Saturday, June 13, 2009

Wal-Mart Wants to Build Supercenter on Civil War Battlefield

Looks like Wal-Mart is up to its old tricks again. According to local media reports, the megacorporation wants to build one of its signature massive "supercenters" in Orange County, Virginia. A new Wal-Mart is regrettable enough, of course, but this one is a special case: it's being constructed right next to the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, putting at risk priceless historical sites.

During the Civil War, between December of 1862 and May of 1864, four major battles were fought within a few miles of Fredericksburg, Virginia. Tens of thousands of Americans died, many more were wounded, and the course of American history was changed. Fittingly, we have set aside the land as a permanent historical memorial to the men who fought and died, as well as to serve as a history lesson to all the generations of Americans to follow.

Wal-Mart has a history of trying to muscle their way into communities, even when citizens organize and make clear that they do not want them there. With unrivaled cash reserves, public marketing experts, and legions of high-paid lawyers, Wal-Mart simply uses brute force to badger the local political leaders into accepting their terms. The end result is often (though not always) an ugly blue building blighted the previously attractive landscape, as well as more pavement, more traffic, and more development.

In this particular case, the land that will be blighted will be the same land over which the Union and Confederate armies fought one another in the Battle of the Wilderness, in early May of 1864. The newspaper article quotes Wal-Mart attorney Tim Kleine as saying that "no evidence of military engagements was found at the site." But any high school student can look at a map and a quickly flip through a general history book about the Civil War and see immediately that Kleine is lying through his teeth. One wonders how a man like him can look at himself in the mirror every morning.

But the retail giant has run into opposition. The citizens of the community are generally outraged at the proposal and are fighting it with every means at their disposal. Hundreds of historians, including Pulitzer-Prize winner James McPherson, have appealed to Wal-Mart not to build the supercenter on the location. The Civil War Preservation Trust has organized a campaign called Stop the Wilderness Wal-Mart.

The decision is apparently up to the Orange County Board of Supervisors. The citizens of the community should appeal to them to reject Wal-Mart's proposal. Any supervisor who votes to approve the plan should be voted out of office at the next election.

21st Century Jeffersonians should do their part, through the very simple expedient of never shopping at Wal-Mart.

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