Alan Turing: Gay Man who Saved the World yet Died in Disgrace

By Craig A. James | 19 November 2010
The Religion Virus

What do you do to a homosexual mathematician whose code-breaking genius saved the world during World War II? Not figuratively, but actually saved the world from Nazi domination? You put him on trial, of course! You convict him of gross indecency. You force him to choose prison or chemical castration. You strip him of all dignity and hound him until in shame and despair he swallows a cyanide pill and dies.

The story of Alan Turing is one of the most disgraceful episodes of modern civilization. A man who should have been a hero of the free world and idolized next to Einstein and Newton in the history books was instead hounded to death because of religion-inspired homophobia.

In World War II, Alan Turing’s genius at breaking Nazi secret codes was so successful that the Allies could have sunk almost every single U-boat and convoy that left Germany. Turing’s work was so good it was like cheating at cards: if you win every hand, the other players will quickly figure out that the game is rigged. The Allies had to employ all sorts of tricks to hide their success; if you want a fascinating account, I highly recommend Neal Stephenson’s semi-fictional Cryptonomicon, the story of the rise of modern cryptography.

Alan Turing literally saved the world from Nazi domination. Without his work, WWII would have ended very differently. The Nazi regime might have remained undefeated, still in control of Northern Europe and western Asia. The Japanese might have retained control of East Asia. Our world maps would look vastly different today. And even if we’d won the war, without Turing’s work it’s likely that millions more soldiers and civilians would have died in the fight.

And Turing’s work didn’t end with cryptography. Today he’s best known as the inventor of the modern digital computer, the one who laid down the mathematical foundation for all computer science. His name is even enshrined in two of the most important computer-science concepts, the Turing machine and the Turing test.

If Alan Turing hadn’t been homosexual, his name might be a household word like Einstein, Newton and Galileo. What home doesn’t have a computer? If you count the laptops, cell phones, digital TVs, iPods, digital cameras and microwave ovens in your home, I’ll bet you own more than a dozen computing devices. Every one of them works on the principles laid down by Alan Turing during WWII when he was trying to develop a computing machine to break the enemy’s codes even faster.

Turing’s fall from grace came at the hands of the religious commi-bashing right, the British equivalent of America’s McCarthyism. In 1952 a gay lover helped an accomplice rob Turing’s house. During the police investigation, it came out that Turing was a homosexual. He was arrested and convicted of gross indecency, and given a choice of prison or chemical castration. Turing choose castration.

On June 7, 1954, at just forty two years of age, Alan Mathison Turing killed himself by swallowing cyanide. One of the greatest minds in the history of humankind was lost forever, and one of the greatest heroes of World War II died in shame and disgrace.

But the real shame is on the rest of us, not Alan Turing. In spite of his sexual orientation and consequent hardships he must have experienced, he remained a true patriot and mathematician. He put his mind to work to save the very society that persecuted him. It is possible that he changed history and saved more lives than any other single person in the twentieth century.

On September 10, 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown finally issued a public apology to Turing’s memory:

Thousands of people have come together to demand justice for Alan Turing and recognition of the appalling way he was treated. While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can’t put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him … So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better.

It is stories like Turing’s that keep me writing. It’s easy to have a live-and-let-live attitude toward the immoral “morality” of the Bible. It sounds nice to advocate tolerance and respect. But Alan Turing is dead, and the Bible is where it all started.

Reprinted with permission from the author.

Craig A. James is a writer, computer scientist, evolutionist, and movie producer. He lives in Southern California.

Alan Turing – Celebrating the life of a genius

The Strange Life and Death of Dr Turing – The Best Documentary Ever

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The enigma of WWII codebreaker Alan Turing

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    • No. He died because of a society so hate-filled and atavistic that it considered homophobia just cause for persecution, torture, and murder. Fixed it for you.

  1. I have known many people who were murdered for being who they are. Last Sunday in church, on our screen, we saw many, many pictures of beautiful transgender’s who were murdered for who they are. So was Mattew Shepard. There have been 369 transgender people worldwide who have been murdered, some bludgeoned so badly they were barely recognizable, one strangled. These are ONLY the ones who have been reported. I’m very sure there ate many who have not been reported. We’ve had many, actors, and people of greatness murdered for who they are. I’m still amazed at how some people can treat others how badly. It’s disgusting and horrifying. Thank you for posting this. I’m gonna shareI saw a true story of a young boy about 7 years ago, when he realized he was a . It’s not a child’s fault if they are born with a female brain and a boy’s body. Vice-versa, of course. Life can be cruel and sad, sometimes, yet beautiful. Animals don’t care if another one is different. They are smarter and more compassionate than we are. So said!

    • Julie, that was so compassionately put.
      Treating each human being with respect and interest is easy, until they start being cruel, because im different.

  2. Once again I feel ashamed of our culture. This man saved us all. Did we deserve it? It mattered not to Alan. A better person among us all, he was! His reputation could still be honored. This is a start.. thank you Alan. I wish you had been revered and not persecuted in your life.

  3. Please take the word 'committed' out of this meme.
    "He took his own life" is sufficient. Even "died by suicide" would be better than "commit".
    The point of the meme is to discuss that he was not a criminal just because he was gay, so please also stop treating him like a criminal because he ended his own life rather than live in despair.

    • commit simply means "do", and is usually the verb we use for suicides. It does not imply criminality, that is rather YOUR inference.

  4. I dont think hes a criminal, in fact he should be honored. My question is why not submit oneself to psychological evaluation and (other) treatment (if possible) to confirm and justify his/her gender.
    Im not against LGBT, but have they considered these treatments (im sorry-advice from some professionals).

    • Submit to whom??? Evaluation by whom?? Justification by and for whom????
      Think of three or four adjectives that describe you and decide this: who would you like to evaluate/ justify those descriptions and decide your worth, in THEIR opinion. Then picture yourself submitting to THEIR decision that you should be imprisoned, tortured, murdered or honored based, not on your actions, but on the descriptor GAY or BLACK or MUSLIM or REDHEAD or FEMALE or MEXICAN or TRANS or anything else- do you deserve and consent for THEY/ME to decide your worth IF ANY, based on any one single description of you??

  5. The most famous and most important student of my amazing teacher, Alonzo Church, Alan Turing contributed enormously not only to intellectual history (the Church-Turing thesis, Turing machines, the Turing test), but to the history of humanity (computers, & defeating the Nazis in WWII). He continues to impact our daily lives. Hats off and a salute to this great human being.

  6. To Craig James who write the excellent piece about Mr Turing. ….I have a story to share with you about what the Mormon “church” (Aka cult) did to me. I have been a victim of their PR machine and their media power for 41 years due to a press HOAX they have desseminated since 1977. Can you help me clear my name ? And I am looking for a film producer to help me make a feature film on my story. I am considered the most famous woman in British press phone number is 503 267 5977. Please call anytime after 1 pm. it

  7. America is heading into this direction thanks to evangelicals and their control over Trump and his minions. How long will it be before being transgender or gay will be a criminal act? We are already losing our civil rights.

  8. While I support the sentiments of everyone who posted here, there are some facts missing.
    For starters, the premise, that he committed suicide rather than accept the chemical castration is simply false. He accepted chemical castration rather than serve a minimum prison sentence. The death was later. This is also considerable evidence that his death was accidental. Sure, it makes a better story if he actually killed himself over this, but that simply might not be the case.