Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Call for apology to Turing

This is a story of a national hero who was censured by his country and died alone on account of love.

Alan Turing was a key figure in the early years of computer development, before the Second World War. During the war, he was a key figure in the British team that decrypted the German Enigma cipher. Their contributions gave the Allies a pivotal advantage over their adversaries.

He was prosecuted for "gross indecency" because he'd had consensual sex with another man in the privacy of his own home. His work with the British intelligence service was over, and he was given the choice between chemical castration or prison. He chose the hormone treatment. Two years later, he committed suicide. He was 41 years old.

The last word the British government had to say about him was that his private actions, harming nobody, merited ruining his life.

Turing was a very prominent individual; I am sure that many other lives, both prominent and not, were needlessly ruined by this shameful law (happily repealed across Britain by the late 1970s).

There is now a call for the British government to apologise for its treatment of Turing. Given that an apology would be very easy to issue, would cost little and harm nobody, I think it is worth doing.

If you are a British resident and think this is worth two minutes of your time, please go sign the petition.

Also, let me know what you think of this sort of apology. Is it worthwhile? Is it a waste of time? Is is otherwise inappropriate? What consequences do you think such an apology would have, in terms of people's actions and their attitudes?

Photo credit:

Alan Turing photo, author unknown. Photo was found at Ally Action, among a list of prominent individuals and events in the history of gay rights.

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