Some of Britain’s leading scientists have called on the government to grant a posthumous pardon to Bletchley Park codebreaker Alan Turing, [who] was convicted of gross indecency in 1952 after acknowledging a sexual relationship with a man.
The scientists said: “We write in support of a posthumous pardon for Alan Turing, one of the most brilliant mathematicians of the modern era. He led the team of Enigma codebreakers at Bletchley Park, which most historians agree shortened the Second World War. Yet successive governments seem incapable of forgiving his conviction for the then crime of being a homosexual, which led to his suicide, aged 41.”
The others who signed the letter [along with Stephen Hawking] are Lord Currie of Marylebone, Lord Grade of Yarmouth, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, Lord Sharkey, Lord Smith of Finsbury, Baroness Trumpington, Sir Timothy Gowers of Cambridge University and the Science Museum’s Dr Douglas Gurr.
Here’s the interesting part: back in 2009, Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered up a full apology on behalf of of the government … but the House of Lords still denied him a pardon. The reasoning was that Turing did break the law as it stood at the time and it’s not their policy to change that by overturning convictions. Regardless of how backward and stupid we might find it today, it wouldn’t make sense to re-write history and “to put right what cannot be put right”.
For those who don’t know about the circumstances surrounding his disgrace at the hands of the law at the time:
… in 1952, while reporting a break-in attempt on his house to police, Turing acknowledged a sexual relationship with another man. As homosexual acts were illegal at the time in Britain, he was charged with gross indecency and given the choice of imprisonment or chemical castration with oestrogen hormone injections. He chose the latter, and was stripped of his security clearance and forbidden from working further with GCHQ. He committed suicide two years later.
So in short, a war hero who saved the lives of millions of people and shortened the duration of World War II was stripped of everything he had and everything he was – including his masculinity – because of his attraction to members of the same sex. If they are going to pardon him, they had better make sure they tell a complete story of his last days including why he took his own life. People need to be aware of the kind of society he lived in at the time, and how they treated homosexuals regardless of the amount of good they did for their country and their people. Back then, it didn’t matter. If you were gay, then that was it.
So how about doing it right, then? Why not pardon everyone? I understand the spirit in which this entire thing came about, but it sounds a little selective to decide that the government should pardon this one guy because he (to his great credit, mind you) saved the lives of millions of people during WWII. This was a stupid law, based on nothing more than fear and ignorance. If it was a travesty and a miscarriage of justice for Turing to have been subject to such mistreatment at the hands of the government, it was just as bad for everyone else who was wired the same way he was. The only difference was that they didn’t have the benefit of having accomplished something quite as world-changing in the course of their lifetimes.