There were many factors that led to the initial outbreak of World War I in Europe. A constant struggle to gain the upper hand in the "balance of power" existed, and it resulted in the formation of many alliances between European nations. For the most part, these agreements stipulated that the nations would aid one another if one of them were to be attacked by an enemy. Eventually two distinct sides formed: the Allies and the Central Powers. The former consisted of Britain, France, Italy, and Japan, while the latter was made up of Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and what was left of the Ottoman Empire.
Nationalism was an important factor in the outbreak of war as well. The French desperately wanted revenge against Germany, as well as the return of the Alsace-Lorraine region which Germany had seized from them. The Germans had their own nationalism at work, as their government took great pride in the industrial growth of the country, as well as the mounting power of their military.
Conflict for power existed not only in Europe, but because of imperialism it spread across much of the Eastern Hemisphere. First and foremost, economic rivalries had developed between Britain, Germany, and France. The two Allied members of the group were very concerned about their Central opponent, as both wished to contain Germany's territorial claims on the resource- and labor-rich continent of Africa.
But what would ultimately lead to the outbreak of the first world war was Germany's ever-increasing belief in militarism. The German military power had continued to grow as their industrial sector did the same; such power was seen as a symbol of national pride by the government. Other nations had built up their arms stockpiles as well, though they did not glorify it nearly as much as the Germans did. Nevertheless, the availability of arms, when combined with other political and economic factors, meant that a full-scale conflict was all but unavoidable.
Billions upon billions of dollars worth of resources were poured into manpower and resources in World War I, yet after millions of lives were being lost to gruesome trench warfare, little was being gained by either side; for all their toils, the Allies and Central Powers were at a stalemate. The United States, tied to British trade, and supporters of their system of democracy, broke their official neutrality policy that dated back to the days of George Washington and joined the Allied powers. U.S. support would prove to be enough of a boost to strike down the Central Powers' attack, and it also signaled America's entrance into the peace negotiations that followed.
During a speech to Congress while the war was still going on, President Woodrow Wilson introduced his "Fourteen Points," which called for a new Europe and a peaceful world. Ideas expressed in the speech included a policy of open diplomacy with no secret treaties, freedom of the seas, removal of tariffs, arms reduction, fair colonial policies, as well as several boundary changes in Europe. But most important of all was point fourteen. This item called for "a general association of nations for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike." This association, which would come to be known as the League of Nations, was conceived by the idealistic Wilson to keep the peace after the war and to promote open diplomacy between countries of varying types of size and power. In order to maintain peace the league was to be given the authority to impose economic sanctions against offending states, and it additionally called for its member...