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calendar   Monday - July 29, 2013

No More Gay Penalty

Only 60 years after he was driven to suicide ...

Alan Turing, credited with ending WWII, to be given posthumous pardon

The “Father of Computer Science” — who played a key role in defeating the Nazis during World War II — is set to be posthumously pardoned of his gross indecency conviction, according to a new report.

WWII hero Alan Turing is widely credited with hastening the falls of the Nazis because he cracked the German Enigma, which allowed U-boats to securely communicate in the North Atlantic.

Turing, who was gay, was later convicted under anti-homosexuality legislation and sentenced to chemical castration.

In 1954, Turing, 41, was found dead of cyanide poisoning — a half-eaten apple sitting on his bedside table.

The government signalled on Friday that it is prepared to support a backbench bill that would pardon Turing, who died from cyanide poisoning at the age of 41 in 1954 after he was subjected to “chemical castration”.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, a government whip, told peers that the government would table the third reading of the Alan Turing (statutory pardon) bill at the end of October if no amendments are made. “If nobody tables an amendment to this bill, its supporters can be assured that it will have speedy passage to the House of Commons,” Ahmad said.

The announcement marks a change of heart by the government, which declined last year to grant pardons to the 49,000 gay men, now dead, who were convicted under the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act. They include Oscar Wilde.

Turing broke German ciphers using the bombe method, which allowed the code-breakers to crack the German Enigma code. His colleague Tommy Flowers built the Colossus computer. [Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, a government whip] Ahmad described Turing as “one of the fathers, if not the father, of computer science”.

[ Liberal Democrat peer Lord ]Sharkey has campaigned for a pardon after being taught mathematics at Manchester University in the 1960s by Robin Gandy, Turing’s only doctoral student, who became a close friend and was the executor of his will.

Sharkey said: “As I think everybody knows, he was convicted in 1952 of gross indecency and sentenced to chemical castration. He committed suicide two years later. The government know that Turing was a hero and a very great man. They acknowledge that he was cruelly treated. They must have seen the esteem in which he is held here and around the world.”

[long retired Bletchley Park aide] Lady Trumpington told peers: “The block I worked in was devoted to German naval codes. Only once was I asked to deliver a paper to Alan Turing, so … I cannot claim that I knew him. However, I am certain that but for his work we would have lost the war through starvation.”

If I recall my ancient computer history properly, Turing was also adept at riding a unicycle and playing the accordion. No word yet on whether the UK has finally decriminalized those activities as well.

And headlines being what they are, obviously Turing didn’t end the war all by himself. But he did break the code, and that was invaluable in ending the Blitz ... although it was Churchill’s decision to let Coventry be bombed.

link to the Alan Turing story

Minor Update: a somewhat contrary view from Max Hastings: these were the laws of the time, so by what right does today’s UK go about pardoning or apologizing for past wrongs? Or, as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton might put it, “At this point, what difference does it make?” Not that she, or her husband for that matter, are any strangers themselves to meaningless apologies.

Well, I suppose the point is that it’s never too late to try and do the right thing. Granted, 60 years after the guy is dead is rather pushing the envelope.

The secondary argument, “what about the other 49,000 homosexuals also convicted?” may be moot; the way I read the Guardian article it seems as if all of them could be cleared of their long-ago offenses.

And when you come right down to it, the Allies were only too happy to forgive a bunch of Nazis and take them on board. Almost all of the early brains in NASA had earlier worked for Adolf (eg SS Major Werner von Braun). Revisionism can downplay their involvement, but come on. They didn’t NOT know. So what’s a little power bottom action compared to that? What they ought to be apologizing for is not standing up for their man, who saved the lives of millions by shortening the war by a year or more. But not one of them did; not a single string was pulled for Turing. That’s abhorrent. Things should have been swept under the rug as they were done for so many others with far more “dirt” in their dustpans.


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 07/29/2013 at 04:32 PM   
Filed Under: • Computers and CyberspaceHistoryWar-Stories •  
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