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Entreating Walmart
Is the second battle of the Wilderness over?

Visit the Photo Place
Date published: 8/30/2009

THERE LAST WEEK stood four of five Orange County supervisors like a stone wall--of ornery provincialism against the forces of decent compromise. Spurning alternatives, the four permitted Walmart to build a Supercenter on the Wilderness battlefield and a quarter-mile from the national park that preserves a part of it. Opponents' reaction to the vote has consisted of some unsanctioned muttering about tying up the project with lawsuits and--the organizational response--the loudly bugled hope that patriotic appeals to Walmart executives will move them to move the store.

Meritless litigation would be unseemly and, ultimately, useless. It would disdain public proceedings that, however odious their outcome, have evidently been on the square, and it would impede the right of an American citizen to legally dispose of his property. After Appomattox, Robert E. Lee quashed Confederate talk of continuing the conflict via guerrilla war. Last week's losers should also forswear tactics that merely harass. Moreover, Walmart's pockets are a bit deeper than those of any Parthian shooters.

As to moral suasion targeted at Bentonville, it is worth a try, though the record is unpromising. Once Walmart fixes on a site, the retail behemoth rarely backtracks. The detouring in the 1990s of Walmart from Ferry Farm, George Washington's boyhood home, is a happy exception that proves the rule. But it was the rule that applied at places like history-drenched Chestertown, Md., founded in 1706, which had to wage a harrowing 10-year battle to keep out Walmart, and Charlotte Pike, Tenn., site of both a Civil War battle and an Indian burial ground, where Walmart built a store over historians' and American Indians' protests. The common theme in these set-tos was expressed in the statement of a Walmart rep to Chestertown's mayor: "We don't lose."

Walmart nabobs may relent when they glean the historical importance of the Wilderness--the beginning of the end for Lee's army--and the friends of history should try to take that message to the highest corporate suites. Yet for months the nation's leading Civil War historians have railed against a Wilderness Walmart. Celebrities Robert Duvall and Ben Stein have joined them. The Washington Post, the L.A. Times, and ABC News have reported the controversy. If Walmart's executives are ignorant about the Wilderness, they rate a ticker-tape parade down Broadway as the first Earthlings to have just returned from the planet Pluto.

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