Sorry, Alan. We’ll let you off this one.

The British government will not, it is revealed, oppose a law pardoning Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing:

The Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing is set to be posthumously pardoned, after the Government said it would not stand in the way of legislation in parliament that would quash his conviction for being a homosexual.

Ministers had previously argued that they would not be able to go any further than the apology given by Gordon Brown in 2009, because “gross indecency”, which Turing was found guilty of in 1952, was at the time a criminal offence.

But yesterday Government Whip Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said the coalition would not stand in the way of a Bill brought by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Sharkey, which offers Turing a full posthumous parliamentary pardon.

John Sharkey cheers from the Lords:

“It is not too late for the Government to pardon Alan Turing. It is not too late for the Government to grant a disregard for all those gay men convicted under the dreadful (legislation). I hope the Government is thinking very hard about doing both of those things.

“But while they are thinking, Parliament can act.”

Those are two very different matters to be proposed. Ignoring, firstly, the inconsistencies of pardoning the victims of only one law – when Blair himself offered only a puzzled apology on the eve of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade – we reach even deeper and inevitably darker territory of pardoning one named victim.

Down there be monsters. Firstly, the pardon – if unintentionally – implies that human rights are to be earned; that had Turing not shortened the war, his sentence would have been definitively deserved. Second, compare with the 1995 South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Perpetrators of apartheid were offered redemption if they accepted fully the principles upon which the new state was founded. But in the case of Turing, a moral quandary jumps from the past only to be ruled upon with a halfhearted sigh. To observers, it is lazy; to victims, and to their descendants, it is selfishly shallow.

Don’t discriminate between the crimes for which you apologise. Better either to accept you aren’t to blame – or, to repair as many of those damages that history will allow.

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6 Comments on “Sorry, Alan. We’ll let you off this one.”

  1. Never mind posthumously pardoning Turing. How about we recognise the contribution of the Polish mathematicians who actually broke the Enigma: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enigma_machine
    Unfortunately, in the current BNP-dictated climate, we will wait for a long time for this truth to be acknowledged.

    • Mark says:

      Well there is a monument to the Poles at Bletchley Park – as far as I’m aware, Turing’s contribution was so significant because no one else was able to rework their device (and the subsequent bombe) to account for the the new rotas that the Germans added to the Enigma code. I might be wrong, of course – but I suppose that sort of uncertainty makes the case against glorifying named individual all the more important!

  2. In any event, Turing’s pardon is long overdue. A good first step.

  3. Colin says:

    I don’t think he should be pardoned at all. What’s the point? Why? “Here you go, old chap, we forgive you for being a poof that we had to chemically castrate with massive doses of estrogen that likely caused body dysmorphic depression in you contributing to your suicide.” Turing committed no crime; not a justifiable one in any case. He was a victim, not a perpetrator.

    I’m of the mind that the fourth plinth of Trafalgar should be dedicated to Turing. I mean, he and the other people at Bletchley Park did just as much for Britain as Nelson who is already there.

    • Mark says:

      Yeah, I’m really uncomfortable with the language involved too – I just read your post on the same topic and agree with all of it (and your point about the fourth plinth). As I say, “pardoning” is the implication that “you’ve earned the right to be gay” which is tantamount to suggesting human rights are not necessarily rights. Although the motive behind the legislation being tabled is evidently benign, it does imply a sort of selection of past laws/individuals to be “excusing”. I just don’t think that historical pick-and-mix is how modern governments should be establishing their principles.


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