The Crown Finally Pardons Alan Turing

_71928576_turingComputer pathbreaker and World War II codebreaker Alan Turing has been finally pardoned. It only took 61 years after his 1952 conviction for homosexuality and his chemical castration for the British government who contributed so mightily to the defeat of the Germans. What is particularly astonishing is not just that “moral people” in the United States and Britain not only did this to their citizens, but did this to a man who was protecting his nation so brilliantly and barred him from continuing work that was so pathbreaking in computer science. In the aftermath of the Sister Wives decision and our discussion of morality laws, Turning is a reminder of the hateful measures meted out in the name of morality or science or both.

Turing did his brilliant work at Bletchley Park undoubtedly shortened the conflict and saved thousands of lives and helped speed up the cracking of the German “unbreakable” code used in the famed Enigma machine.

Turing lost his clearance and was prevented from serving his nation further. This is obviously not just a British abuse. When I worked at the National Security Agency during the Reagan Administration as an intern, all employees were given a series of questions in the long security clearance process on homosexuality and any proclivity toward homosexuality. Any perceived inclination toward homosexuality was a bar. I remember marveling at the irony since Turing had to be viewed as one of the founding fathers of the science and mission of the NSA.

Of course, after World War II, we (and our allies) sheltered Nazis and people associated with war crimes because it was in the “national interest” according to our intelligence services. However, a gay man had to be stripped of his clearance, denied access to government programs, and then chemically castrated.

He died in June 1954 by his own hand when he swallowed cyanide (though some have questioned that coroners conclusion). One can only speculate at what this brilliant man might have achieved but for the codification of social hatred and intolerance.

His pardon comes into effect today on Christmas Eve.

Source: BBC

31 thoughts on “The Crown Finally Pardons Alan Turing

  1. The “pardon” reflects the arrogance/stupidity of our leaders.

    Look at the the lynch mob calling for Snowden’s head – it was Mr. Snowden who brought the NSA’s abuses to the public’s attention and put pressure to restore the 4th Amendment.

    In 60 years, the grandchildren of those demanding Snowden’s head will arrange some feel good pardon and garner publicity for acknowledging the wrongs done earlier.

  2. We know well today that, while younger people are more accepting of homosexuality, it wasn’t until the Eighties that homosexuality was removed from the DSM and it was then a powerful tool of extortion and blackmailn by KGB agents toward intelligence employees – in fact, Alan Turing was turned in by a lover who burgled his house and who was threatened by Turing of being thrown in jail.

    The purge effectuated under Reagan in the NSA was less justified and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy only served to fire able gay servicemen and -women while convicted felons were enlisted to fill their places.

    But I agree: Turing deserved a knighthood, not a castration, and Klaus Fuch, who was really a spy for the Red and who provided them with the H bomb, was better treated by the British authorities.

  3. I just read up on the circumstances of Turing’s death, and from what I read it appears that whether he actually committed suicide is rather murky. You can read about it here:

    Aside from that, though, what irks me most about this “pardon” is that it’s ridiculous to pardon someone who didn’t do anything wrong. What Turing deserves is an apology. And of course, in that sense it doesn’t matter how great his contributions were, although they do make his prosecution look even more pointless and vindictive than it otherwise would.

  4. “we (and our allies) sheltered Nazis and people associated with war crimes because it was in the “national interest” according to our intelligence services. However, a gay man had to be stripped of his clearance, denied access to government programs, and then chemically castrated.”

    Yep, that sounds like something a rational government would do.
    And in this country we yell so loudly at the “barbarian” nature of muslims. Is there a mirror anywhere?

  5. Sick Limeys…. It’s a sad state of affairs when one is demeaned for who they are rather than what they stand for….. The light of day…..takes forever….

  6. Alan Turing was a great man destroyed by the hypocrisy of the system. Just as Oscar Wilde’s nobleman lover escaped prosecution, the British upper class riddled by homosexuality punished a representative few while remaining in their own deep closets.

  7. Up until just recently, the US military & intelligence system was jerking clearances and firing interpreters who spoke fluent Arabic and other middle eastern languages. I don’t know what their policies are now.

    My grandson (Gene H. has met him) is finishing up a degree with a combined major in computer science and Japanese. He became a Japanophile and Sinophile while still in Junior High, so taught himself Japanese and has pen pals in the Orient. His iPhone and iPad are all programmed in Japanese characters. He can write and edit program language in Japanese. He graduated from high school with a 4.2 GPA–I had never heard of anyone pulling off that hat trick, but there you have it. He never made it a secret he is gay, because he never had to stay in the closet–we are an accepting family.

    Wonder if there is a chance the government would hire him now?

  8. It is amazing o me the level of hatred (fear?) towards those who are homosexual:better to hurt your own country and the world then accept the genius and contributions of someone because he/she gay.

    OS Congratulations to him!

  9. Yet another in a long line of glaring hypocrisies perpetrated by the state, as if a pardon 60 years after the fact will set the record straight and absolve those involved in the destruction of a human being because of his sexual preferences.

  10. Why do you say that The Crown pardoned him? Who specifically issued the pardon? Parliament, King, Queen, weeny Prince, Prime Minister?

  11. This, clearly, was a horrible decision by the British government in power at that time.

    But, if we don’t make decisions and/or laws based on morality or science, what SHOULD we use as a basis for lawmaking, Professor Turley?

    As I wrote under the Sister Wives column, human decency, respect and fairness are all a part of morality. What would you substitute?

    If there is a bad law, should we have no laws?

    If there is a bad prosecutor, should we have no prosecutors?

    If there is a bad cop, should we have no cops?

    Professor Turley: You apparently wish to do away with morality and/or science as a basis for lawmaking, so I ask you to tell us what you would make the basis for lawmaking?

    The law that castrated Alan Turing was clearly bad; should there be no laws about human behavior?

    I asked (and ask again): should fathers be allowed to rape their young daughters or sell them into sexual slavery because we are too wary of making moral judgments and writing laws that reflect those moral judgments?

  12. This is a disturbing story. This man helped save the British from the Nazi’s and he was treated like a dog. Knighthood would not be enough for this sad soul.

  13. firefly,

    “I asked (and ask again): should fathers be allowed to rape their young daughters or sell them into sexual slavery because we are too wary of making moral judgments and writing laws that reflect those moral judgments?”

    Your question is a giant false equivalency and illustrates the fundamental schism between morals and ethics. Rape and slavery are crimes with victims who have not consented to either rape or slavery. They are both immoral and unethical as they harm others. Homosexuality is a normal expression of human sexuality for a statistically significant minority of the human race. So long as their sexual activity is consensual and that consent is valid, it is not unethical and ergo should not be illegal. These are objective standards and objective standards are the basis of ethics. It is their choice and it impacts you not at all. It neither breaks your leg, steals your property or makes you literally insane. To use the force of law to stop their behavior is to limit their freedom because you feel “uneasy”. Sorry! You have no right to be made uneasy by the world. In contrast, morals are a subjective choice. If you think homosexuality is immoral? Don’t practice it. But by attempting to enforce your subjective morals on others, you are trying to substitute your subjective judgement for theirs and in the process take their rights from them (specifically the right of free association). Your subjective morality is attempting to do an ethical harm. You would make people victims of systemic oppression simply because you don’t like what they do. All because you feel “uneasy”. The law isn’t all about you. It’s about everyone’s rights, even the rights of people you don’t approve of. Even the rights of people who are actual criminals in the ethical derivation of the term. Law cannot be based in a subjective choice of beliefs – which may or may not be rational or even rooted in reality – and be both just and effective in the long term.

    The proper basis for laws is ethics (objective standards) not morals (subjective belief). Keep your morals to yourself, in your home and at your place of worship (if you have one). That is the proper place for them. They have no business in the law.

    Or did the whole “judge not lest ye be judged” bit of the book of Matthew escape you?

    If you truly believe that homosexuality is immoral? Put your faith to the test. It isn’t for you to sort out here on Earth. If it is truly immoral and all your beliefs are true, then those naughty homosexuals will all get sorted out by your God in the end now, won’t they? Or do you think you can do a better job than an omnipotent omnipresent being who is unconfined by the rules of physics in rendering judgement based on morals? Why that would be vanity and pride. If you truly believe what you claim, you should be content and have faith that God will sort it all out in the long term. If your God is truly almighty, I’m pretty sure he/she/it doesn’t need firefly’s help to get the job done.

    In the mean time, there is no victim in consensual homosexual behavior. There is no wronged person party to the transaction who needs legal intervention. There is only two people having sex in way you don’t approve of. And quite frankly? As long as they aren’t humping your leg, it’s none of your business.



    OS’s grandson is a really good kid. Sharp as a razor too. I hope he never has to face some of the bigoted stupidity and ignorant intolerance this world can dish out.

  14. firefly,

    P.S. I do realize you weren’t arguing in favor of the laws that penalized Turing. I was just using it as a launchpad to illustrate the ethics/morals divide. Nothing personal.

  15. There is a DVD about Alan Turing that one can get via Amazon’s instant Video program; it is titled “Breaking the Code.” Derek Jacobi plays the role of Alan Turing.

    I saw it years ago and then again recently; it is heartbreaking.

  16. Gene H.:

    Dear God in Heaven, I have NEVER judged homosexuality immoral; I grew up (from a very, very young age) in the ballet world where most of my male classmates and friends were homosexuals.

    Do NOT assign to me judgments I have never made.

    ” Rape and slavery are crimes” because someone made a moral judgment that they should be deemed crimes. Prior to that, rape and slavery were practiced all over the world and were NOT frowned on by most cultures.

    Moral judgments are made every day on this website; so apparently we are not opposed to making moral judgments — it is just a question of where one draws the morality line.

    And I ask again, what would you use as a basis for lawmaking if you exclude morality and science?

  17. “what would you use as a basis for lawmaking if you exclude morality and science?”

    Ethics and science, firefly. I’m a technocrat.

    Also, I did stipulate that you were not in favor of the laws and was using your question to illustrate there is a difference between ethics and morals. Science is all about objective measurement and quantification, ethics are about objective standards based in reason. Morals need not be either. Regardless of laws of antiquity, morals have no proper place in modern legalism. The law must be firmly rooted in the realm of the real. There is no (or at best, little) room for subjectivity in the formulation of criminal laws. The proof of this can be seen in such attempts are moralizing laws as Prohibition and the abject failure that is the War on Drugs as well as laws criminalizing consensual behavior between validly consenting adults.

  18. Gene H. I appreciate your appeal to science as the foundation of ethics. To lay down a bit of a challenge, can you support a thesis that cultural acceptance and endorsement of the homosexual lifestyle is not, in the long run, detrimental to that society? Scientifically?

    What is the purpose of ethics divorced from morality, and where did most ethics originate if not morality?

    As for Prohibition and the War on drugs, moralization was part of the argument, but they are much more complex in their justification and historical context – and consisted of many so-called “rational” arguments. One could also make a rational argument that they failed due to economic reasons (supply and demand), rather than any conflict between ethics and morality.

  19. Brad,

    Thanks for your loaded question.

    First, acceptance is not detrimental to a society as illustrated by historical example. There have been many societies throughout history that had no moral stigma attached to homosexuality that lasted far longer than ours has (Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt, the Aztecs, Mayans, Quechuas, Moches, Zapotecs of Central and South America, Renaissance Italy and Ancient Rome, Ancient Assyria and Ancient Persia to name a few).

    Second, endorsement is a weasel word and not required to recognize others rights to free association and validly consensual behavior. No one is asking you or anyone else to endorse anything other than equal rights. No one is asking that you be homosexual. They are asking you to respect the rights of others and to mind your own business. A greater case can be made that social inequality is demonstrably bad for societies and should not be allowed to use the force of law to criminalize behavior that has no objective victim.

    Third, morals are the older tradition. Morals a based in religious dictate. But that does not impair the additional utility of ethics any more than algebra impairs the utility of calculus. The purpose of ethics divorced from morals is to remove the “spooky” and non-rational religious elements of moralizing from (legal and social) systems. Your morality is based on a subjective choice of values. Ethics is based on objective standards and observation as shaped by reason. As such, ethics seeks a more universally applicable code that transcends the moralizing of any specific theological dogma. Morals need not be rational and very often are not. Just as morals are not rational in the arguments for prohibiting homosexuality. You seek to deprive others of social intercourse – in the broadest sense of the term – that brings them pleasure and happiness because some moralizing twit in a 2,000 year old fairy tale found it personally objectionable. If you don’t think homosexuality is moral? Don’t participate. But keep your morality and your religion to yourself. That’s the ethical thing to do. You can tutt-tutt all you like though.

    Fourth, in the case of Prohibition, it was clothed wholly in the language of moralizing when it was foisted upon the public. Carrie Nation and her lot were a bunch of Bible thumping killjoys. The War on Drugs, slightly less so, but it made up for its lack of a religious center as utilized by the earlier Prohibitionists by wearing a cloak of fallacious reasoning to justify using criminal law to solve a public health problem, i.e. it used specious logic to justify using the wrong tool to address what is a health and health education problem.

    Does supply and demand figure into the scale of the “problem”? Yep. And you see how well trying to criminalize that supply mechanism has worked out to the very profitable best interests of criminals in both Prohibition and the War on Drugs. Making something with a high-ish demand illegal? Forces black markets to form along with the ancillary criminal activity such markets create as a matter of due course. Bad logic wins again. And just like the bad logic of Prohibition eventually killed it, so too dies the War on Drugs. Albeit a slower, more selective death further complicated by the unwillingness of law enforcement to quit practicing medicine without a license and give up their bloated budgets and private prison profits.

  20. A rough and not totally accurate description.

    Morals and ethics can both drive personal behavior and interpersonal relationships. The difference is that one is a subjective choice by the individual, the other is an externally driven culturally contextual objectives standard. They differ in source and motivation. Sometimes they are aligned, sometimes they are disparate. Cases can be made that homicide, for example, is both ethically and morally wrong. Where they are disparate, ethics – not being rooted in any particular religious dogma or superstition – must take precedent as a foundation for legalism in a pluralistic society. In the abortion debate, for example, it may be immoral under a particular tradition adopted by some as a subjective choice. It is, however, unethical to impose your personal morality on others by force of law on those who may not share your personal choice. It is possible, for example, to be pro-choice and anti-abortion. I know, because that is my personal stance. Excepting for rape and issues regarding the health of the mother, I think abortion as a method of post hoc birth control is generally irresponsible behavior so I take care not to impregnate a woman by chance. That does not mean that it is ethical for me to force a woman not to have an abortion for that reason. It strips her of her rights to privacy, self-determination and free exercise and the law has a duty to the living first and foremost, not a potential life (which is all a baby is until it can survive outside the womb as it has been for all of human history). I morally disapprove, so I abstain from getting in to the position to where I am party to an abortion, but I ethically approve of that choice for women as a matter of the objective application of their rights in analysis of the matter.

  21. If he can crack code and save lives who cares who he sleeps with. If letting him be gay openly makes him a better code breaker one would think in despirate times such as in the middle of a terrible war they would find as many dates for him as he wanted.

  22. It was not very many years ago that — in a move passing comprehension — the Bush Administration fired nine Arab-speaking linguists for being gay.

    After 9/11, Bush Administration officials discovered a critical shortage of linguists fluent in Arabic who could translate Arabic text and conversations into English, but it seems their dislike and/or distrust of gays was so profound that they fired these nine (and some others) anyway.

  23. I know the argument has been made that Turing’s sexual orientation could have been used against him to blackmail him into revealing secrets, and the same argument was used during the Cold War for barring gays from the military and the national security and intelligence ranks. But what if Turing’s superiors had gone to him and said, “Look, Alan, we know you’re gay. We don’t like it, it’s weird [after all, it was the ’50s] but you’re brilliant and we need you. Since we know, and you know we know, you don’t ever have to worry about some Russkie agent blackmailing you by threatening to reveal your secret to us. Just tell him to go whistle the Internationale.

    The world could have been a much different place.

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