Merry Christmas, ghost of Alan Turing! Queen Elizabeth II has issued a royal pardon to the WWII mathematician and computer whiz after he was charged with gross indecency in 1952 and as punishment was chemically castrated. He subsequently killed himself two years later.
In 2009, then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a formal and “unequivocal” apology to Turing, describing his treatment as “horrifying” and “utterly unfair.” A request to have Turing pardoned, however, was denied last year when Justice Minister Lord McNally denied it on the grounds that Turing was justly convicted for what was then a criminal offense.
Turing was an invaluable asset to Great Britain during World War II, helping to break the impossible German Enigma code, but his accomplishments meant nothing under England’s anti-buggery law, Section 11. Turing admitted to a sexual relationship with 19-year-old rough trade Arnold Murray in 1952 and both men were charged with gross indecency.
Murray was given a conditional discharge, but Turing was given an option of imprisonment and probation or an experimental chemical castration treatment. He chose the latter, undergoing injections of synthetic estrogen over the course of a year which left him impotent. Because of his criminal record, Turing not only lost his government security clearance but also his job at Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), where he had been working since the War.
In 1954, he committed suicide by cyanide poisoning, a half-eaten apple by his corpse. Fascinated with Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, many speculated that Turing poisoned himself with the apple like the Evil Queen did to Snow White because if you’re going to go out, why not go out with flare?
Following an online petition, signed by over 35,000 people and backed by world famous scientists including Stephen Hawking, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling made the request for Turing’s pardon to the queen. Her Royal Badness issued a rare “royal prerogative of mercy” and the mathematician’s sentencing will be heretofore considered “unjust and discriminatory.”
Grayling said of the pardon:
“Dr. Alan Turing was an exceptional man with a brilliant mind. His brilliance was put into practice at Bletchley Park during the second world war, where he was pivotal to breaking the Enigma code, helping to end the war and save thousands of lives.
“His later life was overshadowed by his conviction for homosexual activity, a sentence we would now consider unjust and discriminatory and which has now been repealed.
“Dr Turing deserves to be remembered and recognised for his fantastic contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science. A pardon from the Queen is a fitting tribute to an exceptional man.”
Prime Minister David Cameron echoed his sentiments, calling Turing a “remarkable man” whose “actions saved countless lives. He also left a remarkable national legacy through his substantial scientific achievements, often being referred to as the father of modern computing.”
Oxford math smarty and Turing biographer Dr. Andrew Hodges, however, feels the pardon “adds nothing” and is instead asking to see the
receipts files from Turing’s secret Cold War work for the GCHQ. “Loss of security clearance, state distrust and surveillance may have been crucial factors in the two years leading up to his death in 1954,” Hodges told The Guardian.
Referring to his 1983 biography, Alan Turing: The Enigma, Hodges noted, ”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.”
Meanwhile, Alan Turing: The Enigma will get the big screen treatment next year when Benedict Cumberbatch steps into the tragic mathematician’s shoes in The Intimidation Game. Not sure how gay it’s going to be since Keira Knightley plays short-lived fiancée and plucky good sport Joan Clarke. When Turing admitted his homosexuality to Clarke, she was reportedly “unfazed.”