Alan Turing : Gay War Hero
Turing Gay War Hero
There are two films out there about Turing. “The Imitation Game” and “Codebreaker”
“The Imitation Game” made in Hollywood , concentrates on the anti-Hitler stuff and Enigma breaking and glosses over the horrible treatment meted out to him after 1951 including his castration and suicide. Events have been tweaked to suit the “sensibilities” of the mainstream audience perhaps. After all it is difficult to believe of one’s own war effort having such black spots.
The obvious ones are:
- TIG is not based on a single actual document, while CB used a lot of documentation (school, university records, interviews with family members, interview with Joan Clarke, his fiancée, industry experts like Steve Wozniak, letters to Mrs. Morcom (1928), mother of his school crush).
- In the movie, he is shown as irascible and lacking in social skills. The entire crowd at Blechley Park seems to have been “weird” and a ragtag mix of scientists, crossword enthusiasts, engineers and so on.
- He is shown as going over his boss’ head directly to Winston Churchill to get resources. This never happened. In fact the Government went the extra mile at funding Blechley which had 10,000 staff at one time. In fact funding for research dried up after the war.
- Turing himself was largely unaware of what he had done and viewed his years at Blechley as a “waste of time” and was more than happy to return to his university, where serious work could done.
- He came out to his fiancée/colleague Joan Clarke and broke off the marriage. In the movie she returns shortly before his death and comforts him, which did not happen,
And now for the real story:
The persons interviewed include a psychiatrist (a German Jew named Franz Greenbaum), his daughters to whom Turing was a family friend. The persons interviewed include Dermot Turing (a nephew) and Joan Clark, to whom he had got engaged. She was the only person at Blechley Park who knew Turing was homosexual.
The influence of Christopher Morcom
Turing fell in love in 1926 (one sided and unrequited ) with Chris Morcom at Sherbourne School, Dorset.Turing was a loner, fond of running. Morcom was in a different “house” and they seldom met. The boys were hoping to go to Cambridge, however Morcom died in 1930 of TB. Morcom knew but did not disclose. Turing wrote to Morcom’s mother and she was in touch with him. Morcom was an ideal in Turing’s mind and all his work was a tribute to him.
Early Signs of Brilliance
Turing went to Cambridge on a scholarship. In 1936, he wrote his pioneering work on computable numbers which was the foundation of all computers. All his life he tried to find ways in which the mind could control machines, paving the way for Artificial Intelligence (AI). He always wondered how Morcom and his world would benefit if his mind was delinked from his body.
The first “computers” were actual girls doing tedious data entry. Turing looked for ways to automate the process and wrote about an Universal Machine, that could shuffle back and forth, between 1 and 0. Steve Wozniak (the brain of Apple) states that all subsequent computers resulted from this idea.
This was a country estate, situated between Cambridge and London. The lot working there was an “eccentric bunch”, numbering 10,000 at one time. Turing was hired early on. Joan Clarke was the only female scientist.
Hitler’s “Enigma” machine.
This was a machine used extensively by the Nazis to send encrypted messages, especially to their Navy. Messages to U Boats in the Atlantic could not be decrypted, resulting in huge loss of Allied ships. The Enigma had 1 (raised to 19) possible ways (i.e: 1 followed by 19 zeroes). Turing managed to break the code and shortened the war. He would have saved millions of lives.
His broken engagement to Joan Clarke
During the war years, the only person to whom he came out was Joan. He was engaged to her, but broke if off. He told her he had “homosexual tendencies”. She says it did worry her at the time as she knew it was going to be a lifelong struggle. She says she was worried, but going ahead. Anyhow, Alan and Joan remained friends. His friends say he was different from all other gay men, as he was not willing to subject her to years of deceit.
Return to civilian life and Academics
He returned to Cambridge at age 32. The funding available to intellectual pursuits was drying up. However a Turing Machine was built at Manchster, which shorted mathematical calculations to days instead of months it would take a human. Since then, computers have become much faster.
His sexual troubles
In 1951, he was arrested by the police on ” gross indecency” charges. It turned out he had befriended a younger man named Arnold Murray who came to his home. It appears the young man stole a watch from Turing, a family heirloom. He went to the police to report the missing watch. The police were excited by the prospect of arresting an ex-soldier for being gay. Under the laws of UK, homosexuality was a security risk, and the more they delved into Turing’s record, the more suspicious they became:
- The wartime records of Turing were sealed,
- The evil Soviets were blackmailing all good British lads with secrets, especially sexual secrets,
- Homosexuality was a crime.
Turing was highly co-operative with the cops, as he wanted them to recover the watch. He also seems to have educated the cops on the legal distinctions between sodomy and gross indecency! Turing was convicted in March 1952 and given a choice between a jail term (which he wanted to avoid) and chemical castration to prevent him from having “naughty” thoughts. He believed that chemical castration was reversible and consented.
Turing’s Chemical Castration
The Hollywood film glossed over this aspect, which is what led to his suicide just 2 years later. He was given doses of Oestrogen (female sex hormone) and also a thigh implant to seep Oestrogen constantly into his body. He started growing breasts, his testicles shrank and his libido vanished. There were tests constantly to measure “the naughty naughty Testosterone” levels.
Turing and the psychiatrist
This was totally left out from the Hollywood movie. From Sept 1952 to his death in June 1954 (21 most important months) he was consulting with Frank Greenbaum, a psychiatrist, a Jewish émigré from Germany. In those 21 months he became a family friend of the Greenbaums. The Greenbaum girls have fond memories of their “Uncle Alan”. They make the point that Hitler wanted to sterilise Jews, the Brits were no different.
Turing and Mathematical Botany
In the final months, Turing was working on Morphogenesis and Mathematical Botany, new fields of enquiry. At the time of his death, he was working on the apple that killed Snow White and concluded it had to be cyanide.
His trip to post war Europe
In 1953 he travelled to Europe, to all the British overseas gay spots. He came back praising Norway – “imagine, they have places where men dance with men”.
Non Reversal of Castration, Depression, Death
The expected reversal of the Oestrogen treatment did not work. In 1954 he went with the Greenbaums for a last holiday. In June 1954 his housekeeper found him dead in bed, a half eaten apple and the smell of cyanide in the air. He was 16 days short of 42.
In 2009, following an Internet campaign, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for “the appalling way he was treated.” Queen Elizabeth II granted him a posthumous pardon in 2013