Stephen Hawking and a number of other notable scientists and humanitarians in the UK are petitioning David Cameron to pardon Alan Turing, one of computing’s forefathers, for the crime of being gay.
Now, several of the nation’s top scientists, including Stephen Hawking, and other leaders have penned a letter to the Telegraph, throwing their support behind the bill.
SIR – We write in support of a posthumous pardon for Alan Turing, one of the most brilliant mathematicians of the modern era. He lead the team of Enigma codebreakers at Bletchley Park, which most historians agree shortened the Second World War. Yet successive governments seem incapable of forgiving his conviction for the then crime of being a homosexual, which led to his suicide, aged 41.
We urge the Prime Minister formally to forgive this British hero, to whom we owe so much as a nation, and whose pioneering contribution to computer sciences remains relevant even today. To those who seek to block attempts to secure a pardon with the argument that this would set a precedent, we would answer that Turing’s achievements are sui generis. It is time his reputation was unblemished.
Lord Currie of Marylebone
Lord Grade of Yarmouth
Lord Faulkner or Worcester
Lord Rees of Ludlow
Lord Smith of Finsbury
Sir Timothy Gowers
Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics, Cambridge University
Dr Douglas Gurr
Chairman, Science Museum Group
Professor Stephen Hawking
Sir Paul Nurse
President, the Royal Society
I absolutely agree that Turing should be pardoned — with one reservation.
Turing’s life, and the events leading up to his death, were certainly a travesty. As I’ve previously explained:
[Turing] was drummed out of his government positions and stripped of his security clearance because he was gay. At the time, homosexuality was considered a mental illness, homosexual acts considered criminal offenses, and chemical castration the common sentence. Turing’s lover broke into his apartment with an accomplice to rob the place, and in filing the police report, Turing made the mistake of admitting to having had sexual relations with the burglar. Turing and the burglar were both convicted of gross indecency, and Turing was chemically castrated amid fears that the KGB was busy trying to gay-bait government officials. He was never charged with espionage, but his security clearance was stripped and as a result his government career ended. Shortly thereafter, he evidently took his own life, eating part of an apple he had apparently laced with cyanide, emulating his favorite childhood story, Snow White.
His orientation never should have been criminal, and he never should have been treated so poorly. Not because he was a valuable member of the intelligence community and responsible for cracking the Enigma cypher — which no doubt he was — but because there is absolutely nothing criminal about said orientation, and chemical castration is a hideous way of enforcing societal mores against non-damaging consensual behaviours.
Yes, it’s an absolute horror that such an important and valuable contributing member of society was treated so ill. But what of all the other folks who’ve been on the receiving end of this treatment throughout the decades the law’s been in place?
The argument that one cannot pardon someone for something that was a crime at the time is invalid, in my opinion. If you can swallow your pride enough to apologize posthumously, and if you’ve matured as a society enough to remove the laws prohibiting homosexuality, surely you could posthumously pardon all those poor souls whose lives the errant law ruined. Don’t just pardon Turing. Pardon them all.