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Alan Turing Honored with Commemorative Stamp
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 01/03/12
Last updated on: 01/03/12
 
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A sculpture of Alan Turing (detail).

Mathematician Alan Turing who helped crack the Enigma Code during World War II and pioneered in the development of computer science before committing suicide in 1954, two years after his arrest, conviction, and forced chemical castration for a homosexual encounter, will be honored with a commemorative stamp. He is one of ten prominent people chosen by the U.K.'s Royal Mail to be included in its "Britons of Distinction" series to be launched in February 2012.

The new honor is yet another attempt by the British government to rectify the manifest injustice visited upon Turing. In 2009, Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an apology on behalf of the government in which he described Turing's treatment as "horrifying" and "utterly unfair."

Turing, who made inestimable contributions to modern science and mathematics, was recognized for his wartime cryptographic work that led to breaking Germany's Enigma Code with an OBE (Officer of the British Empire) in 1946 and elected to the Royal Society at an unusually young age in 1951. But in 1952, when he was deputy director of the Royal Society Computing Laboratory at the University of Manchester, his life was turned upside down.

When he reported the burglary of his home by a working-class young man with whom he was involved, he was arrested and prosecuted for what was then known under British law as "Gross Indecency," a section of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 (also known as the Labouchère Amendment), under which Oscar Wilde had also been charged in 1895.

Turing was offered a stark choice: go to prison or submit to the administration of the hormone estrogen. This procedure was known as "organo-therapy," a form of aversion therapy designed to destroy his sex drive. It was a type of chemical castration.

The administration of the female hormone left Turing impotent. He also developed breasts. Two years after his arrest, and one year after this coerced and barbaric "therapy," Alan Turing used cyanide to kill himself.

Notwithstanding the fact that he may have been the most brilliant scientist of his generation, someone whose work in deciphering the German codes during World War II played a major role in achieving Allied victory, Turing was nevertheless sacrificed to the cold war hysteria over homosexuality.

He was, however, but one of many thousand U.K. citizens who were persecuted in this way. The honors and apologies now bestowed on this gifted man must be seen as in some measure an attempt to rectify a broader injustice. As an online petition calling on the government to issue a posthumous pardon for his conviction notes, he "was driven to a terrible despair and early death by the nation he'd done so much to save. Thisremains a shame on the UK government and UK history. A pardon can go a long way to healing this damage."

The petition also notes that a pardon "may act as an apology to many of the other gay men, not as well known as Alan Turing, who were subjected to these laws."

Prime Minister Brown also recognized that Turing's treatment was by no means unique. As he said in his apology, "Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted, as he was convicted, under homophobic laws, were treated terribly. Over the years, millions more lived in fear of conviction. I am proud that those days are gone and that in the past 12 years this Government has done so much to make life fairer and more equal for our LGBT community. This recognition of Alan's status as one of Britain's most famous victims of homophobia is another step towards equality, and long overdue."

The Prime Minister's apology may be found here: Gordon Brown.

For more on Alan Turing, see the Alan Turing Home Page maintained by Turing biographer Andrew Hodges.

 
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