted for you twice. I even paid a lot of money to have my picture taken with you. You were charming. Presidential. I told you I believed in you. All these years while you've been president and I've been CEO of my third-generation family-owned and independent business during the economic crisis, the wars, the ongoing environmental crisis, the political gridlock and insanity, my happy thought was that "at least I'm not the President!" We are the same age, you and I. And you've had a tough road of it.

But now you are, perhaps, at the biggest fork in the road you are likely to ever face. One fork bears a sign that says "Attack Syria." That is a well-worn road, littered with the bodies of children and soldiers, civilians and suicides (both military and nonmilitary). It is a classic road, where ego and history seemingly say a president must travel as some sort of rite of honor. But it's also a road that leads to more bitterness, more anger, and endless tragedy.

It's a choice that validates an old, outdated paradigm that says any attack, any war is worth winning -- even though there is no such thing as winning. Each war "win" plants the seeds of future wars. Each attack leads to a counterattack. Each "win" creates new fertile ground in which future generations of terrorists can grow: in the hearts of children who have lost parents and homes, in the souls of people who have felt betrayed by their leaders and their neighbors, and in the wounded bodies and hearts that can never heal.

But there is another road. The road less traveled. There's no clear map, but the rewards of the journey are much greater. It's the road of heroes like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. Ghandi. And many others whose names have been lost to history. These are people who were able to make change by speaking the truth from the heart and refusing to engage in more violence. And through them, not only has true change happened, but the spirits of the whole world have been lifted, too, in the process. They provide beacons of hope and inspiration for humanity.

I do not consider myself a Christian, but I would like to quote Jesus and ask, "Who among you has not sinned?" Yes, Syria has undoubtedly used chemical weapons on its own people. Maybe it was the government; maybe it was the opposition; maybe you know for sure. But here's what I know for sure: We are no better. We have been using chemical weapons on our own children -- and ourselves -- for decades, the chemical weapons we use in agriculture to win the war on pests, weeds, and the false need for ever greater yields. While the effects of these "legal" chemical weapons might not be immediate and direct, they are no less deadly. And you, Mr. President, have had an unprecedented opportunity to stop it, but you haven't. You haven't. In fact, you have encouraged it. And I am supremely disappointed in that.

What got me thinking about this was one of those Facebook posts where there is a picture of you, Mr. President, talking to a child in a classroom. It's an adorable picture because I know you genuinely care for children, and it shows. But the bubble coming out of your mouth says, "We are going to war with Syria because they poison their children" which is met with a little girl's words, "So why don't you bomb Monsanto, you prick." Harsh, I know. Perhaps unfair. I know you probably don't hang out on Facebook much, but it's getting a lot of "shares" among my friends. Yes, even my liberal friends. I laughed when I first saw it. But the more I think about it, the angrier I get.

We've been trying to tell you for years that chemical companies like Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, DuPont, Bayer Crops Sciences, and others are poisoning our children and our environment with your support and even, it seems, your encouragement. Just because their bodies aren't lined up wrapped in sheets on the front pages of the newspapers around the world doesn't mean it's not true. Perhaps you're surrounded by advisors who are keeping the truth from you. But I know many people who have spoken to you about this directly, and you seem not to understand or listen.

Is it about the money? Because if so, war will cost you more. Is it about food security? Because if so, you are destroying it. Is it about needing enough corn to make gasoline to reduce our dependence on foreign oil? Because if so, you are destroying our water, our soil, and our children's future in the process. Is it about your lack of knowledge? Because if so, I'd be happy to come and explain it to you in a way that you can understand. As the CEO of the world's leading health-and-wellness publisher and the granddaughter of the founder of the organic movement in America, I am uniquely qualified to explain it to you. And if I haven't understood your reluctance to protect our children, then I truly do want to hear from you and listen to your perspective.

You are a smart man. You are not up for reelection. This is your big chance to make the right choice and take the right road, the road less traveled. This is your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leave a lasting legacy of peace and healing rather than more destruction. Syria and its refugees definitely need our help, though I am certain that a violent military strike will not provide the results you are looking for. Both our children and Syria's deserve the chance to grow up free from chemical contamination and warfare. But that hope takes a different sort of action and courage, one that does not come with missiles and guns, drones, and destruction.

Our mutual hero Bruce Springsteen sings, "We Take Care of Our Own." I believe we can take care of our own, as well as restore the world's faith in American democracy, by acting with peace, compassion, and nonviolence -- both at home and around the world.

I so want to continue to believe in you. I do. But I need you to do the hardest thing a man in your position can do: turn away from aggression and war and toward love and healing, turn away from foreign complicated and false "heroics" and take care of your own children at home. Then, you can also redefine what it means to be a real hero and a truly great president.

Most sincerely and with respect,

Maria Rodale
CEO
Rodale Inc.