Though he never wore a uniform, Alan Turing, a young British patriot, was clearly a hero of World War II. Turing was the scientist and mathematician who invented the Bombe, a machine that was able to successfully decipher messages which had been encoded by the Germans' highly sophisticated (and thought to be impenetrable) Enigma code machine His invention ultimately saved thousands of lives. He later created the Turing machine which was the forerunner of the modern computer.
But in the middle of the 20th century the country of Great Britain was dealing with a social issue, one that completely overrode Alan Turing's brilliant achievements. Mr. Turing was gay, or in the parlance of the times a "homosexual," something that was illegal in that country and remained outside of the law until the late 1960's. As a further irritant to the government, Alan Turing was nearly forty when it was revealed that he had a nineteen-year-old boyfriend.
(Turing's case closely parallels that of famed British playwright and novelist, Oscar Wilde, from half-a century earlier. Wilde, who also scandalized Britain with his relationship to a much younger man, was ultimately been found guilty of sodomy and sentenced to two years of hard labor in prison - a sentence that effectively ended the writing career of one of Great Britain's greatest wordsmiths.)
When Alan Turing was confronted by the government regarding his unacceptable proclivities, he did not deny his true nature. Turing was convicted of homosexual activity in 1952 and ultimately offered a choice - a prison sentence (like the one that had wrecked Oscar Wilde's health and career) or chemical castration. The war hero chose the latter. Two years later he made another decision - and ended his life by consuming a cyanide-laced apple.
Now, almost sixty years later after a great mind snuffed himself, Queen Elizabeth II has issued a royal pardon to Alan Turing, effectively securing his place as one of the greatest minds ever produced on that little island.
Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown referred to Turing's sentence as "appalling." Current Prime Minister David Cameron said:
"Alan Turing was a remarkable man who played a key role in saving the country in World War II by cracking the German enigma code. His action saved countless lives. He also left a remarkable national legacy through his substantial scientific achievements, often being referred to as the 'father of modern computing.'"
With the Queen's pardon and the important words of the country's political leaders, it would appear as though Britain is finally focusing on exiting the Dark Ages.
Good work, Liz.