I have always been highly aware of Alan Turing and his contributions. Not only was he instrumental in the defeat of the Nazi’s, he was one of the leading scientific lights of the 20th century and a visionary contributor in the fields of mathematics and computing. However, it wasn’t until this week that I realized I knew too little about this great man.
Alan Turing lead the group that broke the “unbreakable” Enigma code used by Nazis in World War II, which was a critical factor in the Nazis defeat by the allies. Turing’s work in the infant field of computer science and his landmark development of the Turing Test, a test to determine if a machine has reached the critical threshold of artificial intelligence, represent core elements of today’s computer science field.
What I didn’t realize is that Alan Turing was gay. Why does that matter? It doesn’t matter to me in the least. All I care about are this great man’s monumental contributions to saving the world from the horrors of the Nazis and his role in shaping the future of our species. Unfortunately, Turing’s sexual orientation mattered to the British government.
In a horrifying series of events, Turing was convicted of gross indecency in 1952 for having sex with a man. He was terminated from his government position, stripped of his security clearances and chemically castrated. After suffering through this living hell, Turing committed suicide in 1954. He was only 41 years old.
Although the British Government issued a posthumous apology in 2009, people in the scientific and gay community considered this to be inadequate. Led by physicist Stephen Hawking, more than 37,000 people, among them scientists, theologians, world leaders and regular people, sent a petition to the queen urging her to right this incredible wrong.
In a decree released Monday by Justice Minister Chris Grayling, Queen Elizabeth wrote that she was “Graciously pleased to extend Our Grace and Mercy unto the said Alan Mathison Turing and to grant him Our Free Pardon posthumously in respect of the said convictions.” This rare pardon was issued under the “Royal Prerogative of Mercy,” which has been used only three other times since 1945.
Since I am an anglophile I hated to bash the British Monarchy and system, but – Come on!!! They are pardoning Alan Turing? They should be begging him for forgiveness. The irony that this man, who helped save the world from a new dark age under the Nazi’s, had his life destroyed by one of the countries most committed to eradicating totalitarianism is almost beyond belief. The effect is the same as if he had been thrown into an oven at Auschwitz! If Turing is looking down on this farce I wonder what he is thinking?