We have found the worst possible reaction to hundreds of Syrians being gassed to death. In an near parodic level of moral equivalence, Rodale CEO Maria Rodale has argued that while it might look like Syrian civilians experienced a horrific death when their government killed them with poison gas, Americans experience pretty much the same thing every day when they have to eat produce that was grown with pesticides. In an open letter on The Huffington Post on Wednesday, Rodale writes:
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.
Sure, the debate between those who want to intervene and those who want to stay out has gotten heated. And some people have made inflammatory comments, like Ron Paul's suggestion that the poison gas attack was a "false flag" — actually done by al Qaeda, not the Syrian government — or Rush Limbaugh's suggestion that the rebels gassed themselves, and Syrian President Bashar al Assad was "framed." Some said Congress should use the war resolution to extract partisan concessions on stuff like Obamacare and gun control. But Rodale goes above and beyond in suggesting that eating non-organic veggies is just as bad as being forced to inhale sarin gas.
And, sure, you could make the case that pesticides (or smoking cigarettes or living too close to industrial waste or driving in cars) will kill more people than Bashar al-Assad ever will with chemical weapons. But there's a huge moral difference between unintended consequences of technologies (even when they're deadly) and intentionally launching poison gas into the suburbs.
In case you think we are exaggerating the level of moral equivalence Rodale draws between the two things, here are some more key passages. The publishing executive demands Obama take action on the real problem:
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.
She says death from pesticides is just slower than death from chemical weapons:
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.
Rodale thinks this Facebook meme shown above really nails it. ("I know you probably don't hang out on Facebook much, but it's getting a lot of 'shares' among my friends.") She's certainly right that isolation from what normal people think can skew your perspective.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.