Parliament ‘must pardon codebreaker Turing’

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Parliament should act to right the "historical injustice" which saw World War II codebreaker Alan Turing convicted of gross indecency, peers have been told.


Lib Dem peer Lord Sharkey wants a Parliamentary pardon for Turing – as the government has resisted calls to grant him a full posthumous pardon.

He said Turing and other gay men were treated with "terrible cruelty".

The government said it would not stand in the way of the bill.

Turing was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, when homosexual acts were illegal in the UK. Two years later he died from cyanide poisoning – his inquest ruled a verdict of suicide.

He was part of the team at Bletchley Park that cracked the Nazi Enigma code, vital to the allied war effort and is now widely recognised as a computing pioneer.


continue to source article at bbc.co.uk

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  1. IMO calling Turing “a computing pioneer” is like calling Einstein “a physics pioneer” in both cases certainly true but a bit of an understatement. I don’t remember how apocryphal this story is but supposedly Turing took the cyanide by coating an apple and also supposedly the Apple logo with a bite out of it is a tribute to him. Not sure if either of these is actually true but I’ve had more than one fellow geek tell me the story. Anyway this is long overdue. From what I know about him he was an amazing guy, very shy, the humiliation from the arrest due to these ridiculous laws probably drove him to it.

    • In reply to #1 by Red Dog:

      From Wikipedia:

      A post-mortem examination established that the cause of death was cyanide poisoning. When his body was discovered, an apple lay half-eaten beside his bed, and although the apple was not tested for cyanide, it was speculated that this was the means by which a fatal dose was consumed. This suspicion was strengthened when his fascination with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was revealed, especially the transformation of the Queen into the Witch and the ambiguity of the poisoned apple.

      I saw something with Stephen Fry in which he described meeting Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and asking him if the thing about the apple was true. Jobs’ said it wasn’t but he very much wished it were.

  2. It took the Catholic church 376 years to begrudgingly admit that Galileo was correct when he declared that the earth was not at the center of the universe. I believe that British Parliament has a much smaller window of opportunity to clear Turing’s name, as there is a good chance that the whole country will be under Shariah law in the near future. Should that happen, instead of issuing him a posthumous pardon, they will instead be issuing “posthumous comdemnations” to the likes of Joe Meek, Larry Parnes, Brian Epstein and goodness knows who else. The more I read the news, the less farfetched this whole scenario appears.

    • In reply to #2 by IDLERACER:

      I believe that British Parliament has a much smaller window of opportunity to clear Turing’s name, as there is a good chance that the whole country will be under Shariah law in the near future.

      What the hell kind of segue is that? This thread is about Alan Turing, not Sharia law. Try this one if you absolutely have to talk about Britain’s imminent takeover by those brown devils. I could do with a larf.

      The more I read the news, the less farfetched this whole scenario appears.

      Then stop reading the Daily Mail.

      • In reply to #13 by RevJimBob:

        In reply to #2 by IDLERACER:

        ‘there is a good chance that the whole country will be under Shariah law in the near future’

        Oh behave!

        ??? A joke I suppose. There are 2.8 million Muslims in Britain (2011 census) – that’s 4.6% of the population. Less than Germany (5%), Holland (5.5%), Switzerland (5.7%) or France (7%).

  3. Add Peter Wildeblood to that. And the rest. I cannot understand how it never occurred to the British Establishment that they were just aping the Nazis after the World War Two in their treatment of gays.

    • In reply to #7 by Graham1:

      Add Peter Wildeblood to that. And the rest. I cannot understand how it never occurred to the British Establishment that they were just aping the Nazis after the World War Two in their treatment of gays.

      Well don’t forget before the war there were plenty of Brits who were pretty fond of Hitler (Americans as well). My understanding is even some of the royal family were sympathetic although after Hitler invaded Poland there was a lot of historical revisionism to pretend that was never the case.

      • In reply to #9 by Red Dog:

        Well don’t forget before the war there were plenty of Brits who were pretty fond of Hitler

        Of which King Edward VIII was the most notorious. Nothing bad happened to him despite his blatant involvement. It’s not what you do, it’s who you are. Parasitic government bigwigs and insatiable corporate swines can lie, cheat, steal, rape, betray but they never pay for what they do. Ordinary, intelligent, honest, hardworking people pay through their noses, sometimes with their lives for the most trivial of offenses… sometimes for no reason at all.

        It’s sickening. Why did it take so long for a supposedly democratic government to come to their senses on this issue.

  4. There’s also a rumour that because at the time the popular received opinion was that “queers” were prone to gossip and he might disclose state secrets that he was assassinated by the establishement.

    What has he got to be pardoned for? Homosexuality is natural, it’s the law that was an ass and that’s unpardonable.

    • In reply to #8 by Stafford Gordon:

      There’s also a rumour that because at the time the popular received opinion was that “queers” were prone to gossip and he might disclose state secrets that he was assassinated by the establishement.

      What has he got to be pardoned for? Homosexuality is natural, it’s the law that was an ass and that’…

      The pardon is because he was charged with crimes. Having gay sex was an actual crime in the 50′s in the UK and the US.

      Regarding the “security risk” I always thought the biggest fear was that if someone was gay the other side could blackmail them “tell us what we want or the we tell people you are a homosexual”. Which always struck me as a way for homophobia to justify itself with circular logic.

      • In reply to #10 by Red Dog:

        He was not just charged, he was convicted. That is what the pardon is for.

        The court gave him the choice of jail or “chemical castration”; he chose the latter. He lost his libido, and grew breasts. He became extremely depressive. Within two years, he killed himself.

        You may or may not view the court’s decision, albeit unwittingly, as a death sentence.

  5. Good. Let’s hope this bill gets passed. It would, at least by proxy, also serve as a an acknowledgement of the injustice perpetrated against many other gay people as a result of state-sanctioned (and religiously inspired) homophobia.

  6. It comes from Snow White, surely.

    The British government forced Turing to take estrogen shots which made his breasts grow. The purpose was ostensibly to make him straight. That is nonsense. They would have used testosterone, not estrogen. They used estrogen just to humiliate him, and make him to ashamed to go cruising.

    To put this is perspective. In 1970 in Canada you could murder any gay person you pleased, pound their head to an unrecognisable watermelon pulp,, and as excuse say “he was gay” without even having to prove that.

    Ghastly as it sounds, because he was a genius, he got off lightly.

    • In reply to #14 by Roedy:

      Ghastly as it sounds, because he was a genius, he got off lightly.

      Not really. He was having a relationship with Arnold Murray, who was tried at the same time. He pleaded guilty; the relationship was admitted. Murray got a conditional discharge: he walked out of court a free man.

      Turing additionally lost his security clearance and his job at Government Communications Headquarters. One can but speculate how much more good work he might have been able to do shortening the Cold War.

      This still looks, to me, like an establishment stitch-up; a deliberate attempt to destroy him. Which succeeded.

      • In reply to #19 by Stevehill:

        One can but speculate how much more good work he might have been able to do shortening the Cold War.

        One can speculate on anything but my guess is had Turing lived it wouldn’t have made much difference in the Cold War. His military expertise in code breaking was much more important during a real war than a cold one. Breaking codes was critical in WWII. It gave the allies an incredible advantage. I know more about the Pacific war and in that war the advantage to the US in the Battle of Midway was incredible. The Japanese had at that point a much larger navy, more carriers, yet the US knew their plan exactly and was able to leave an ambush and to destroy 4 carriers while only losing one. That was the turning point of the war in the Pacific and the victory absolutely would not have happened had it not been that the US had broken the Japanese code. (I know Turing had nothing to do with breaking those codes my point is to give an example of how important code breaking was in a hot war)

        Except perhaps in very unusual situations (e.g. the Cuban missile crisis) that kind of code breaking advantage didn’t happen nearly as much in the Cold War.

        And Turing was going away from code breaking anyway toward more general issues about computers. That is where I think the tragedy is. Not in some conflict with the Soviets that was half manufactured to justify US military spending anyway. The tragedy is we lost a brilliant mind who could have helped move computer science and math along in ways we will never know.

  7. Turing was one of the greatest intellectuals of the 20thcentury with a unique mind .
    He effectively formulated the basis of modern computing.
    His contributions at Bletchley Park saved thousands of lives in WW2.
    The fact that he was convicted and humiliated thereafter is a nauseating piece of gross injustice!

  8. I greatly admire Turing and consider him to be Britain’s greatest genius of the 20th century.

    Maybe he should be pardoned; but I’m not sure how I feel about retrospectively pardoning crimes of the past because they don’t fit with modern morality. I’d rather we just said; this was wrong and shouldn’t have happened.

    Are we going to pardon all the victims of the witchcraft law, or all the children who were hung for petty crimes or we just going for celebrity cases?

    There is also the added complication that there is good evidence that Turing actually was a security risk. It is well documented that he was an alcoholic and was having indiscreet liaisons with strangers, some in foreign countries (on conferences abroad). Had he been straight this sort of behaviour would still have been considered dangerous to national security.

    I’m not moralising with this; just pointing out that from a security stand point I can understand why the establishment might have thought it safest to hang him out to dry when they did. We would be naive to think that during the cold war the secret services were not absolutely ruthless when it came to dealing with perceived threats.

    • In reply to #23 by mr_DNA:

      he was an alcoholic and was having indiscreet liaisons with strangers, some in foreign countries (on conferences abroad).

      Nice to see Cold War bullshit lives on. He was drinking and fucking strangers while at a conference! By that standard the majority of academics and technical people I’ve ever known are security risks.

      • In reply to #24 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #23 by mr_DNA:

        he was an alcoholic and was having indiscreet liaisons with strangers, some in foreign countries (on conferences abroad).

        Nice to see Cold War bullshit lives on. He was drinking and fucking strangers while at a conference! By that standard the majority of academics and t…

        like I said I’m putting this in historical context. This is the era of Antony Burgess and the Cambridge 5 who were well educated communists who had been discovered to have been giving away secrets to the Russians and cold war paranoia was at its height.
        Turing was not an occasional binge drinker, he was a can’t function without alcohol dependent person. Given his brilliance and previous history I think the authorities probably saw him as big risk if he ended up in the hands of USSR which could have happened on one of his trips to Norway.
        As I said I’m not trying to exonerate the authorities but trying to show the reality of Turing as a flawed genius in troubled times. I do admire him greatly (I submitted that photograph in the header at work when we were asked to come in with photos of those that inspired us, for a display ), but I’m not going to put him on a pedestal, I want to understand him as a man not an ideal.

    • In reply to #26 by mr_DNA:

      Got that mixed up. It was Guy Burgess and Antony Blunt.

      Still slightly wrong. Philby, Burgess and Maclean defected to Russia in the 1950s. Anthony Blunt (Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures and a cousin of the Queen Mother) was exposed as the “Fourth Man” decades later, in 1979. Although he was stripped of his titles he was never prosecuted, and died in oblivion four years later, aged 75.

      Conjecture continues to this day as to who is or was the Fifth Man, including possibly Guy Liddell who very nearly became Director of MI5.

  9. In reply to #20 by Pabmusic:

    Now don’t go confusing the issue with facts. Didn’t you know? All lefties of any kind are secret Muslims who ache for Sharia law. They got bored with Communist take-over for some reason, probably something Ronald Reagan said.

  10. Am I the only one who thinks Alan Turing shouldn’t be pardoned?

    It wouldn’t do him any good: a bell can’t be unrung.

    This gesture would serve only to assuage our own collective sense of guilt and allow us to congratulate ourselves about how we’ve moved on as a society since the dark days of the 1950s.

    The current establishment isn’t so different from the one which hounded Turing to his death: the same Queen sits on the throne of England, and as the head of the same homophobic church; the current cabinet, now as it was then, is overwhelmingly stuffed with Eton-and-Oxbridge-educated toffs.

    Attitudes in the UK towards homosexuality have, for the most part, changed; but it isn’t down to the establishment. Nor is it particularly reflected by them: out of the 161 MPs who voted against the recent Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, 128 were Conservatives, with 117 voting in favour:

    Blow for Cameron as 128 Tory MPs vote against gay marriage

    More than half of the Members of Parliament whose party makes up most of the government of the UK are opposed to marriage equality.

    Labour did better in this free vote, although it was their bill.

    We don’t get to go through The Bumper Book of History looking to redress injustices of the past with futile gestures, drawing a line through each successive one with a big fat marker pen, until we finally close the thing and pat ourselves on the back. What happened to Alan Turing should be an open sore on the soul of the land; on the world even, given the debt owed to him by all us non-Nazis. It should never be allowed to heal.

    The same goes for Oscar Wilde, and the thousands of non-famous men and women who suffered a similar fate to Wilde and Turing but whose names will never be known.

    Posthumous apologies and pardons allow past wrongs to be forgotten, which must never be permitted.

    No pardon for Alan Turing. The establishment doesn’t get off that easily.

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