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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Alan Turing

This Saturday marks the 100th Anniversary of the birth of Dr Alan Turing.

For those who don't know Turing was a mathematician who was a pioneer in the development of Computer Science. Turing is perhaps, well not perhaps!, is best remembered for his work at Bletchley Park where he devised a number of techniques for the cracking of the German Enigma code.

The work done at Bletchley can not be underestimated it helped conveys safely across the North Atlantic , avoiding German U-Boats, contributed to several naval victories and according to General Claude Auchinleck without the work done at Bletchley Rommel would have reached Cairo.

Turing was, for a while head of Hut 8, responsible for analysing German Naval  intelligence so his role can not be understated. Indeed Winston Spencer Churchill said of Bletchley "it was the Goose that laid the Golden Egg but didn't cackle".

The man was, lets face it, a genius. Not only was in a leading pioneer in Computing, not only did he play a prominent role in the code breaking of German codes (saving thousands of lives) he also wrote a paper on the chemical basis of morphogenesis, and he predicted oscillating chemical reactions such as the Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction, which were first observed in the 1960s.

Now you would think that Turing would have been a national hero? Well the work at Bletchley was kept secret so his war time role was not known to the general public to the 1970's I believe and Turing had a secret. Turing was a homosexual, and in 1952 homosexuality was illegal.

Now you MIGHT think that a grateful government might have said well look the bloke saved thousands of civilian and military lives (and some bloke called Winston Spencer Churchill reckons the work at Bletchley shorten the war by at least 2 if not 4 years) shall we just uhm ignore it? Did they hell, he was prosecuted.

Turing accepted treatment with female hormones (chemical castration) and in 1954, two weeks before his 42nd, he died of Cyanide poisoning.. An inquest ruled it as suicide although many believed it was an accident.

I don't hold with historic apolgees but something I think Gordon Brown got right was making a public apology on behalf of the British Government to how Turing was treated.

An internet poll in 2011 tried to get Turing a posthumous pardon, which was rejected by Lord McNally.


A posthumous pardon was not considered appropriate as Alan Turing was properly convicted of what at the time was a criminal offence. He would have known that his offence was against the law and that he would be prosecuted. It is tragic that Alan Turing was convicted of an offence which now seems both cruel and absurd—particularly poignant given his outstanding contribution to the war effort. However, the law at the time required a prosecution and, as such, long-standing policy has been to accept that such convictions took place and, rather than trying to alter the historical context and to put right what cannot be put right, ensure instead that we never again return to those times


I can sort of understand his point. But I'd hope that at the time that those in the know might have had a word.
If a grateful nation can give knighthoods to career civil servants, politicians, aging rock stars and lovey actors it would perhaps be a belated gesture to give one to a man who served his country, served it well and was shabbily treated.

These days every soldier is a hero, old soldiers wear their medals (rightly) with pride and a nation calls them heroes. I would hope that in 2012 this nation could recognise the impact of Turing, because many of us would not be here with out him.

4 comments:

Eagleseagles said...

I agree

Eagleseagles said...

I agree

GCWilson said...

Absolutely right. Those were shameful times in terms of how gay men were treated.

Tricia said...

Have to agree - the effects of what he did cover so many lives... he should be recognised now in a more enlightened world!!