Alan Turing’s Breasts September 24, 2011Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback
Alan Turing’s efforts at code-breaking at Bletchley Park 1939-1945 led to Enigma decrypts and gave Britain and later the US a window into Hitler’s parlour in crucial years, allowing, inter alia, victory in the Battle of the Atlantic. Indeed, it is sometimes said that Turing was one of three or four individuals without whom Britain could not have survived the German onslaught. Even if this is judged an exaggeration the 9,000 odd code-breakers at Bletchley Park collectively deserve that accolade and Turing has become a face for their effort.
Turing though, who did so much for his country during the war, was treated less than kindly in the post war period. In 1952 AT was arrested for ‘gross indecency’, a crime that covered all homosexual acts in a period before legalisation. The irony of this is that Turing had effectively reported himself to the police when complaining about an ex-lover who had broken into his house. In his other-worldly way, the mathematician had believed that burglary would be treated as the real issue: he had always been unembarrassed about his sexuality. Needless to say the local constabulary saw matters differently.
AT was not entirely abandoned by the establishment. Letters were written on Turing’s behalf to the court pointing out his service in the war years and they may have been instrumental in him being offered a choice on being found guilty. He could either go to prison or he could accept a year’s estrogen treatment to ‘correct’ his hormones: a treatment that often goes by the ghastly name of ‘chemical castration’. Turing chose the latter with fatal consequences. The changes that came over his body – including changes hinted at in the title to this piece – seem to have pushed AT over the edge: as did his loss of security clearance.
In 1954 Turing was found dead in bed with a half eaten apple besides him. He had died of cyanide poisoning. Presumably he had committed suicide: though Turing’s mother understandably insisted he had been careless in handling chemicals at work. It has sometimes also been suggested that Turing – who had a daily apple eating habit – was playing out a favourite scene, from a favourite film: the wicked witch poisoning Snow White. The apple was, unfortunately, for those who like their history mytho-poetic, never tested. Inspector Plod and his colleagues were presumably too busy hunting down ‘sodomites’…
Nations and, indeed, individuals have a habit of treating their saviours atrociously: any others cases as dramatic as this though? Drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com