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Quietly, over the past many decades, the conflict once known as The Great War has slipped from living memory.

World War I was sparked 100 years ago this summer, when the crown prince of an empire that no longer exists was assassinated by an ultra-nationalist from a country that was appended to another country after the war, only to re-emerge eight decades later.

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The conflict had much deeper roots in the dynastic ambitions of European rulers, most of them interrelated by marriage and blood. By the time it ended four years and millions of deaths later, the first world war would cause a redrawing of the world's map and sow the seeds for an even bigger global war to follow. It would also lead to the United States becoming a true world power.

For the United States, the Civil War is often regarded as a watershed occurrence in history. At once it outlawed slavery, put the industrial revolution into high gear and ensured that the Union would be one nation not only from Maine to Florida, but also from Maryland to California.

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The United States, which entered the Civil War as a regional North American power that had just fought a territory war with Mexico, emerged from the conflict as an economic power with the wherewithal to not only raise a massive army, but also to supply it, feed it and transport it across either of two oceans.

When the archduke of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was assassinated in 1914 in Bosnia, the U.S. was seen by many in Europe as a secondary power. By 1917, when four empires, three of which had roots dating to the time of Charlemagne, were on the brink of collapse, the United States entered the conflict and the balance quickly shifted in favor of the American side, and the forces it supported in Britain and France triumphed over the German Kaiser and his armies.

France and Britain, thanks to the U.S., would get to re-draw the map of Europe and take over territories in the Middle East that had been part of Islamic empires since the time of Muhammad.

While the United States would recoil from this foray into world affairs in the immediate aftermath of what was by then known as The Great War, the groundwork was set that would allow the American republic to become the pre-eminent military power on earth within 25 years of the end of that war.

Aberdeen Proving Ground, established in eastern Harford County during World War I, was one of several modern military installations that would grow in importance for decades after the war ended and would play a vital role in establishing American military might. As tactical defensive installations such as Fort Carroll and Fort Howard, established in the pre-air power era to defend Baltimore, waned in value, facilities geared to weapons research, development and testing waxed.

While Fort Howard and Fort Carroll are now essentially picnic locations, APG grew into the place where early computers were devised and powerful field weapons continue to be developed and tested. Notably, Aberdeen was a key location for the development of tank technology, a battlefield weapon first used in The Great War. American tanks devised in the period after 1918 and tested at APG would be used to substantial effect by the likes of George S. Patton after 1941, when American GIs were sent abroad to fight yet again.

Also tested in those early days were military aircraft, rockets, a variety of guns and ammunition, as well as early chemical weapons.

Harford County, which sent a rather substantial contingent to fight in Europe in 1918, would end up losing 45 men to The Great War, even as the county also had a homefront of sorts at APG.

Between the wars, the post continued to be a major employer, and the town of Aberdeen grew into Harford County's population center. As the military presence expanded to include the Edgewood Arsenal – now part of APG, but originally a separate command, Edgewood would become a population center. Even as the Bel Air area has since become the county's population center in the age of suburbia, APG has continued to be an integral part of the community.

A century on, World War I is seldom the subject of discussions. It was eclipsed in bloodshed and violence by World War II, and the immediacy of smaller, but disturbingly violent wars in places such as Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Just as the effects of The Great War can be seen by driving to APG and taking a look at some of the post's vintage buildings, its echoes have been recorded in histories that help explain why territory in the Middle East is so hotly contested. A lot of it relates to how borders were drawn after World War I.

The history of the Civil War is one that is of interest to a massive number of Americans, including many in Harford County. That's fitting. It is, after all, the event that ended with the U.S. being a single nation that spans a continent rather than two, or maybe three, smaller and, likely, weaker countries.

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The history of The Great War, however, is every bit as fascinating. It is also very relevant to current events, because, from Aberdeen Proving Ground, to the former Yugoslavia, to Iraq, to Russia, we are still living with decisions made in the heat of battle between 1914 and 1918, and in the conflict's exhausted aftermath into the early 1920s.

Living history of what was once optimistically called the War to End All Wars may have faded, but we'd be foolish to allow our understanding of this key event in human history to be forgotten.

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