Sunday, January 4, 2009

Walmart's New Motto: Make Money, Destroy Our National Heritage

It's happened before, all too often:  totally inappropriate commercial development that threatens our historic resources, including Civil War battlefields--the places of memory of "our sacred dead," as the marble tablets that we are restoring here in Amherst put it.  It's not surprising, either: in our modern consumer society, the profit motive is dominant, and the history gene is recessive.

It is however a little bit ironic that Walmart--which presents itself as the all-American success story and wraps itself in the flag, is the main player in the latest act of this tragedy. This time, the threatened site is the Wilderness Battlefield of 1864, and the threat is a 145,000-square-foot superstore--and all the traffic that it would bring--just a quarter of a mile from the entrance to the National Park.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is part of a coalition to save the site and its dignity from this encroachment.  How many Civil War battlefields do we have? How many Walmarts do we have? Are there so many of the former that we can afford to sacrifice them to the latter?  As the Trust puts it:
More than 2,700 acres of the battlefield are preserved as part of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, a key destination along the newly designated Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area. There are many potential sites for Wal-Mart, but only one Wilderness Battlefield.
Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee are against it:  so who would dare to argue with them??

See the campaign website for more information, and sign the petition of protest.

"Save Money, Live Better"??  How can we "live better" when we trample the sites on which our ancestors gave their lives in a struggle over the soul of our country, when we obliterate the sites of our national memory?  It is ironic that this desecration is proceeding even as we take a major symbolic and practical step toward overcoming our history of racism by inaugurating the first African-American president.

Words matter, as Barack Obama has said.

Why doesn't Walmart just bring its words and actions into harmony, and change its slogan to:
"Make Money, Destroy Our National Heritage"?

(Oh, yes. And they can add:  Screw the workers to the wall.)

No comments: