Every government has done things it’s not proud of, history can be a harsh judge especially when past events are filtered through a modern sensibility lens. What was seen as deviant 60 years ago is now seen as normal and causes embarrassment for those in charge.
Such is the case of the great Alan Turing. A man who did more for his country than many others and was then treated inhumanly by a government he had helped to protect. This week the current powers that be are planning to offer him a full pardon, what he deserves is an apology.
For those that don’t recognise the name, Turing was a key member of the team at Bletchley Park that cracked the Enigma machine. This was used by the Germans in the Second World War to send encrypted messages which were for all intents untraceable. Turing helped piece together the algorithms that led to the Allies being able to listen in to the communications of the Nazi war machine.
You might also remember him as the main character in “The Imitation Game” which was a bit of an imitation of the great man
He also was instrumental in early computing, and the Turing test (a way of determining whether you were speaking to a machine or real person) is still a key component in the development of Artificial Intelligence.
His work is widely believed to have help win the war, and reduced the bloodshed of millions. The man is a hero, a genius, and still technically a criminal. What crime could he have committed, being involved in cryptography perhaps he sold secrets to the Russians like Kim Philbin?
No, his crime was that he was a homosexual, and in post-war Britain this was still illegal. So he was punished by the same establishment that he had helped. He was charged with indecency and sentenced to either imprisonment or treatment for his ‘illness’.
Today this would see crazy that you could be a criminal for your sexual preference, but this was post-war Britain which was a lot more conservative than today. Instead of going to prison Alan Turing decided to be chemically castrated by the state, he was given a synthetic estrogen to reduce his libido and cure his ‘gayness’.
There are many things my country did throughout Empire that are shameful, and what was done to this quiet and unassuming man was as bad as any of them. He was treated in a way that the country we had been at war with for six years might have done.
In the end the treatment destroyed him. The chemicals rendered him impotent and caused him to develop breasts. In early June 1954, Alan Turing died from Cyanide poisoning with a half eaten apple by his side, he had won the war for others but not for himself.
It was not until 2009, nearly 60 years after his conviction, that someone in government apologised for the treatment of a war hero. It was prompted by a petition to the Prime Minister rather than a spontaneous way to make things right. There are not many things that Gordon Brown did that I agree with, but his statement on Turing is one that I do:
Thousands of people have come together to demand justice for Alan Turing and recognition of the appalling way he was treated. While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can’t put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him … So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better
Share a time when you were overcome with guilt. What were the circumstances? How did you overcome you guilt?
Source: The Guilt that Haunts Me