World War I was a bloody and violent conflict that began in Eastern Europe and shortly expanded to involve much of Eastern and Western Europe, Great Britain, Japan and the United States. Though it started out as a small conflict involving Serbia and Austria-Hungary, it soon became one of the most tragic and destructive wars in world history.

Why Did the First World War Start?

As with most global conflicts involving several countries, World War I didn't begin for any one reason or purpose. There was unrest in the Austro-Hungarian region because the nation had seized sovereignty of the countries of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The people of the area instead wanted to belong to Serbia. The unrest came to a head in 1914 when a young Serbian nationalist assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife.

World War I Facts

  • While Austria-Hungary knew it had to retaliate for such a heinous crime, they also knew that Serbia and Russia had a mutual defense alliance, meaning that Russia would take up against any attackers should Serbia find itself under fire. Not wishing to risk their nation against the Russian army without proper military support, Austria-Hungary waited to attack until they had the certainty of the support of Germany with whom they had a mutual defense alliance of their own. When Serbia was attacked and Russia retaliated, Austria-Hungary had the full support of the German army behind them. 
  • World War I saw the introduction of trench warfare. Newer military technology coupled with older, more traditional battle tactics made for a horrifically bloody war of attrition and accounted for a tremendous loss of life. 
  • While there were certainly tensions in the Balkan region, World War I broke out at a time of relative peace and prosperity in Europe, and it has been suggested that world leaders were bored and used the war as an excuse to drum up national sentiments and galvanize the economy. 
  • During World War I, the defeat of the Russian army against the German troops, in addition to economic instability and conditions of poverty in the country, led to hostile feelings towards Czar Nicholas II and culminated in the Russian Revolution of 1917. 

Why Did the United States Enter the War?

At the outset of World War I, the United States maintained a position of neutrality, which was popular in the United States despite the nation's allyship with Britain, who was suffering mightily in the war. However, once Germany began to quarantine the British Isles and target nonmilitary ships, the United States warned them that further aggression wouldn't be tolerated. Despite the transgressions against civilians, the idea of U.S. participation in the war was still tremendously unpopular. Unfortunately for Wilson's Administration, the German army sank a British ocean liner in 1915 killing hundreds of U.S. passengers, and later sank four more U.S. merchant ships, forcing the United States to enter the war.

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Ashley Friedman is a freelance writer with experience writing about education for a variety of organizations and educational institutions as well as online media sites.