Code-breaker Alan Turing to be pardoned (finally)

Vilified by the British government for his homosexuality -- a fact that many say led to his suicide -- the famous mathematician and Enigma code-breaker is now likely to receive a posthumous pardon.

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read
Alan Turing Joe Stoltz/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

The British government chemically castrated Alan Turing.

Now it wants to say that wasn't quite cricket.

Or, rather, it wants to pardon him for the heinous crime of having been a homosexual.

As the Guardian reports, the government has decided to offer its support to a bill that would give him a complete posthumous pardon.

In the 1950s it didn't matter to the powers-that-be that Turing was a brilliant mathematician whose Turing Machine was the basis of so much of modern computing.

It didn't matter that he had helped crack Germany's Enigma Code during World War II.

What mattered was that he was prosecuted for homosexuality -- or gross indecency, as it was called in those days -- and told he could either go to jail or be chemically castrated. He chose the latter.

In 1954, aged a mere 41, he ate an apple laced with cyanide. This was officially recorded as a suicide, though not everyone agrees with that conclusion.

Over the years, the British government has been resistant to offering Turing a pardon. In 2009, however, Prime Minister Gordon Brown did offer an apology and admitted that Turing's treatment had been "appalling."

It is likely that Turing -- who was celebrated in a Google doodle last year -- will finally receive his posthumous pardon at the end of this year. Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, a senior government figure in the House of Lords, told the Guardian he expects the pardon to pass speedily through the system. Finally.

Some might be astonished that this move had to be debated among Britain's lords. However, during the debate, a Lady Trumpington told her fellow lords and ladies: "I am certain that but for his (Turing's) work we would have lost the war through starvation."

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What greater contributions Turing might have made if he had just been allowed to live his own personal life.

There's something so pitiful that someone should get a Google doodle before they get a pardon from their own government.