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back to article Campaign for official Turing apology gathers steam

A grassroots UK campaign to a secure a posthumous apology for computing pioneer Alan Turing over his persecution for homosexuality has begun. Turing's conviction for gross indecency in 1952 brought an end to an outstanding career as a wartime cryptographer, mathematician and computing pioneer. Denied the opportunity to exercise …

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Could be a good idea.

It would be good to raise the fact that our "Free Country", which Turing worked hard to protect, ended up persecuting him to death -- they should have thrown him in a concentration camp really and had done with it.

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Anonymous Coward

Ha

Good luck with that, Gordon Brown can't even apologise for his own mistakes!

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Anonymous Coward

Why?

I'm a computer scientist and have spent most of my short life working with and around them so Alan Turing is a hero of mine and his persecution saddned me.

However I must protest. I don't understand why the sins of our fathers are constantly visited upon us?! The government of today was not responsible for the actions of the government of yesteryear (they've done far worse since...) and I wish we could stop being held accountable for things done in the past that we had no control or say in. I'm not condoning the actions but I don't see why the government should apologise.

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Suicide?

He didn't commit suicide, he was assassinated. One of my lecturers told me that, then very quickly retracted his statement, a moment that's always stayed with me.

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Not convinced

While I appreciate the sentiment, and am fully aware of how important Turing was during the 2nd world war & for the development of computing, it does seem slightly unfair to single out just him.

How many other people were convicted for being homosexual and chemically castrated? Should they receive no apology.

In fact, I'm always dubious of the idea of a government apologising for another's mistakes. It's like me apologising to people for the actions of the SS just because my mother is German (born 1949): completely meaningless. Any apology smacks of the PR & spin that the current government is so fond of.

Flames? Because it's quite likely I'll be receiving them.

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Joke

@ AC 14:55

Of course he'll get the apology, there's an election soon! It'll take your mind right off that 50p fixed-line stealth tax :P

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Anonymous Coward

nothing changes

"It is atrocious that we don't recognise this man and the only way to do so is to apologise to him."

The "only way" is to apologise to him ??? ... if a fairly meaningless gesture is the best (never mind "only") thing we can do we're in a pretty poor state.

It would be a good thing if we generally accepted his homosexuality (which he was persecuted for) and his brilliance (which he is celebrated for). Otherwise we just perpetuate the hypocrisy in this extraordinary man suffered from.

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In fact...

Why haven't they apologised for all the convictions of gay people during the 20th century? The fact that is was a criminal offence for so long is crazy.

Also, signed.

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Not sure

Whilst I would never question the achievements of Turing I don't see how this is going to help. Why on earth should the Prime Minister of today apologise for the fact that the government of 50 years ago brought about a prosecution against someone who broke the law?

Honour his wonderful achievements. Don't drag up the past in order to try and make some meaningless political statement.

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Anonymous Coward

What's the apology for?

the petition is short but vague, is it

Forcing him to choose between prison or chemical treatment?

removing his security clearance?

not identifying him as suicidal?

not recognizing his contributions?

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To be fair...

It was a Tory govenment in power at the time.

Churchill was in charge in fact, certainly sheds a different light on the "Greatest Britain of all time" doesn't it? God forbid the world know the "Greatest Britain of all time" was only slightly less of a fascist than Hitler and Stalin.

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Joke

Title

Wheres amanfrommars? He's perfect for this topic due to the inability to pass the turing test!

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It's about time.

I used to live round the corner from Turing's birthplace in Maida Vale. I've pointed it out to many non-geek friends and none of them had ever heard of him. More recognition of this great man's contribution and subsequently disgraceful treatment can only be a good thing.

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Anonymous Coward

What about the others?

I presume Alan Turing wasn't the only homosexual to be persecuted in the period 1945-1955. Why should only he get an apology?

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What is the point?

Who would it help? I'm gay myself, but I wouldn't feel better. The facts are out there, the injustice is recognised, none of this can be hidden any longer.

The way to right this wrong is to make it better going forward: no more anti-gay jokes and comments, casual or otherwise, tolerated in IT departments. Diversity in hiring. Helping make a better world so that no one suffers as Turing did, having served his country so brilliantly.

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Anonymous Coward

Pointless really

It's not going to make him feel any better. That and was Gordon there at the time? A bit like asking me to apologise for something my predecessors predecessors predecessors predecessors predecessors predecessors predecessors predecessor did at work once.

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Anonymous Coward

Rubbish.

An apology from a descendent is ludicrous. It's meaningless.

Consider the following argument.

A man should apologise for the actions of his grandfather oppressing his grandmother, but his sister (also a grand-descendant) has no case to answer. This argument is ridiculous but it's used 50 times a day by feminists.

A similar argument doesn't even make sense when public businesses have to pay damages for something that happened 20 years ago, as the owners (i.e. shareholders,) are almost certainly not the same ones that owned it when the offence was committed.

Why don't people just accept history, and get on with the future? Despite Turing's contribution (which was great,) he has no descendents who have been materially disadvantaged.

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RE: What is the point.

Hollerith1: No gay jokes, casual or otherwise?

Surely that's discrimination. In out IT department we joke about *everything*. Why should we exclude gay folk?

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Unhappy

How ca you apologise for someone else's actions?

Fifty years ago, suicide was illegal too. Are we going to apologise to those who were locked up for failing to kill themselves as well?

Fifty years from now, will we expect the police for arresting people for taking photos in 2009? Possibly a bad analogy as I expect they'll still be doing it.

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Joke

Alan Turing in Viz magazine this month

Turing gets a whole cartoon to himself in this month's Viz magazine! Ends up with Churchill sending Turing to the firing squad as he is unable to decrypt messages in time due to his inexplicable need to walk across hot coals before making notes on his blackboard, during which time he forgets what the message was.

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recognition, not an apology

I would sign a petition calling for official recognition of Turing's work during (and following) World War II.

That he was homosexual should have had no bearing on his treatment by governments then or now.

That he should receive official, but public, recognition of his achievements would not only go a little way to righting a wrong but would also recognise that discrimination on sexual grounds should have no place in Britain today.

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Why should anyone get an apology?

The people who were persecuted are dead, the people who did the persecuting are dead. Apologies are meaningless if they are carried out by people who have no stake in the matter. It would be like me apologising for the fact that some of my ancestors once implemented the danegeld.

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Grenade

Tricky

"It is atrocious that we don't recognise this man and the only way to do so is to apologise to him."

Might be a bit tricky, he's been dead fifty odd years!

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@What is the point

The point is, if you criminalise people for doing things you personally don't like, which you feel might harm people but haven't in their case, everyone suffers. Imagine the benefits society could have reaped on his contributions until age 60.

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From reading the above.

The reason I think this could be good is that it's a good oportunity to say "British government apologises to gay geek who helped shorten the war". I think the headline itself may help some people think more.

I also don't think the fact he was gay, specifically, is the issue here -- he was persecuted for being different to the pathetic amoral standard of the time.

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Sorry

Presumably the Italian government should apologise for the ritual rape and murder of Boadicea's daughters, while the British government should apologise for Boadicea's subsequent rampage against the Romans.

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The past is a foreign country:

they do things differently there. It's futile to apologise to someone who's been dead for 50 years for things that were done by people who have been dead nearly as long - it does nothing for him and it makes no difference to us. I blame TB who, if he didn't start this mawkish trend, certainly popularised it with his 'apology' for slavery (which was immediately condemned for being insufficiently fulsome).

No doubt some of the things that we regard as perfectly correct in our society will be looked upon with horror in 50 years' time. The ancient Greeks would certainly have had some difficulty understanding our attitudes to paederasty. Perhaps there'll be future calls for apologies in this area, too.

@Ian 11 - is that your age or your IQ?

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@ Hollerith 1

Or geek, fat, speeks, nationality, IQ, male, femineist etc...

Oh hell lets just ban all jokes as someone maybe upset, we can't have that...

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FAIL

RE: To be fair... & What is the point?

RE: Ian 11

"It was a Tory govenment in power at the time...... Churchill was in charge in fact, certainly sheds a different light on the "Greatest Britain of all time" doesn't it? God forbid the world know the "Greatest Britain of all time" was only slightly less of a fascist than Hitler and Stalin."

Nice to hear from the Clueless About History Department. It may have escaped your notice that plenty of Labour and Liberal politicians did nothing to remove anti-gay laws. I assume you just believe everyone to the right of Red Ken is a gay-hating facist? Have you even tried looking at what Stalin and his cohorts did to gays in the Soviet Republics as a matter of policy? The latter is extra ironic seeing as they targeted sympathetic gays when recruiting such spies as the Cambridge Five during the very period Turing was working, which was ahy being gay was considered such a security risk. No, that would require you to take the chip off your shoulder so you could actually see.

RE:

".....The way to right this wrong is to make it better going forward: no more anti-gay jokes and comments, casual or otherwise, tolerated in IT departments. Diversity in hiring. Helping make a better world so that no one suffers as Turing did, having served his country so brilliantly."

How about no jokes at all, just so we don't risk offending anyone? Or you could just grow a thicker skin and give as good as you get. And as for the diversity hiring idea, how am I supposed to implement that? Unlike coloured people, there is no obvious physical way to identify someone as gay unless you somehow walk into the interview with your boyfriend in mid-act. And seeing as the law also says I can't demand to know if you are gay how do I know if my team is "diverse" enough? Do I have to hit a quota of openly gay people, and can I count bisexuals? Suddenly, am I hiring you because you can actually do the job or just because you prefer playing hide the sausage with other men, and turning away someone better suited to the position, maybe someone from another minority group? How does that make a better world? If you didn't get a particular job you it might be because you were'nt the best candidate rather than everyone else is a closet homophobe.

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@ Anonymous Coward

'Good luck with that, Gordon Brown can't even apologise for his own mistakes!'

Actually New Labour are extremely good at apologising for things where there's no possibility of them being blamed - Blair apologised for the slave trade and the Irish potato famine amongst others.

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Jobs Halo

Steve Jobs...

...recognized him. Turing died by taking a bite out of an Apple injected with cyanide, hence his companie's logo.

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Anonymous Coward

Well...

Anything that helps raise the profile of important people of alternative sexual orientations is only a good thing. It helps break down the stereotype, something which in some cases certain gay men even help to perpetuate... (ever watch Will and Grace? They turned down John Barrowman for not being gay enough despite his being gay, and then hired a straight man)

I agree though it would be better to make a blanket apology. I still feel however highlighting important gay men will only help encourage people who are gay to be confident, and talking about ones from the past when being gay wasn't accepted will also give validity to the sentiment that being gay isn't a choice it is a fundamental part of who you are.

Disclaimer:

I'm not gay, but I am beginning to identify as bisexual. No I'm not just "confused", and the fact that I am likely to get as much discrimination from gay men as from straight shows that it isn't just an "easy option". Being bisexual is harder these days than being gay, at least in British society. I would like to see a stop to bisexual jokes too such as "they're just kidding themselves", and a stop to celebrities using it as a fashion statement or to get attention. Oddly mostly only women that do this though...

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Startling lack of demonstrated causality...

Although it may exist somewhere, it is not in the rather populist statements quoted.

I hope AT is now resting in peace.

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ityfiabm complicated than that

as ever, the administration of the time was acting in accordance with society. homosexuality WAS taboo and that made him potentially blackmailable. the dominant psychiatric model of the time was that he was mentally ill. again, not likely to be a safe bet for high level state security. hindsight's great, but how many of the signatories would have been so liberal at the beginning of the cold war. Turing was as great a briton as we've ever produced. Concievably he might still be alive to see the incredible fruits of his theoretical work. i might even have been able to meet him, and i can't think of anyone i'd be more impressed to meet. but an apology by the pm? eh?

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JMB

Turing

I would prefer that the other people working at Bletchley Park are recognised more.

Many people seem to believe that Turing single handed cracked all the German codes.

Very few of the others (if any) have statues and streets named after them.

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Anonymous Coward

How about...

We could have a global "bad behaviour" amnesty day where everybody says sorry for everything they or their ancestors ever did?!

Whilst I understand the intentions behind demanding an apology, I feel his memory would be better served if we worked to prevent such a thing ever happening again.

There are countless thousands of people who have done great deeds only to be screwed by their governments once they are no longer "needed."

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Reason why

"I presume Alan Turing wasn't the only homosexual to be persecuted in the period 1945-1955. Why should only he get an apology?"

Because he is a public figure. He created some of the foundations for the "connected society" that the government is in love with.

Because we lost up to 50 years of a very intelligent man who could possibly have influenced for the better the introduction of technology throughout British society.

Because it costs Brown exactly NOTHING.

Because it is the correct thing to do?

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I can't see the point

Why apologise to someone after they are dead? I could understand an apology to family members or even friends but there is no point offering an apology to someone who is not around to receive it.

As others have said, there were may people affected by the legislation in question - should they not receive an apology because they are not well known? Why stop with homosexuals - how about other dead people affected by other types of unfair legislation?

That Turing is relatively unknown is not because he was a homosexual but because his accomplishments were in computer science, not in the arts like Oscar Wilde.

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@ Hollerith 1

Don't be gay! There's no way were stopping any abuse in our IT Dept. that's the reason we all come to work. Gay, straight, black or white yer all in the firing line. If you can't stand the heat.....

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People who are still alive...

People who were around at the time, and who are still alive, should be the ones to apologise. There are still plenty of them. Get them to write out an apology before they are allowed their free bus passes, or something.

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Flame

What about me?

I want an apology from the Nordic nations for all the pillaging their ancestors did. Bloody Vikings - coming over here, stealing our women,...

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We've learned better

The Turing Case is a good example of how homosexuals were abused in the past. Admitting that it was wrong, not quite the same as apologising, and publicising the whole story, would be a good thing. Governments cover up enough mistakes as it is.

An apology? That's for the people who did these things, not for the current mob.

More recently, there's the way the courts distorted the decriminalisation of homosexuality after the 1967 Act. It's not crazy to require privacy, especially in the context of the time, but the way the courts defined privacy was a mockery.

Have we learned better? I'm not sure we have. But admitting the mistakes of the past, and making plain they were wrong, and should not be repeated, is part of how things do get changed, and stay changed.

All I can be sure of is that my attitudes have changed, through meeting people, and experiencing thimgs my parents could never have admitted to imagining. But can I believe that the courts and the legislators have changed?

No, Mr. Brown, it's not enough to have openly gay Cabinet members. I'm not gay. My kinks are not your admitted kinks. I want to know that you're not going to use ill-written laws to force your choices on me.

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Silver badge

What bollocks

He is well recognized. How many people in computer science etc have not heard of Turing Test, Turning Machine, Turing Awards,...?

I bet more people know of Turing than know of Haskell, Ørsted, Tesla and many others.

The main reason he was not recognized was because of the hush-hush nature of the whole war effort. If anything, Turing perhaps got a disproportionately large recognition for his war efforts. There are a lot of other significant contributors to code breaking that nobody remembers at all. Perhaps some of that was because he was dead and out of the picture, thus taking the heat off others still bound by secrecy etc and just wanting to get on with their lives.

Sure, he got victimised for being gay, but that was a crime at the time and it would be ridiculous to give him a pardon without giving other gay people of the time pardons too. We can look back on the past with some condemnation, but we can't change the past.

Suggesting that Turing should get special pardon becuase of his contributions just sends the message that gay is bad, but we'll ignore it in Turing's case because of his contributions.

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Lu

link?

Not even a link to the petition?

What's El Reg coming to?

I also think it'll be a good thing, not that it'll make anything better, but just to make his achievments known to non-geek (mainstream) people.

I reckon he deserved that, at least.

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Unhappy

Don't be daft...

The 1950's were considerably different from today.

What might be better is to acknowledge that the state played some part in Mr Turing's sadnesses.

But i don't expect that either as some researcher will wish to identify who caused the grief and for what purposes. You ain't gonna get any UK civil servant to do that.

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FAIL

Not pointless

By the same logic of "the past is done, the people responsible are dead, there is no reason to apologize," we could say "the past is done, the Board of Directors of the corporation that made all those asbestos ceiling tiles are no longer with the company, the current Board of Directors had nothing to do with it, so there is no point in paying damages to the families of the people killed."

When a group of people acting together does something wrong, as long as that entity still exists, that entity is responsible for those things, even if some or all members of the original group quit, retire, die, whatever.

Though, to be honest, I think all us Yanks owe you Brits a debt of gratitude.

You guys really had an opportunity at the end of WWII to create a whole brand-new computer industry; had Alan Turing been given the proper support and funding, it's entirely possible that you guys would have invented modern electronic computers first, and you'd be the economic powerhouse of the world.

But instead you said "Eeek! He's gay!" and fumbled the lead, allowing us over here on this side of the pond to dominate what would become arguably one of the single most important parts of post-industrial society.

It's as if someone invented the first steam engine, and the society he lived in said "He's gay, so let's kill him and not follow up on this technology," and simply handed it off to some other nation.

So as a Yank, thank you. You had an opportunity, you fumbled and passed it to us, and we have benefited enormously from it.

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Unhappy

Not from abroad

Too bad that one cannot sign from abroad...

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Hollerith 1

>no more anti-gay jokes

Nice to see you don't mince words but as pointed out by Rabb Sssss jokes are built on well established stero types. If you don't like them then change the way you walk.

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Don't single him out

Agreed he deserves recognition, but then so do Dilly Knox, High Alexander, Gordon Welchman and of course Rozycki, Zygalski and Ciezki (apologies for non accented characters) along with many, many others from the listening stations to the seaman who risked (and sometimes lost) life and limb by boarding sinking enemy ships to grab code books / machines.

Essential reading : "Enigmia - The Battle For The Code" by Hugh Sebag Montefiore and if you haven't yet been to Bletchley get over there! They have started a flickr group, worth checking out.

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Big Brother

@Nomen Pubicus

"Because he is a public figure..."

So it's only injustice if your famous?

"Because we lost up to 50 years of a very intelligent man who could possibly have influenced for the better the introduction of technology throughout British society."

It sounds like society has already punished itself.

"Because it costs Brown exactly NOTHING."

Is that another way of saying the apology is worthless?

"Because it is the correct thing to do?"

No it isn't. The correct thing to do is to stop criminalising the harmless behaviour of consenting adults because it falls outside some pseudo-moralistic boundary.

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