On Christmas Eve, Queen Elizabeth II granted a posthumous royal pardon to British computer pioneer Alan Turing—big 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.
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.