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  1. Wealth
September 22, 2009

Pardoning Alan Turing

By Spear's

The proposition that more than half a century later an administration should apologise for the past conduct seems illogical.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is being petitioned to issue an apology from the government to Alan Turing, in recognition of is remarkable contribution to Allied cryptography during the Second World War. 

UPDATE: Gordon Brown apologised.

The petition’s supporters claim that an apology would draw attention to the work undertaken at Bletchley Park, and illustrate how British society has become more tolerant. The background to this is Turing’s suicide in 1954 by biting into an apple laced with cyanide, following his criminal prosecution on a charge of participating in an act of gross indecency with another man. His conviction meant his lost his security clearance and also may have prevented his travel to the United States.
 
Two problems arise with the petition. First, Turing undoubtedly possessed a great mind, and often cited as the inventor of the modern programmable analogue computer. The logo on very Apple computer pays homage to his genius, but he was one of a team who developed electro-mechanical solutions to some very complex cryptographic problems. Does singling out Turing above the others offer justice to his colleagues? 

Secondly, the proposition that more than half a century later, when social standards have changed so radically, an administration should apologise for the past conduct seems illogical, and perhaps implies that those involved in investigation and prosecuting Turing were wrong to have done so.

Turing was a homosexual, but was not persecuted because of his sexual preferences. He was found guilty of an offence, being an act of gross indecency. Should the authorities have ignored the law and abandoned any case against him simply because he was a very bright eccentric? Surely any government in the 21st century has no business being preoccupied with such self indulgence.

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