One of Mark’s heroes is the 20th century mathematician Alan Turing. The contribution to the war effort by Turing and his colleagues at Bletchley Park was incalculable, and may have shortened the second world war by two years according to some estimates. This didn’t prevent the then British government from prosecuting Turing for ‘gross indecency’ that stemmed from homosexual acts. Turing later took his own life because of it.
Now there is a bill in parliament that the state should pardon Turing for “his crimes”, which leaves an odd taste in my mouth. With the risk of Godwinning this post, it feels a bit like the modern German state posthumously pardoning some celebrated person for being a Jew in Nazi Germany. The sentiment behind the bill is laudable, but the message is… icky.
There were about fifty thousand people convicted of this type of “crime”, including people like Oscar Wilde, and it seems odd that Turing would be singled out. Would not the example of Wilde also merit a pardon, if that’s what we’re going to have? What about the other people, the unknown people, that led normal lives only to be convicted and ruined under these statutes?
And by pardoning someone for this “crime” the bill says that the state should forgive someone for being gay. It is never the perpetrator of an injustice that should forgive the victim for being a victim. It is the victim that should, if he so choses, forgive the perpetrator. So, therefore, this bill to pardon Turing is in itself quite pernicious.
Turing is a hero, both personally to Mark, and to the wider public. He epitomizes how perversely this country treats, and has previously treated, its brightest stars. The conviction should remain as a black mark on the state, to be pointed out to contrite and repentant parliamentarians for the shameful act it was. It should be an example of the excess of power, and the injustice that this power can do.