We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to apologize for the prosecution of Alan Turing that led to his untimely death
Alan Turing was the greatest computer scientist ever born in Britain. He laid the foundations of computing, helped break the Nazi Enigma code and told us how to tell whether a machine could think.
He was also gay. He was prosecuted for being gay, chemically castrated as a 'cure', and took his own life, aged 41.
The British Government should apologize to Alan Turing for his treatment and recognize that his work created much of the world we live in and saved us from Nazi Germany. And an apology would recognize the tragic consequences of prejudice that ended this man's life and career.
Thank you for signing this petition. The Prime Minister has 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; that of code-breaker Alan Turing. [...] 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...
[...]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.
Well ... it's all very nice, I'm sure, but I'm not sure I get the point. Yes, what happened to Turing was horrible, and he deserved better ... but this doesn't expunge the conviction, he's not around to benefit from the apology, he doesn't have any descendants to whom it would matter. His contributions to the war and cryptography are exactly as important as they ever were, no more, no less. So, really ... not getting this. I am one with the not getting of it.
(And purely as a matter of style: surely a formal governmental apology should start with the apology, followed by the explanation of what the apology is for. And shouldn't it be ... well, more formal than "we're sorry, you deserved so much better"? Then again, I suppose something is better than nothing, if you want an apology, and complaining over matters of style is perhaps rather curmudgeonly.)Posted by iain at September 11, 2009 12:43 PM