WWI was essentially the byproduct of European imperialism and entrenched ethnic conflicts. As countries rushed to increase their land holdings in order to increase their empires, they came into conflict with one another. The more colonies and land holdings that the countries had, the more they felt compelled to build their military forces to protect them. In order to ensure their interests, countries made alliances and counter alliances, stoking the fires of enmity.
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The start of WWI has frequently been attributed to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, but the actual circumstances which precipitated the war are a bit more complex.
President Wilson and the American populace were reluctant to enter the war. Because Germany and the Central Powers were initially circumspect in their attacks, Wilson believed that maintaining the US's traditional neutral stance.