Belated Amistice Day post

Yesterday was the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I. While historically we honour the memory of those that fell in that conflict we also remember those who lost their lives in service of their country in other wars.
I was teaching a lecture which was scheduled to begin at 1100 and after a two minute silence I recounted the story of the British mathematician Alan Turing, regarded by many as the father of modern computer science, who worked at Bletchley Park during the second world war.

The story, no doubt familiar to many, goes thus: The German High Command were using a supposedly unbreakable coding system, using something called the Enigma machine, to communicate with their troops. British mathematicians, working at Bletchley Park and headed up by Turing, were set the task of cracking this code thereby giving a vital tactical advantage to the Allied Forces. Ultimately, they succeeded and in doing so (loosely speaking) invented the computer. It is generally thought that their success in cracking the German code shortened the war by several years, saving countless lives. Turing went onto have a successful career as a mathematician until his outing as a homosexual in 1952 at which time he lost his security clearance with the military and the respect of his peers. He was given the horrible choice of imprisonment or chemical castration. He chose a year long program of estrogen injections in order to avoid jail, these had the effect of lowering his libido and the gr owning of breasts. Within two years Alan Turing was found dead of apparent cyanide poisoning administered from a tainted apple. The official investigation ruled the death a suicide but not to the satisfaction of all involved.

Not all war heroes die on the battlefield and certainly they're not all treated as heroes.

2 Responses
  1. Says:

    Recommended reading: Alan Turing: The Enigma

  2. jimm Says:

    gee, that's sick what they did to the fella.