On Saturday, December 28, the Boston Globe ran an editorial comment about the British Government’s pardoning Alan Turing. The comment is entitled Britain: Reclaiming the Hero it Maligned. I wrote about Alan Turing here. In that blog post, I said, “This posting isn’t about quantum computing, and it isn’t about Alan Turing and his contribution to the effort to win World War II, but it is about gay people and our tendency to forget the past. Alan Turing was a homosexual.” 

Well, this posting isn’t about any of those things, but it is about the things that a pardon does. Once Alan Turing was dead, there was nothing that any of the survivors around him could do to change the fact that the man had killed himself as the result of appalling treatment by the British government. And the Globe this morning is wrong when it says, “Alan Turing deserves an untainted place in the history books, and now he has one.” Actually, because of government action, Alan Turing was dragged out of the closet into the harsh light of day, then charged with crimes which were not crimes and sentenced to chemical castration. He then committed suicide by eating a poisoned apple, and all of this is permanently hung on the name and reputation of a brilliant man who helped the Brits win the war and helped create computers for the rest of us. None of that is going to be removed by this pardon. The British Government caused Turing untold suffering and changed the things that are said and will be said about him, and none of that will ever be changed. Turing does not need a pardon. He did nothing wrong. I assume the British Government has issued this pardon to put the focus on Turing’s life instead of the government’s own appalling crimes.

What to do?  Leave poor Alan Turing alone. He has suffered enough. What the British Government should do is to get down on its knees and cry, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa and do this continually until every one knows exactly how much suffering the government has caused in the name of morality. The Globe is correct in raising the question of the 50,000 other men who were convicted under the same law that persecuted Turing. Those that are still alive should be asked, person to person, how they would like the government to respond to its own culpability. I expect a goodly percentage of those who have suffered under this law will say, Go fuck yourself.  The point is to remove the government from the ranks of those who may assume virtue.

And, next step, What about the US? We learned this same lesson about our government when it became clear what had happened at the Tuskegee Institute in the thirties, and, of course, the massive persecution of gay people in the last century. Now we know about the hundreds of thousands who have suffered at the hands of government. What to do? First, don’t forget them. Know where their suffering came from. Try to make their lives better now. Think reparations. Don’t ever believe that there is anything the government can do to make itself virtuous again. It can’t.  The government is successful at building highways and maintaining the safety net. When the government tries to impose morality on citizens or allows itself to be used as the instrument of certain religious points of view, it fucks it up, every time, and then it ends up, not with egg on its face, with blood on its hands. The pardon that the British government this week extended to Alan Turing gets it backwards. The government should ask us for a pardon for its crimes.

Read The Rebel, by Albert Camus, about assassins in judges robes.