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Welcome to the world of the Vincent D'Onofrio obsessed - and a bit of real life thrown in.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Saved for the Nation

It was announced today that the papers of AlanTuring had been secured from private puchase and possible export abroad. They will now be housed at the Bletchley Park Museum.

If none of that means a thing to you, you are probably in the US. It isn't your fault - it's your film industry, where only US soldiers and heroes won the World War II. Americans retrieved the papers that led to the breaking of the Enigma Code and proceeded to break that code. The truth is rather more understated.

This is Alan Turing. He was a brilliant British mathematician who, when an Enigma code book was taken from a U-Boat captain by the British sailors who had sunk the vessel, created the machine that could decode any message intercepted.
Bletchley Park was the codebreaking centre where all this secret activity took place. It is only fairly recently that it has been saved from crumbling or being sold off itself. A few years ago someone stole a rare and priceless enigma machine from the museum there, but it was returned via a BBC journalist, the obnoxious Jeremy Paxman. Security has since been improved to the level this precious heritage deserves.
In fact, it is probably less than 20 years since the activities of those who worked at Bletchley Park was made public, and the people concerned were able to talk about their wartime activities. They had been sworn to silence in perpetuity. My friend Susanna's parents had both been codebreakers, training at Bletchley, and finally working in Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon). The women were mostly glorified used as skivvies and secretaries. Many of the men were allowed to use mathematical and linguistic excellence freely to crack codes and read messages. Thanks to Turing the Allies were aware from an early stage in the war of most moves that Germany was going to make, but they had to conceal the fact that they had cracked Enigma by pretending that their information came from a variety of other sources.
So Alan Turing was pivotal to the Allies' success in WWII. Then after the war, he was instrumental in developing the early computers that ultimately developed into the wonder machines we use today. He truly was a genius. And what was his reward or recognition?
Turing was gay, and he was prosecuted for this illegal activity. Rather than be sentenced to prison, he agreed to take female hormomes to "cure" him. Before he turned 42, in 1954, he was dead of cyanide poisoning. It was ruled as a cuicide, but his family believed he was murdered.
A couple of years ago, when Prime Minister, Gordon Brown issued an apology for the way Turing was treated. Only 60 years too late.


JoJo said...

In this country, skivvies is another word for underwear....

val said...

We use it for those who do menial jobs. Which would also work for some underwear!

Anonymous said...

I don't think a brilliant man would engage in taking cyanide to commit suicide. It is a very painful way to die and doesn't make any sense in this instance. I believe he was murdered.

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