Ron Arnold: Wal-Mart surrenders to Big Green with Big Labor's help 

Headlines last week gloated that America's biggest retailer, Wal-Mart, had surrendered after two years of siege by Big Green forces, and dropped its approved plan to build a superstore in Virginia's Orange County -- on a commercially zoned site on a road leading to a national military park.

The park was the 1864 Civil War Battle of the Wilderness National Memorial. Wal-Mart spokesman William C. Wertz said the company will find another place in Orange County, but still buy the property and leave it undeveloped.

Wal-Mart's decision came one day before a Big Green lawsuit was set for trial after noisy manufactured protests that recruited luminaries including PBS documentarian Ken Burns, Pulitzer Prize winning Civil War historian James McPherson, plus a coalition of eight preservation groups.

They all clamored to "stop the Big Box" from destroying the Wilderness Battle site, dishonoring the 29,000 men who died there, and paving over the first place where Gens. Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant met in battle.

Orange County Supervisor Mark Johnson, who saw Wal-Mart as part of the county's economic future, said of the road, "This is basically the continuation of how it's been developed over the past 40 years."

The fact that Wal-Mart's entire "supercenter" would cover only 19 acres of its 55-acre parcel, hidden from view by densely forested landscaping, made no difference.

The fact that between Wal-Mart's land and the military park's property line stood a Sheetz gas station, a McDonald's, strings of offices, a 7-Eleven and a strip mall with a Subway sandwich shop, also made no difference.

What mattered was that the National Park Service, owner of the Wilderness Battlefield Military Park, wanted all that land under its own control.

Russ Smith of the NPS explained, "The 1993 Civil War Sites Advisory Commission went out to the various battlefields to draw a line around the core area of the battle and a greater study area." The Wal-Mart was in the study area and too close to the core, Smith said.

Three prominent anti-Wal-Mart groups were in cahoots with the NPS as partners of its American Battlefields Protection Program, whose Web site (www.cr.nps.gov/hps/abpp/abpp_p.htm) explains the virtues of public-private partnerships in saving taxpayers millions, saying ABPP gave "small" matching grants for preservation projects.

ABPP's partner list shows these big leaders of the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition: the Civil War Preservation Trust ($56,132,836 in assets), National Parks and Conservation Association ($50,691,951 in assets), and National Trust for Historic Preservation ($250,506,511 in assets).

The Civil War Preservation Trust's Web site was linked to a Big Labor archenemy of Wal-Mart: the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. The union produced a YouTube video where Grant and Lee ghosts pal around the battlefield.

Lee says, "Much blood was spilled over our differences. But upon one thing we agree." Grant says, "We're agreed that Wal-Mart should not build a giant Supercenter here at the historic Wilderness Battlefield in Virginia."

Free-marketer Thomas J. DiLorenzo noted, "The propaganda campaign against Wal-Mart is what is known as a 'corporate campaign' in the labor union literature. The idea is to use every means possible to impose costs on the company [particularly lawsuits]; embarrass the company's management with slander; and portray the company as some kind of social outlaw."

Ironically, in 2006, Wal-Mart tried to get some green credibility by partnering with the Fish and Wildlife Foundation in an "Acres for America" program that bought up rural land to stop development -- which helped destroy the economy of northern Maine, Lubec resident Erich Veyhl told me. Last week, it became clear how much green cred that bought.

Arnold's Iron Law: You can never outrun Big Green or Big Labor to the left.

Examiner Columnist Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.

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