Some seven decades ago, a group of teenage boys collected signatures calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons in a proposal not unlike the draft Nuclear Weapons Convention treaty set to be approved at U.N. Headquarters in New York City on July 7.
One of those boys was 85-year-old Hiroyuki Hotta, who witnessed the flash of the atomic bomb from the eastern part of Hiroshima Prefecture. He feels jubilant that his childhood dream could finally come true with the adoption of the U.N. treaty, but at the same time feels frustrated that no progress was made toward eliminating nuclear weapons.
When the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, then 13-year-old Hotta was standing in the schoolyard for morning assembly roughly 60 kilometers away in the town of Kisa, now part of the city of Miyoshi. From the mountains in the west, there was a bright flash, and Hotta thought it strange that lightning would strike on a clear morning.
The next day, Hotta saw 30 to 40 men with burns covering their entire bodies lie in the martial arts dojo behind their house. They were farmers that Hotta vaguely knew who had left a week before to help with evacuating buildings in the city of Hiroshima. Their clothes were burned black, maggots were squirming inside the burns on their arms, and there were shards of glass embedded in their chests. Many of them died while asking for water.
No matter how many years passed after the end of the war, he couldn't get that scene out of his head, He banded together with five or six of his classmates to plan a petition they called "voting for peace." In addition to banning nuclear weapons, the petition also called for agreement on atomic weapons being subject to strict international control, and that any government that used atomic weapons would be committing a crime against humanity and should be charged with war crimes.
Hotta and his friends used the school mimeograph to print over 100 copies of their petition on coarse paper, and spent their summer vacation traveling around farming towns distributing the leaflets. The majority of the people they met cooperated; however, there were also some that refused, saying that they would be arrested by the United States military. Hotta says they sent the collected signatures to either the Japanese government or to the general headquarters of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (GHQ).
"Even as children, we probably thought that no one would ever do something like that ever again," he recalls.
The absolute ban on nuclear weapons, the establishment of strict international controls, and other issues similar to Hotta's childhood petition came into the international spotlight in 1950, when the "Stockholm Appeal" gathered 500 million signatures from people all over the world.
Hotta himself was not affected by radiation from the bombing, and when he graduated from school, he worked as an automobile mechanic and a plaster worker in places such as Tokyo and Nagoya. In 2010, Hotta came across a copy of his petition stuck between the pages of a book resting on his bookshelf, and sent it to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Even now, Hotta says, "Hiroshima is a part of me," and every year on the morning of Aug. 6, he faces westward in his Nagoya home and puts his hands together to pray.
Hotta believes that the nuclear weapons convention is an obvious necessity to protect the human species, but he wonders why Japan, the only country to ever be the victim of atomic attack, is not leading the charge for the adoption of the treaty:
"Why won't the Japanese government understand something that I thought so naturally as a child?"