One piece of news this week is that Alan Turing received a royal pardon for his conviction for indecency in 1952 for indecency. The best book I read in 2013 was Andrew Hodges’ Alan Turing: The Enigma. I keep intending to write more about the book, but on the occasion of Turing’s pardon, I’ll again encourage you to pick it up. Most articles about Turing’s life explain that he committed suicide after undergoing chemical castration after being convicted for homosexual acts, but Hodges’ conjecture about why Turing took his own life is far more nuanced and interesting. Here’s Hodges on the pardon:
Alan Turing suffered appalling treatment 60 years ago and there has been a very well intended and deeply felt campaign to remedy it in some way. Unfortunately, I cannot feel that such a ‘pardon’ embodies any good legal principle. If anything, it suggests that a sufficiently valuable individual should be above the law which applies to everyone else.
It’s far more important that in the 30 years since I brought the story to public attention, LGBT rights movements have succeeded with a complete change in the law – for all. So, for me, this symbolic action adds nothing.
A more substantial action would be the release of files on Turing’s secret work for GCHQ in the cold war. Loss of security clearance, state distrust and surveillance may have been crucial factors in the two years leading up to his death in 1954.
It’s a great book.