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Alan Turing Gets an Apology From Prime Minister Brown 576

Posted by timothy
from the mitigation-is-tricky-50-years-later dept.
99luftballon writes "The British government has officially apologized for the treatment of Alan Turing in the post war era. An online petition got more than enough signatures to force an official statement and Prime Minister Gordon Brown has issued a lengthy apology. '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.'"
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Alan Turing Gets an Apology From Prime Minister Brown

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  • by bezking (1274298) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @07:23PM (#29384393)
    If only Alan was alive today...
    • by Hatta (162192) * on Thursday September 10, 2009 @07:25PM (#29384413) Journal

      As they say, justice delayed is justice denied.

      • by novakreo (598689) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @10:14PM (#29385371) Homepage

        As they say, justice delayed is justice denied.

        They also say, "better late than never".

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by johncadengo (940343)

        See, but my questions is this. How come the apology is only extended to Alan Turing? Surely many more homosexuals were mistreated and subject to injustice during the laws of this period of time. Alan Turing gets a special apology, but did the rest? Do we only apologize to those of our society who 'contribute' or who are unique and special? Even the least of people deserve fair treatment, do they not?

        • by Keen Anthony (762006) on Friday September 11, 2009 @12:08AM (#29385977)

          The formal apology actually does extend to the many other homosexuals who suffered liked Turing. From the actual statement:

          I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him. Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted as he was convicted under homophobic laws were treated terribly. Over the years millions more lived in fear of conviction.

          I am proud that those days are gone and that in the last 12 years this government has done so much to make life fairer and more equal for our LGBT community. This recognition of Alanâ(TM)s status as one of Britainâ(TM)s most famous victims of homophobia is another step towards equality and long overdue.,

          But yes, we do tend to only apologize for the most famous examples of society's cruelty to its own members. I think we have a basic need as humans to create symbolic icons. In Britain, Turing was just that. It was in no way a suggestion that his suffering was worst, or that his story alone was regrettable. Oscar Wilde is another example, though I don't think he was castrated. In America, Americans use Rosa Parks as an icon of the civil rights struggle, though she obviously did not endure the worst simply for the fact that she survived.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Yep. Good apology, politically safe to make it, he's still dead.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by st0nes (1120305)
      How significant is it for people to apologise for acts for which they bear no guilt? On the face of it, it is a meaningless political gesture and I see it as a gross act of cynicism. A decade ago we saw the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa where people who were guilty of horrific acts in the name of apartheid apologised and attempted to atone for what they had done (I know that in some cases, but not all, the motive may have been to avoid prosecution), but at least the people doing the a
      • by Don_dumb (927108) on Friday September 11, 2009 @02:00AM (#29386415)
        It's not so much about making the past right as much as a full official acknowledgement that the behaviours displayed and actions taken were wrong and they are no longer acceptable.

        If apologies are not significant, they wouldn't be so difficult to give. - That is as true for us on a personal level as they are on a national level.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Hognoxious (631665)

      If only Alan was alive today...

      He'd be screaming "Get me out of this box!!!"

  • Hmmm! (Score:5, Funny)

    by resistant (221968) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @07:23PM (#29384401) Homepage Journal
    It's nice to see a politician who can actually pass the Turing test.
    • Re:Hmmm! (Score:5, Funny)

      by eclectro (227083) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @09:07PM (#29384999)

      I'm sure the apology caused Alan Turing to halt for a moment.

      • Re:Hmmm! (Score:5, Funny)

        by russotto (537200) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @09:26PM (#29385097) Journal

        I'm sure the apology caused Alan Turing to halt for a moment.

        You'll never prove it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by canajin56 (660655)
          Actually, it's doesn't work both ways. You can easily prove that something halts (given an unbounded amount of time to do so in). It's only proving that it doesn't halt that's an issue ;)
  • by Derekloffin (741455) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @07:27PM (#29384421)
    Don't get me wrong, I feel the statement is fine and all that, just strikes me as weird to put those two concepts together.
    • by segedunum (883035) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @07:30PM (#29384463)
      You're obviously not familiar with Gordon Brown as a literary wordsmith.
    • by sbeckstead (555647) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @07:30PM (#29384465) Homepage Journal
      No, Mr. Brown is being proud to be the one apologizing. A politician's way of bragging to the other politicians that he got to do it and they didn't. Peacocks are all the same.
    • Not really... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Auraiken (862386) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @07:31PM (#29384467)
      Humility is an honourable trait.
      • Re:Not really... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Darkness404 (1287218) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @08:08PM (#29384769)
        Its easy to say you are sorry for something that you didn't do and weren't accused of doing.
        • Re:Not really... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by SirSlud (67381) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @10:24PM (#29385453) Homepage

          No it's not. It's a credibility issue. (As an aside, to suggest that modern western governments arn't accused of denying equal treatment to gay people, which is what Turing's situation was all about, is whitewashing the issue altogether.)

          All programmers have been faced with explaining how *that* programmer fucked up, but you're the *good* kinda programmer who will make things right.

          Still, at the end of the day .. what would you prefer .. that *nobody* apologize to his descendants just because it *might* be construed as being done solely for political gain?

          I mean, shit, in the grand scheme of pros and cons, who would honestly oppose such an apology supporting a still stigmatized sizable percentage of the population? I mean, what's next .. you only want politicians defending your shit because they "feel it in their heart", not because they're elected to represent the sentiment of the people?

          I consider myself a cynic, but the kind of cynic that still knows its damn retarded want to cut off the nose to spite the face when it comes to government and politics.

        • by dissy (172727) on Friday September 11, 2009 @12:30AM (#29386075)

          Its easy to say you are sorry for something that you didn't do and weren't accused of doing.

          Yea you're right. I'm sorry :(

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Don_dumb (927108)

          Its easy to say you are sorry for something that you didn't do and weren't accused of doing.

          Have you not being paying attention - it clearly is not easy.

          This took thousands of people petitioning the government. Have a look at how long it took for apologies for the various hideous treatments to and of Australian Aborigines. Even then many people were still opposed to doing so.

          If you can be proud of others before your time, then you can be genuinely sorry for acts done by others before your time.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Don't get me wrong, I feel the statement is fine and all that, just strikes me as weird to put those two concepts together.

      The BBC would like to apologize for the previous apology.

  • Not forced (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CarpetShark (865376) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @07:27PM (#29384431)

    An online petition got more than enough signatures to force an official statement

    Bullshit. The British Government happily ignores these online petitions whenever it doesn't suit them to agree. It's simply a matter of them saying something like "We expect the results of an investigation into this matter. We will make a decision in due course. Thanks for playing." They normally rephrase that last part though.

    • Re:Not forced (Score:5, Insightful)

      by 99luftballon (838486) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @07:46PM (#29384601)
      Well, not exactly. Once the petition is signed by more than 500 signatures the government has to make a response. However, you are right in that the response is usually worthless.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by kenj0418 (230916)

        Once the petition is signed by more than 500 signatures the government has to make a response.

        Over here in the states we have in our constitution that we have the right to "petition the government for redress of grievances". Although, unfortunately, no one had the bright idea to make it a requirement that the government actually give a damn -- or even pretend to - when we do.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mdwh2 (535323)

        They may have claimed this at one time, but I've seen plenty of petitions with over 500 still waiting for a response.

        But yes, it's basically just an exercise for them to tell us why we are wrong.

        However, to be honest I'd much rather that petitions were ignored, than listened to, as they are poor indicators of public opinion, and are often biasedly worded, and signed by people who haven't considered the facts. Plenty of bad lawmaking has come as a response to well publicised petitions.

        The problem is that the

  • TL:TL (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Absolut187 (816431) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @07:36PM (#29384511) Homepage

    Too Little. Way too late.

    • Re:TL:TL (Score:5, Insightful)

      by nbates (1049990) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @08:03PM (#29384741)

      "Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted as he was convicted under homophobic laws were treated terribly."

      It is not too late. Homosexuals still exist, even homosexuals that were alive back then.

      • Re:TL:TL (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mdwh2 (535323) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @10:34PM (#29385503) Journal

        There's an interesting point - is there anyone still alive today who was prosecuted under the laws? Could they get any compensation, or will they only get just words too?

        Still, Brown's tolerance for LGBT people and their sexuality probably doesn't extend as far as the Spanner case [wikipedia.org], where gay sadomasochists were imprisoned for consensual S&M. When the Labour Government passed the recent law on "extreme" consensual adult images [slashdot.org], they cited the Spanner case as justification for the new law. I'm bisexual, and masochist - but despite the welcome improvements to gay rights on the one hand, overall I can't say Labour have made me feel better regarding my sexuality over the last twelve years.

        On the one hand, they propose laws banning hate speech that could cover accusing gay people of being child abusers; but on the other, they themselves compare "extreme" adult images to child porn, and sadomasochism to pedophilia [oldham.gov.uk].

  • by WiiVault (1039946) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @07:36PM (#29384513)
    Despite the awful treatment he was exposed to at the time, it is comforting to see him finally recogonized for what he really was.
  • Right On. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by beej (82035) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @07:38PM (#29384535) Homepage Journal

    This was long overdue, to be sure, but even now it means so much to so many people. I believe we all owe Turing, whether we know it or not.

    Any time a government admits, "Ok, we screwed up," it's a big deal, and it's usually a sign of change for the better.

    • Re:Right On. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 10, 2009 @08:11PM (#29384795)

      It's not "we screwed up", it's "our predecessors, who are long dead, screwed up".

      And it's ridiculous to blame the British government exclusively for what happened to Turing. Anti-gay sentiment was not merely endemic, it was part of the everyday background social noise in almost all levels of society. The government of the day was just reflecting the morals of the day.

      If anything, it's not the government but the people of Britain who owe Turing an apology. As such, it should probably come from the Queen, not Gordon Brown.

      (Arguably, the peoples of the rest of Europe and America owe him just as much, but that's a separate issue. And they didn't actively persecute him, although doubtless they would've done so like a shot if he'd tried to take refuge there.)

  • An Easy Apology (Score:5, Interesting)

    by thechanklybore (1091971) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @07:39PM (#29384541) Homepage

    I suppose we should be pleased that Brown has issued this apology, just a shame he's part of a government that knew about torture of terrorism suspects under interrogation. I don't think chemical castration is any worse, and it was even legal at the time. How times have changed eh? Now the government only does awful things to you without evidence and when you've not even had a trial.

    To stop this turning into a rant though, I salute you Alan Turing for bringing philosophy into Computer Science through all your pioneering AI work. You deserved far better.

    • Re:An Easy Apology (Score:5, Insightful)

      by alexborges (313924) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @07:52PM (#29384633)

      "I suppose we should be pleased that Brown has issued this apology, just a shame he's part of a government that knew about torture of terrorism suspects under interrogation. I don't think chemical castration is any worse, and it was even legal at the time. How times have changed eh? Now the government only does awful things to you without evidence and when you've not even had a trial."

      Well yeah. The thing is, Turing's contribution to the great britain shouldve made him a hero. INstead, he got castrated.

      The cases you point to, at least, were against "enemies" (however true that is). What they did to Alan was against a war hero, perhaps the most important life saver in the retake of europe from the nazis as his work allowed the allies to gather the information they needed to get the nazis out the countries they had invaded.

      Not to mention, for christ sakes, that he was the inventor of computer theory. Not just europe or the brits owed things to him: my job and life revolve arround what he started because I work in computing. The computer revolution would not have been possible without his mathematical work (and that of many others like Von Neuman).

      • Re:An Easy Apology (Score:5, Insightful)

        by thechanklybore (1091971) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @08:08PM (#29384773) Homepage

        I agree with you. We English have a history of persecuting our great men based on their sexuality (Oscar Wilde for example).

        Still, hero or nobody I imagine that goverment will have a constant supply of things to apologise for in 50 years time to which they will say "I can't believe the abhorrent and barbaric treatment of people in those times".

        Swings and roundabouts.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 10, 2009 @07:49PM (#29384621)

    It's a shame they didn't at least pay passing tribute to Turing's full accomplishments. Cracking Enigma and "quite brilliant mathemetician" don't do the man justice. I like Wikipedia's "often considered to be the father of modern computer science" as a starting point.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 10, 2009 @07:52PM (#29384641)

    What they did to a human, let alone him... no, a simple apology just won't do.

  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @09:17PM (#29385037) Homepage
    There's an excellent short story Oracle by Greg Egan imagining what would have happened if Turing's life had gone slightly differently. Egan portrays a very interesting world with heavy emphasis on how Turing might have interacted with C.S. Lewis. See http://gregegan.customer.netspace.net.au/MISC/ORACLE/Oracle.html [netspace.net.au].
  • by FlyingSquidStudios (1031284) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @09:29PM (#29385123) Homepage
    "We can't put the clock back" sounds awfully inappropriate in an apology for chemically castrating someone.
  • by epine (68316) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @09:29PM (#29385127)

    I read Spycatcher a long while ago. Wright seemed like a guy who made many solid technical contributions to the geekdom of spy craft. Clearly, later in life he had some axes to grind. One of which is the terrible way the Official Skinflint Act was used to deny benefits to long serving members of the secret service. Like what they say about Area 51: the only secret there is the massive waste of taxpayer dollars.

    Peter Wright - Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]

    Because of the interest and because of the rancour following the pension, in 1985, he decided to publish his memoirs in Australia in order to make ends meet. The British government did all it could to suppress publication, under the pretext that such a publication would be in violation of the Official Secrets Act. They brought an injunction against Wright in Sydney. The Australian court, however, ruled against the British government, thus turning a book that might have had moderate success into an international best seller. Furthermore, the verdict not only vindicated Wright but also represented a victory for press freedom. The publication of Spycatcher temporarily unlocked the doors of official secrecy as far as former intelligence officers were concerned. With the enactment of the 1989 Official Secrets Bill, an absolute prohibition on revelations by serving or former intelligence officers was imposed.

    The British governing class always seemed to care a lot more about that stiff upper lip thing, than rewarding those who toil in mandatory obscurity.

    The other aspect that boggles the mind is the "gays are communist pinkos" circularity. If you castrate your war heroes, I think you might just be priming the pump for defection. It's not gays as such who are unreliable, but anyone who fears arbitrary persecution by their own government.

    Another thing I've sometimes wondered: notwithstanding the official secrets act, where was Churchill when Turing could have used a solid character witness, such as "the official secrets act prohibits me from discussing the details, but in my opinion, if you do this, you'll shame the British empire for 100 years" or some distinctly British harrumph to that effect.

    The real shame here is the amount of power held by the people who knew better.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Xest (935314)

      Churchill was busy being Prime Minister at the time.

      That should say a lot about Churchill's real character- if anyone could've protected Turing he could, and he chose not to.

      Churchill made some great speeches during the war, but remember as soon as the war was over his government was kicked out, yes they got back in next term but only because his government was better than the, at the time, found to be even worse Labour government.

      This view of Churchill as a great Briton is questionable, he talked a good ta

  • by trout007 (975317) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @09:49PM (#29385247)
    Feel free to add more. 1. We are happy when anyone gets laid 2. The heterosexual geeks aren't threatened. I mean if we can't get girls to find us attractive no gay guy would. 3. Decreases denominator in available (girl/guy) ratio.
  • Knighthood (Score:5, Insightful)

    by (void*)cheerio (443053) on Thursday September 10, 2009 @10:47PM (#29385563) Homepage

    Nice gesture. Now they should give him the honour he deserved while he was alive. Considering his contributions to the war effort and Computer Science, he should be knighted.

  • by Shlomi Fish (3362) <shlomif@shlomifish.org> on Thursday September 10, 2009 @11:57PM (#29385937) Homepage

    I'm glad to see an apology for Turing's treatment being set straight. Alan Turing definitely didn't deserve the bad treatment that was inflicted upon him for his sexual orientation. He certainly deserves this apology.

    One historical note is that several models of computers (or actual computers) preceded the more formal computer science [osdir.com], but naturally, the theoretical work of Turing (and related early CS pioneers such as Alonzo Church [wikipedia.org]), and their rigour should also be highly regarded.

  • by houghi (78078) on Friday September 11, 2009 @01:55AM (#29386401)

    What was actually said:
    Hey it seems that this Turing gay, uh, guy, made it possible to do all the snooping on our citizens. We are now able to store AND process all this data about everybody as Orwell intended it to be.
    Thanks Turing. You were not that bad after all.

  • Robert Oppenheimer (Score:4, Insightful)

    by chrisdotwood (875539) on Friday September 11, 2009 @03:31AM (#29386785)
    Obama should do the same for Robert Oppenheimer
  • by Nitewing98 (308560) on Friday September 11, 2009 @04:16AM (#29386997) Homepage

    As a gay programmer myself, it often amazed the people I worked with that the two parts of my personality weren't in conflict. I very seldom ran into predjudice, though. In fact, often I was recognized as a good teacher and the other employees felt free to come and ask my help when they had a tough coding problem.

    Alan Turing has been an idol of mine for a long time, and he was treated badly, yes. But more important than the apology is the recognition that there have been contributions of significance to the world by gay men and women and transgendered persons. Our history has been actively suppressed for centuries, but we are finally being recognized as having value in the modern age.

    God bless Alan Turing, and Gordon Brown. Every little bit of kindness and generosity makes the world a better place for all of mankind.

He keeps differentiating, flying off on a tangent.

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