Alan Turing gets royal pardon on homosexuality 'crime'

The codebreaker and computer pioneer was convicted in 1952, which resulted in him losing security clearance and he was given the choice of jail or chemical castration. A 2013 pardon is merely posturing.

Alan Turing. The Telegraph/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

What does it say about your life when you get a Google doodle before you get a royal pardon?

In the case of Alan Turing, many will believe that a small sliver of honor was expressed when on Monday, the British government announced that the brilliant codebreaker and pioneer of computing had been pardoned. Or, as it's officially -- and quaintly -- described: "a pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy by the Queen."

Some mercy.

He was convicted in 1952 of the crime of homosexuality. Actually, in those days it was called gross indecency. Despite his supposedly heinous transgression, he was given a choice: jail or experimental chemical castration.

He plumped for the latter, though he still lost his security clearance, which meant he couldn't work on government projects. And this was the man who'd helped crack the Enigma Code.

Two years later, he ate an apple laced with cyanide. Some say it was suicide, other disagree.

A royal pardon in 2013 is merely posturing. Post-Turing.

In 2009, then Prime Minister Gordon Brown managed to utter the word "sorry" for the way that Turing had been treated by the very country he'd so intelligently served. A campaign launched by computer scientist John Graham-Cumming had forced Brown's mouth.

That it took another four years for a pardon to be granted shows that officialdom moves slowly. It also leaves hanging the matter of another 100,000 British men who were treated just as Turing was.

The royal pardon has generally been met with resigned sighs of approval. However, Dr. Andrew Hodges, author of "Alan Turing: The Enigma", told the Guardian:

I cannot feel that such a 'pardon' embodies any good legal principle. If anything, it suggests that a sufficiently valuable individual should be above the law which applies to everyone else. It's far more important that in the 30 years since I brought the story to public attention, LGBT rights movements have succeeded with a complete change in the law - for all. So, for me, this symbolic action adds nothing.

In 2011, efforts to get his conviction overturned failed. The government at the time declared that what happened to Turing had been legal. However, an exception had been made in 2006 for 300 World War I deserters.

To commemorate his 100th birthday last year, Google offered a very clever doodle and an exhibition was held in London celebrating his life and legacy.

The Turing Test that measured the intelligence of a machine and his Pilot Ace computer, which worked out the cause of a mid-air explosion aboard a Comet jet were just two of the creations he left behind.

Still, once he was convicted, Turing remained paranoid that he was being followed and this may have contributed to his death.

If his experiences prove anything, it is that you can do nothing wrong, you can help save millions of lives -- even be national hero for a while -- yet the twisted mores of a society can still condemn you without reason or purpose.

It doesn't really do that much good when they pardon you 61 years later.

 

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