What you don’t know about WWII hero Alan Turing

23 Jun

Today, Google is honoring Alan Turing with a new Google Doodle. It’s a puzzle on their search page. You see, some say Alan Turing was the code breaker most responsible for the defeat of Adolf Hitler and the end of World War II.

Turing then went on to create one of the first designs for a stored-program computer.

In 1952, Turing met a man named Arnold Murray outside a cinema. The two had a date and Turing invited Murray over to his house – an invitation Murray accepted but didn’t show up for. The pair met a few more times and Murray wound up spending the night at Turing’s house.

A few weeks later, Murray helped an accomplice break in to Turing’s house. When Turing called the police, he himself became the victim of the interrogation. Turing acknowledged a sexual relationship with Murray – and seeing as homosexuality was still illegal in the UK at the time, Turing was arrested. He was then given the choice between prison time and probation under condition to undergo hormone therapy (chemical castration). Turing chose the latter.

Alan Turing

Two years later, Turing’s body was found by his house cleaner. Beside his body was a half-eaten apple. A coroner found he had died from cyanide poisoning and though other evidence didn’t seem to point to suicide, the coroner’s declared: “In a man of his type, one never knows what his mental processes are going to do next.”

The apple was never tested for cyanide, but today a report has come out challenging the idea Turing took his own life. Turing’s mother always argued that he was careless with chemicals in his house, with which he was experimenting and working with. A new report finds he may have died from “accidental inhalation.”

The most reasonable explanation in my opinion comes from Turing’s biographer David Hodges and author David Leavitt. Hodges believes that Turing was far too intelligent to accidentally inhale cyanide in his experiment room. He thinks Turing did so to give his mother some plausible deniability. He and Leavitt have stated that Turing’s was re-enacting his lifelong favorite fairytale, Snow White. Leavitt noted that Turing “took an especially keen pleasure in the scene where the Wicked Queen immerses her apple in the poisonous brew.”

Whatever the truth might be, it cannot be denied that the British government failed to recognize the contributions of a man responsible for the end of World War II. Instead, they chose to criminalize him and inhumanely force him to undergo chemical therapy for castration.

While students around the world may know Turing’s name for his incredible contributions to humanity – the rest of his story is seldom told by teachers. I certainly never learned it. If we’re to learn from our incredible mistakes, we must acknowledge they existed.

Happy Birthday, Alan.

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