Before the War

Although the United States had maintained a policy of noninvolvement, the rise of the Axis powers had become too dangerous to ignore. With the growing influence of the Nazi Party, Germany had been aggressively seizing territory and annexing other nations since 1938. In 1940, Italy had adopted a fascist regime and allied itself with Germany.

Japan’s expansionist policy, which began with the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War, continued with its seizure of portions of Russia and China. When it set its sights on the Philippines, the United States feared Hawaii would be Japan’s next target of expansion across the Pacific Ocean.

Government suspicion about the loyalty of Japanese residents increased, especially toward those living in the western United States. The atmosphere was also very tense in Hawaii, home to the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet, based at Pearl Harbor. By 1940, nearly 40 percent of Hawaii’s population was of Japanese ancestry. Authorities were especially concerned about the Issei, who were still citizens of Japan, and about 600 Kibei — a term for Japanese who were born in America but  had spent their formative years in Japan or had been educated there. Despite rumors and growing distrust, many government, military and civic leaders in Hawaii worked to calm the fears of the populace as well as leaders in Washington, D.C., emphasizing Japanese loyalty to the United States and their contributions to the community.

In anticipation of a likely conflict, the United States instituted the Selective Training and Service Act in 1940 — the first peacetime draft. In the 12 months preceding the attack on Pearl Harbor, about half of the 3,000 men inducted in Hawaii were of Japanese ancestry. Even with the draft in effect, about 900 men volunteered. The inductees from the island of Oahu were assigned to the 298th Infantry of the Hawaii National Guard, which had recently been federalized, while those from the neighbor islands were assigned to the 299th Infantry.  Some were assigned to engineer battalions.   After undergoing basic training at Schofield Barracks on Oahu, they were charged with guarding Hawaii from external threats.

Aware of the prevailing anti-Japanese sentiments, the Nisei recruits took their training and duties seriously, prompting Lieutenant General Charles D. Herron, commander of the U.S. Army’s Hawaiian Department, to call them “the best recruits I have ever seen in 45 years.”