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Manassas, Antietam, Gettsyburg, Valley Forge and Ground Zero

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At the end of the Reagan years I was living in Great Falls and the proximity to the Manassas battlefield brought me an awareness of the long struggle by preservationists to protect the battlefield and the lands near it. In the late ’80s the debate was over shopping centers and traffic.

That struggle eventually grew into a show down with Disney and brought about a comprehensive land use plan for the region. Similar efforts sprang up to protect Antietam to the north in Maryland. An excellent history of both is provided by Nalat Phanit here.

The Gettysburg battlefield has long been the subject of land use planning and land use disputes. Most recently, a controversy has been running for many years surrounding efforts to build a casino near the battlefield.

Just last year a land use battle raged around a proposed museum on private land adjacent to Valley Forge.

Thus the controversy over the Ground Zero Mosque is just another in a long series of debates about how to protect space sacred to all Americans. Mayor Bloomberg’s illiberal attempt to shout down critics of the GZM as bigots notwithstanding, the opposition to GZM and all other inappropriate uses of the area surrounding the site where America was attacked has powerful precedents on which to draw.

Shopping centers, theme parks, museums and casinos are all appropriate targets of hostility for preservationists, and the arguments arrayed against them was almost never that the use proposed was intrinsically wrong, but simply in the wrong place. That is the debate about GZM, and it isn’t an attack on Islam or the Constitution to demand local state and federal efforts to preserve a battlefield from competing uses.


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