Computer 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.