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.

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43 COMMENTS

    • 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.

      • He was disgraced and criminalized as he had committed a sexual "Abomination' before Almighty God.

        13 “If a man practices homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman, both men have committed a detestable act. They must both be put to death, for they are guilty of a capital offense.
        Lev 20:13 (NLT)

        "13 And if a man lie with mankind, as with womankind, both of them have committed abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them".
        Leviticus 20:12-13 (ASV)

        And St. Jude:
        ".7 And don’t forget Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighboring towns, which were filled with immorality and every kind of sexual perversion. Those cities were destroyed by fire and serve as a warning of the eternal fire of God’s judgment."
        Jude 1:6-7 (NLT)

  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.
      Thankyou
      Treating each human being with respect and interest is easy, until they start being cruel, because im different.

    • It is tragic that Alan Turing was treated so appallingly because of his sexuality. It is tragic that he took his own life. It is also tragic that Suicide is so prevalent in today’s Society.

      Whilst Homosexuality was a crime in 1954, and Suicide was also a crime until the 1960’s , Neither are criminal offences today. So whilst technically Turing ‘Committed Suicide’ under the Law at that time, today he would not be labelled criminal for his Sexuality nor the manner of his death.

      Yet “Committed Suicide” continues to be used in mentioning the death of someone who takes their own life.

      The stigma that Suicide carries is not helped by the continued use of an outdated term.

      Some will say what does it matter? It doesn’t change anything. The truth is that it matters a great deal to families who have lost a loved one to Suicide, that their death is not associated with a a former criminal act. “Took their own life” or “Died by Suicide” are accurate terms, there is no lovely language, but these terms help reduce the stigma.

      Language is important, Turing was pardoned recently. It would help if the press pardoned him too by using a non pejorative term to describe the manner of his death.

  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.

    • Well said Linda, we all owe a dept to him, and who cares what sexuality he was, that was his own business , cleaver man & a great loss….

  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.

      • You are correct, however the usage of the word in this context is counterproductive because of the historic criminality of suicide. I work in mental health and I have seen it impact individuals who do not complain, but feel like criminals.
        IF the word commit is used in connection with suicide, it should instead read like a decision, not an act – that is why stigma is attached to its use, because it is very difficult to do that.

      • Thank you! It’s a damn shame that people are so overly sensitive that you can’t say anything without hurting someone’s delicate little sensitivities . There’s no inference at all that this man did anything criminal by saying that he COMMITTED SUICIDE.

  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??

    • Gender transitioning does include many things including hormone treatments and psychological evaluation. I have a friend who transitioned from male to female and this was part of his/her care. The evaluation is not to determine the mental capabilities, but to help the person with the transition.

    • No , “ Commit” in its usage in relation to Suicide is linked to a criminal act, which it no longer is since 1961 or thereabouts. It carries a stigma, There is more than enough Stigma surrounding Suicide, without the use of an outdated term.
      Language is important, and “Committed Suicide” is an ugly, barbaric and insensitive term for families who have lost a loved one to Suicide. “Took their own life” or “Died by Suicide” are accurate descriptions, and help remove some of the stigma.

      I do not wish my own Son’s Suicide to be linked with a criminal act. To lose a child is the most cruel form of bereavement, to lose a child to Suicide also carries with it a whole host of unanswered questions. Showing empathy, and understanding for people in this situation is relatively simple when one is aware of the language and terminology that can reveal that sensitivity.

    • He submitted to treatment, as required by law.
      It was nicknamed “chemical castration,” it was extremely unpleasant, and it drove him to suicide.
      The problem was not that he avoided his society’s “treatment,” but that he didn’t realized he had to,
      and having mentioned his boyfriend while filing a police complaint he was forced to endure that “treatment.”

  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 history.my 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.

    • Hi Bob, I appreciate the fact that you are trying to "point" us to some missing facts on this case, however I do think that, rather, you are missing the much bigger point. In fact, why does it matter that he accepted castration in the first place when the bigger question should be why did he have to make that choice. Furthermore, if you were to read the article, it clearly states that his homosexuality came to life after an investigation in 1952 and he committed suicide in 1954, I believe it hardly implies that he committed suicide because of it. and at the end of the day, his death was ruled a suicide, what could or could not have been is speculative at best.

  9. Since when is prior acts of heroism a defense to criminal charges? If Captain Sully were to commit a murder, it matters not that he saved an entire plane full of passengers once (at least in the guilt phase; such things can be considered in sentencing).

    • And what criminal charges are you referring to?? the only crime that is described in the article is the one committed by his gay lover and an accomplice, not by Alan himself; that is, of course, unless you consider homosexuality a crime. BTW isn't it funny how, if we considered your example, Sully was able to accomplish such an extraordinary act using instruments as GPS, computer navigation and others, all equipment based on Alan's work and research

  10. Appears to me The USA entered the war and alongside Russia and Commonwealth forces destroyed the rise of Hitler and The Japanese. Btuttain was faring badly until USA turned up with superior arms, ships and planes. Jus sayn.

  11. Just a point, USA DID NOT entered the war along Russia and "commonwealth" forces, United States, although offering some support to England before hand, was not involved on the War until the Pearl Harbour attack on December 1941, that is a full 2 years after the war in Europe was declared (1939) and after Russia was invaded on June 1941. Also, the USA did not "turned up" with superior arms, ships and planes; at the time, the defence of Britain was being conducted by using British made Hurricane MK1 and the Spitfire MK1 (sometimes built in Canada) both remarkable fighter planes still being used today, also some, if not most of the destroyers and frigates being used on the North Atlantic, were built on Canada. With regards to Britain "faring badly" until the USA turned up, well that's debatable, Britain had resisted Hitler's plans to invade for two years before the USA decided to enter the war and the United Kingdom was engaged against the Axis forces in all three fronts; Europe, Asia and Africa. Lastly, I imagine that what you are referring as the Commonwealth, is, in fact an organization representing the United Kingdom and former nations under British rule, created by England, I fail to understand how could you say that Britain was fearing badly but the commonwealth forces destroyed the rise of Hitler and the Japanese (not to mention all other countries in the axes, namely, Italy, Hungary and Romania). As for anything else that Hollywood would have you believe…. well here are some fine examples: It was Canadians (the Royal Seaforth Highlanders and the Royal Winnipeg Rifles as well as the Queens Own Rifles of Toronto to be precise), the only elements to advance further inland towards their objective during Operation Overlord, as well as, Canadians and British troops are celebrated as the true liberators o Holland during operation Garden Market, not as described in "A Bridge too Far".

    • Bravo! And I am an America (albeit ashamed to admit it at the present time). Many citizens in this country are ill-informed on historical matters, or use Hollywood as their fact base. I salute our British allies and hope for a better future beginning November, 2020.

  12. The British Government headed by Winston Churchill could have raised the issue then to spare the great genius and hero of WW II.

    • I believe all none military personnel during WW2 had to sign the Official Secrets Act, Churchill may not have even heard of this man nor his colleagues. It’s only after possibly 50 years have passed that the paperwork on all these people became available.

    • He might of been bisexual or this woman may have been a “beard” something to hide the fact that Mr. Turing was gay.

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