Category Archives: war

UK Government says sorry to Alan Turing after 57 years

I’ve just recieved a response from the epetitions site regarding the call for an apology for the treatment and recognition of the hugh service to the war effort of Alan Turing, father of the modern computer. He was instrumental in breaking the German’s “Enigma Code” during WW2 and he was gay.

The history of Alan Turing is a sad one. In 1952 Turing was prosecuted for gross indecency after admitting a sexual relationship with a man. A few years after he broke the German’s code for the British government – which Winston Churchill claimed was the most significant, tide-turning victory of WW2 – he was outed as a homosexual and arrested. At the time, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder. It was also illegal. He lost his security clearance, effectively canning him from his government job, and was convicted of “gross indecency.” To avoid prison, Turing chose to instead undergo a chemical castration process. Two years later, he committed suicide.

The campaign was the idea of computer scientist John Graham-Cumming.

He was seeking an apology for the way the mathematician was treated after his conviction. He also wrote to the Queen to ask for Turing to be awarded a posthumous knighthood.

The campaign was backed by author Ian McEwan, scientist Richard Dawkins and gay-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. The petition posted on the Downing Street website attracted thousands of signatures.

He is most famous for his code-breaking work at Bletchley Park during WWII, helping to create the Bombe that cracked messages enciphered with the German Enigma machines. However, he also made significant contributions to the emerging fields of artificial intelligence and computing. In 1936 he established the conceptual and philosophical basis for the rise of computers in a seminal paper called On Computable Numbers and in 1950 he devised a test to measure the intelligence of a machine. Today it is known as the Turing Test.

After the war he worked at many institutions including the University of Manchester, where he worked on the Manchester Mark 1, one of the first recognisable modern computers.

There is a memorial statue of him in Manchester’s Sackville Gardens which was unveiled in 2001.

So today in 2009, some 57 years later, we get some recongition from the government

Thank you for signing this petition. The Prime Minister has (got some intern to write) written a
response. Please read below.

Prime Minister: 2009 has been a year of deep reflection – a chance for
Britain, as a nation, to commemorate the profound debts we owe to those who
came before. A unique combination of anniversaries and events have stirred
in us that sense of pride and gratitude which characterise the British
experience. Earlier this year I stood with Presidents Sarkozy and Obama to
honour the service and the sacrifice of the heroes who stormed the beaches
of Normandy 65 years ago. And just last week, we marked the 70 years which
have passed since the British government declared its willingness to take
up arms against Fascism and declared the outbreak of World War Two. So I am
both pleased and proud that, thanks to a coalition of computer scientists,
historians and LGBT activists, we have this year a chance to mark and
celebrate another contribution to Britain’s fight against the darkness of
dictatorship (irony?) ; that of code-breaker Alan Turing.

Turing was a quite brilliant mathematician, most famous for his work on
breaking the German Enigma codes. It is no exaggeration to say that,
without his outstanding contribution, the history of World War Two could
well have been very different. He truly was one of those individuals we can
point to whose unique contribution helped to turn the tide of war. The debt
of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that
he was treated so inhumanely. In 1952, he was convicted of ‘gross
indecency’ in effect, tried for being gay. His sentence – and he
was faced with the miserable choice of this or prison – was chemical
castration by a series of injections of female hormones. He took his own
life just two years later.

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 (a bit hollow if you had nothing to do with it). Alan and
the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted as he was convicted
under homophobic laws were treated terribly. Over the years millions more
lived in fear of conviction.

I am proud that those days are gone and that in the last 12 years this
government has done so much to make life fairer and more equal for our LGBT
community. This recognition of Alan’s status as one of Britain’s most
famous victims of homophobia is another step towards equality and long
overdue.

But even more than that, Alan deserves recognition for his contribution to
humankind. For those of us born after 1945, into a Europe which is united,
democratic and at peace, it is hard to imagine that our continent was once
the theatre of mankind’s darkest hour. It is difficult to believe that in
living memory, people could become so consumed by hate – by
anti-Semitism, by homophobia, by xenophobia and other murderous prejudices
– that the gas chambers and crematoria became a piece of the European
landscape as surely as the galleries and universities and concert halls
which had marked out the European civilisation for hundreds of years. It is
thanks to men and women who were totally committed to fighting fascism,
people like Alan Turing, that the horrors of the Holocaust and of total war
are part of Europe’s history and not Europe’s present.

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.

Gordon Brown

If you would like to help preserve Alan Turing’s memory for future
generations, please donate here: http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/

Petition information – http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/turing/

The British government’s apology, while appreciated,  is long overdue.

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