Homeless in Vancouver: U.K. gives Alan Turing a royal pardon—Pbbth!

On Christmas Eve, Queen Elizabeth II granted a posthumous royal pardon to British computer pioneer Alan Turingbig deal!

The pardon comes 61 years after Turing was convicted for homosexual activity in 1952, and 59 years after he killed himself as a result. And it comes 68 years after the end of the Second World War.

Turing not only helped win that war for Britain and the Allied powers, his contribution as a codebreaker was so great that it is agreed he personally shortened that war by at least two years.

In the process he helped invent modern computer science, and is acknowledged as one of the principal inventors of the computer as we know it, and thus the world we live in today.

Oh, and he was gay, which was illegal in England back then.

So after the war, when England felt they had gotten what they needed out of him, they got rid of him.

In 1952 he was arrested and convicted on a charge of gross indecency for having sexual relations with a 19-year-old man.

He was coerced into undergoing experimental, so-called, chemical castration—taking estrogen pills—and stripped of his security clearance, meaning he could no longer do the job he largely invented.

Please consider the irony…

The codebreaking work Turing oversaw at Bletchley Park, using his revolutionary electromechanical computing devices called “bombes”, broke the German military’s Enigma code, allowing Allied leaders to stay steps ahead of the Nazi war machine.

That work—Alan Turing’s work, the product of his brain—was so secret that the British government wouldn’t reveal it until the 1970s.

Stripped of his security clearance, Turing wasn’t even allowed to know what he’d done during the war—his government was certainly able to forget—and frankly, it’s a wonder they stopped at chemical castration. One wonders if they considered giving him a lobotomy?

He committed suicide on June 7, 1954, just before his 42nd birthday. Is it any wonder he ate a apple laced with cyanide?

Adding insult to injury

This royal pardon may look like some kind of justice at first glance, but on closer examination it’s not justice, just more of the same; an insult delivered by the same small-minded establishment that did the original injury 61 years ago.

I have read that 50,000 to 75,000 men were convicted under the same gross indecency law; 26,000 of whom may still be alive. None of them have been pardoned—only Alan Turing.

This pardon in no way says Turing was wrongfully convicted, or that the law itself was an ass.

It says the law was proper, only Her Majesty is graciously willing to use her royal prerogative of mercy to overlook Turing’s homosexuality because of what he did, you know, helped win the war, invent computers, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Stamping out hypocrisy or giving it a stamp of approval?

This pardon does nothing to correct an injustice. This pardon is not about justice, it’s about being able to fully embrace Turing into the official pantheon of great and marketable Britons, like Blackbeard, who was also granted a royal pardon.

For there to be anything like restorative justice done, I would think a blanket pardon would be in order, along with an official acknowledgement that the law had been wrong.

Identifying the officials responsible for Turing’s arrest, conviction, and expulsion, and stripping them of their honours would go further toward recognizing a signal fact; that these officials literally committed treason against England.

The world you and I live in truly revolves around Turing’s Universal Machine. This actually can’t be overstated. Forget that the Nazis might have won and enslaved the planet but for Turing—just imagine life without Gmail and YouTube (shiver).

The guy who majorly helped invent our computerized modern world was British, and the British establishment deliberately threw him onto the garbage heap of history—at what cost to their own country?

England started the postwar years far ahead in the field of computers, yet it never really led. How could it? It literally threw away the lead.

But that’s all ancient history—kind of like England herself.

They key here is they’ve made Turing safe enough to use to market not-so-great Britain. The gave him a Royal Mail stamp last year in their “Britons of Distinction” series, and maybe they’ll put him on the £10 note.

He’s safe as houses now. That was the point of the pardon.

Comments (10) Add New Comment
cathy
There is a pretty good movie now avail on You Tube about Turing "Breaking The Code"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S23yie-779k
Evidently there will be a new movie made with Leo Di Caprio as Turing as well.

All this "recognition" is way too late for Alan Turing.
Shameful episode in British history.
HM pardon is not enough by far.
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yup
well written, stanley. :)
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jasonowen
Your right in everything you say, the queen gives him a pardon yet it was the same Queen who allowed his conviction?!. If she has the belief that the conviction was unjust, she would have done something when it happened.
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Stanley Q Woodvine
@ jason

The Queen might have been of two minds on the subject. She can be pretty metaphysical.

The medieval political concept of the King's two bodies survives in the British monarchy.

Elizabeth II has both a body natural and a body politic.

Her body natural didn't even sign this pardon. It was signed by UK justice minister, Chris Grayling.

For all we know Liz learned of the pardon over the radio while vacationing at Balmoral with the corgis.
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cathy
A little history. The current Queen did not have her Coronation until 1953 although she did rule for part of 1952.

Who really should have done something but didn't was Winston Churchill not the Queen.
Churchill was elected in 1951 back as Prime Minister even though the Labour Party had more votes.

If anyone knew the huge contribution of Turing it was Churchill. Churchill was Britain s war time PM and was briefed almost daily on the code breaking efforts of Turing and other at Bletchley.

Churchill most certainly could have stopped the prosecution and Turing could have lived out his life in peace.
Actually he should have been named as a war hero and celebrated, cause that's what he was.
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Stanley Q Woodvine
@ Cathy

Churchill knew all too well what Turing had done.

He supposedly characterized Turing’s work as the greatest single contribution to victory in the Second World War.

He might've dared not make a special case of protecting Turing from prosecution because he didn't want anyone else to know just how special Turing was.

Also he only had a majority of 18. He was a politician before all.

Reports stress the secrecy around Turing's wartime deeds, such that his own mother wasn't allowed to know.

Even against the backdrop of Cold War paranoia I know this sounds lame.
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cathy
@Stanley-looks like we both are "students" of British political history.

Yes the secrecy did persist but if ever there was a society of privilege and cover ups it was the British and something could have been done for Turing if they had really wanted to.
There never has been a satisfactory answer of why it was allowed to happen?
Maybe the answer was deeply rooted in the psychology of Winston Churchill? Looks like he used politics as an excuse for inaction but i think it was much deeper. He was one of the most powerful respected men in the world and yet didn't or couldn't act to save Turing.

I've often thought had Labour been re-elected they might not have stood by while Turing was thrown "to the wolves"?
Who knows? A very tragic story.

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Stanley Q Woodvine
@Cathy.

Tragic for him and us.

I can't begin to grasp Alan Turing's suffering; his sense of betrayal and bafflement.

What did he have to do? How many heterosexual lives did this one gay guy have to save to get a little respect?

It could happen again tomorrow. That's the point of financial compensation -- to make governments think twice before repeating the same mistake.
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anon
Alan Turing: Inquest's suicide verdict 'not supportable'

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-18561092
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Dennis Ryan
So if I'm reading this right, Elizabeth was crowned Queen in 1953, and Alan Turing committed suicide in 1954, which means she could have pardoned him. However, Elizabeth is a conservative queen. After all, she's a woman on the throne, yet has never sought to change the rules of accession that still favours men over women. Kind of says it all.
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