Wal-Mart Corporation already has a dark reputation for its treatment of employees, wiping out of small local businesses, and thuggish litigation practices. Now, it has decided to go to war with historians in trying to force through a huge store in the middle of one of the most important historical areas from the Civil War — the Wilderness Battlefield. As in other such cases, it has convinced local businesses to accept a Faustian bargain of the promise of taxes and jobs in return for destroying the unique character of the area.
Locust Grove, Virginia holds great meaning for historical and Civil War buffs. It is the area where Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant first fought. Wal-Mart, however, believes that it is much better suited for another big box store. Virtually every leading historian, including filmmaker Ken Burns and Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough, have written to H. Lee Scott, president and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., to build further away from the Wilderness Battlefield. In a letter with 253 leading scholars and writers, they argue that “The Wilderness is an indelible part of our history, its very ground hallowed by the American blood spilled there, and it cannot be moved.”
As in past such cases, the company enlisted locals who are willing to trash their own history and culture for the lure of jobs and taxes — ignoring the negative impact of these stores on local businesses. They found a willing ally in R. Mark Johnson, a tire shop owner and chairman of the county’s board of supervisors “In these economic times, the fact that Wal-Mart wants to come into the county is an economic plus. This is hardly pristine wilderness we’re talking about.” It also happens to be an area where more than 100,000 Union troops battled 61,000 Confederate troops on May 4, 1864 — leaving 4,000 dead and 20,000 wounded. It wasn’t a particularly “pristine” sight.
The Wal-Mart effort is reminiscent of Disney’s effort to build a huge Heritage Amusement Park despite objections from historians and preservationists. As with Wal-Mart, Disney and CEO Michael Eisner lured local businesses to call for the development, which would have destroyed one of the most beautiful and unique areas of Virginia. This included an attraction where people could “feel like slaves” by picking cotton under the eye of white bosses. After a long and intense fight, Disney abandoned the plan.
Hearings are scheduled for February and March.
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