Posthumous Pardon for Alan Turing

Some time ago, I penned an article “Heroes of Computing” where I discussed what, in my opinion, was a lamentable lack of awareness for pioneers of the computing profession, even within the profession itself.

And what of those most notable pioneers?

Charles Babbage, who many people credit with building the first computer was ridiculed and died a lonely man.

Ada Lovelace, who wrote logic that would run on Babbage’s machines and is often cited as the worlds first programmer died of bloodletting from her physicians as a treatment of uterine cancer.

And, finally, Alan Turing, one of the most brilliant minds this country has ever produced, whose contributions to the war effort in WWII at Bletchley Park is widely regarded to have shortened it by two years sparing potentially millions of lives, was forced to undergo chemical castration after being convicted of homosexuality.

Alan Turing

Image by Christopher_Hawkins via Flickr

Lets look at this in a different light.

Alan Turing invented the computer and was castrated and persecuted. Alan Sugar sold computers and was knighted.

So, I was delighted when I was directed towards a new e-Petition on the UK government website, calling for his pardon.

In 2009 then British Prime-Minister, Gordon Brown, issued a formal apology on behalf of the British government. Stating “I’m proud to say sorry to a real war hero.”

People may cite the context of that era and state that, at the time, homosexuality was illegal. But even if you account for that, Alan Turing’s treatment was still utterly appalling.

He was prosecuted for gross indecency under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, the same piece of legislation used nearly seven decades earlier to prosecute Oscar Wilde. The punishment was quite different, however. Wilde was sentenced to two years imprisonment and hard labour, whilst Turing was offered chemical castration as an alternative to imprisonment. The sentence is widely regarded to be a knee-jerk reaction at the time to acute public anxiety about spies and homosexual entrapment by Soviet agents. Turing was, of course,  never accused nor suspected of espionage in any shape or form.

In this instance, I think it’s also worth referencing the case in 2006 where the British Government formally pardoned 306 soldiers who were executed for desertion during the World War One. This was considered by many to be most brutal of wars, as many ordinary individuals, conscripted and wrenched away from their family and loved-ones were subject to a gruesome and almost unimaginable horror.

It was recognised that in many cases these people were probably sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The pardon allowed their families to remember them in honour and to celebrate their life and sacrifice.

In the centenary of his birth I see that it is only fitting that the same gesture be bestowed upon Turing. By all accounts he was an inspirational and brilliant man who encompassed the very best of British ingenuity and inventiveness, and is someone whose life should be more publicised and celebrated.

So, please, if you are a British citizen I would implore you to sign the government E-Petition. The link is below


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