Oh, boy. Another regional mall is coming to the Washington area. This one will be, we are promised, bigger and better than all the others, and a boon to Prince William County's tax base and prestige. No longer, declared a county supervisor, will Prince William "stand in the shadow of Fairfax County." Brave words, considering that no county in the nation would be envious of the chaos Fairfax has experienced in the past decade. I find the county board's strident defense of its decision to rezone the land next to the Manassas Battlefield Park rather myopic. Do they really think a mall will enhance the county?

The megamall will bring money and jobs into the county. So what's the problem? Well, the future mall will sit on top of Battlefield Park, a site of two major Civil War battles and long a mecca for history buffs and others. This fact alone should stop its construction. But it seems that degradation of an historic area is of no consequence, especially when money and a county's ego are involved. Has our society become so debased by its own excess that it now considers a mall more important (or desirable) than the preservation of a historic area?

Til Hazel, the principal developer, has expressed his wish for those opposed to the project to just "look at the facts." Well, the facts simply are these: in order to build the vast 1.2-million-square-foot mall, the land must be stripped and leveled, existing roads widened, rights of way created, traffic lights and drainage pipes installed, power lines laid. Once completed, the mall will generate two types of effluent: trash and traffic. The park surrounding it will inevitably and permanently be scared.

It is this callousness toward a nation's heritage that I find so disturbing. This issue is more than past versus future, more than the preservtionists against the developers, more than stagnation versus progress. The issue is the protection of a historically priceless artifact. Unfortunately, the artifact is a piece of land and cannot be safely stored under glass.

Build the mall -- just put it elsewhere.

MICHAEL O'BRIEN

Chevy Chase

Were the Americans who fell at Manassas fighting for life, liberty and the pursuit of Reeboks? Maybe. After all, many of the common soldiers who fought in the Civil War often referred to it as "a rich man's war and a poor man's fight." Perhaps that is why the developers and politicians are so eager to build a massive shopping mall next to the hallowed ground. They would like to see the public distracted from learning the lessons of history that places like the Manassas National Battlefield teach. It is obvious that it is the developers and politicians -- not preservationists -- who are trying to prevent "progress." Indeed, in Prince William County they have succeeded in turning back the clock to a pre-Civil War America -- when only property owners had any kind of say in government. What next?

JOHN E. YOHO

Arlington