No pardon for Alan Turing

By | 2012/02/07

Alan Turing was one of the founding greats of computer science. He postulated concepts which are still in use today, and in fact in many circles is seen as the father of computer science.

He was also gay.

Sure, one might argue that if he had not been present, there might have been others to take his place. However, the British government (and indeed, the free Western World) should fully acknowledge that at that time and place, it was Alan Turing who was there. The war efforts were in no small part saved by a homosexual who headed the decryption team for German ciphers, and who saw those ciphers cracked.

That in 1952 he was prosecuted and found guilty for the ‘crime’ of being a homosexual, and had the ‘treatment’ of female hormones was an anachronistic tragedy; his subsequent suicide was a loss to the development of computer science. Like one might idly speculate where the world might be, from a technology perspective, had the dark ages not happened, one might equally wonder where computer science might have advanced to by now if this giant had not been taken from us; his suicide in 1954 by cyanide ingestion was a result of the severe depression he experienced not only on the hormone ‘treatment’ but also the public ridicule he experienced at the time.

In 2009 Gordon Brown offered a public apology from the British government for the treatment Turing received, and a campaign was started to grant him a posthumous pardon. That pardon may seem irrelevant, but it would be an acknowledgement that despite being legally acceptable at the time, the treatment of gays in that era was unacceptable from modern standards.

And the British House of Lords has denied that pardon.

This is a shameful act and sends entirely the wrong message – that we shouldn’t have to face our past on the basis of modern views of morality. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The world owes Alan Turing, and all the people still being persecuted for being same-sex attracted, this much at least.

4 thoughts on “No pardon for Alan Turing

  1. Dr George

    Unbelievable that they would not pardon a man who has comitted no crime yet was so disturbingly punished by the society at the time.
    It’s these moments in the past that shape our future.
    We must never forget…

    1. PMdG Post author

      It was technically a crime in his day. But part of the healing process must be to acknowledge that the definition of homosexuality as a crime back then was ill-considered and inappropriate.

  2. Jane Salmon

    So very right and the fate of Turing was tragic. What a fine man! Being Aspie, he couldn’t read the survival rules of being gay in an extremely crazy time. Being a spook, he was also vulnerable to losing his career.

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