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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. A moral code is what guides one’s own personal behavior.

    A code of ethics guides us in how we treat others.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. “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.

  9. 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?

  10. 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.

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