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Started by DonkeyOT on May 26, 2021 4:26:08 PM
Churchill and Alan Turing

Why did that spineless rat Churchill stand idly by and allow an ungrateful 'establishment' to hound Alan Turing to his death? Turing's achievements along with all the other heroes of Bletchley Park saved countless thousands of lives. If you include those saved from the gas-chambers it could conceivably be millions and what recognition did they get? Sweet fuck-all - DISGRACEFUL!

thisonehasalittlehat - 26 May 2021 17:16:00 (#1 of 44)

Is there a new revelation behind this?

DonkeyOT - 26 May 2021 17:25:52 (#2 of 44)

Well no - I just started to put it in "Where there's nowhere else" then decided to put it here, now I see there's already one devoted to the great man. Still never mind, we'll see how the cookie crumbles, so to speak. And/or raise it up the flag-pole and see who salutes it - whatever.

thisonehasalittlehat - 26 May 2021 17:30:22 (#3 of 44)

I don't really know about churchill. I mean turing wrote to him to request more resources, and this was granted, so churchill was probably aware of turing.

But the prosecution was a while later. Turing had actually broken the law - however bad that law was. The circumstances around the arrest and prosecution were not ideal, in that they arose out of a complaint to the polic turing himself made.

Turing's suicide is often linked to the homone treatment that he received, however it's not really very easy to prove this. He did not leave a note. It's not actually entirely clear he did committ suicide, although that is the most common understanding. And indeed his treatment had ceased some time previously. Furthermore, although turing complained about the effects of the hormone treatment, he was also quite curious about them keeping a record I believe of the changes he experienced.

So, he was treated pretty badly as was common for gay men at that time, but how much Churchill was aware I don't think it clear, and even if he was aware he would probably not have been in a position to intervene.

Plus churchill was a bit of a cunt anyway.

DonkeyOT - 26 May 2021 17:32:45 (#4 of 44)

I think Turing's death happened during Churchill's post '51 term didn't it? Even so Churchill must have known where all the amazingly accurate and prophetic intelligence reports were coming from, surely?

barkis - 26 May 2021 17:36:33 (#5 of 44)

His death was linked with a half-eaten apple by his bedside but strangely they didn't test it for cyanide. It may be that he just got careless in his home laboratory.

DonkeyOT - 26 May 2021 17:55:01 (#6 of 44)

Not wishing to be appear to be arguing for argument's sake, but I imagine Churchill would have been fully aware of all that Bletchley Park was achieving and of what happened to Turing post-war. Which is the whole point of this thread - Churchill stood idly by and let the man who assisted in him his great victory more than anyone else (I really don't think that's an exaggeration).

I just think it stinks - and I always have.

thisonehasalittlehat - 26 May 2021 17:55:22 (#7 of 44)

Well, I mean there were a lot of people working at Bletchley. Tens of thousands towards the end. And Turing was an important figure, particularly in the first two years, but his significance has probably been overstated in the retelling. There's no reason to think that Churchill would be personally aware of the individual contribution be made (predominantly to improving the bombe). Although as I say Turing did with others write to Churchill to request more resources, and Churchill is known to have valued the contribution of Bletchley itself. He was a senior figure, but not the senior figure.

thisonehasalittlehat - 26 May 2021 17:59:42 (#8 of 44)

The real turing is a lot more interesting than the myth btw. And the real reason he is such a significant figure is not because of Bletchley - that is just the easier story to tell - it is because his ealier and later work on computing.

That's not to say his contribution to Bletchley was insignificant, because it wasn't. He was a really important person, particularly in getting the bombe to work properly. Less so afterwards. And had drifted away before the end of the war.

DonkeyOT - 26 May 2021 18:01:22 (#9 of 44)

The suicide is the single most significant thing.

TheExcession - 26 May 2021 18:01:28 (#10 of 44)

Alan Turing - The Enigma by Andrew Hodges is a really good book on his life and work. Highly recommended.

thisonehasalittlehat - 26 May 2021 18:01:55 (#11 of 44)

It's kinda the definitive biography.

thisonehasalittlehat - 26 May 2021 18:02:41 (#12 of 44)

The suicide is the single most significant thing.

That does a disservice to his legacy. The most significant thing was On Computable Numbers, 1937 from memory. Then his latter work on AI is interesting (I mean obviously the Turing test but I mean principally his discussoin of what we would now call AI through half a dozen papers or so). And he made contributions to biology too, curiously. I've never read any of this because, you know, squishy yucky subject, biology.

I think if you were to ask Turing what his achievements were, Bletchley would come quite low down the list. Mind you I suspect he would be a but surprised how much he is venerated today too. He'd probably say the design of the ACE was the best thing he did.

bailliegillies - 26 May 2021 18:29:05 (#13 of 44)

Wasn't Turing's problem a homophobic policeman in Manchester who kept hounding him, which from all accounts was pretty common back in those days, apparently even beat them up.

As for Churchill, he would have known all about Bletchley Park as he would have been getting some of the intelligence, though probably not all of it.

Interestingly my first knowledge of Bletchley Park was a book (1970s) by an American in the Royal Navy who'd first been posted down at the naval headquarters in the Campbeltown Grammar School. He'd been transferred to Bletchley Park as a courier to act as messenger between the Park and US forces. He never fully knew what was happening there but he knew it was gathering intelligence, so it didn't give a lot of information about the place.

HouseOfLametta - 26 May 2021 19:04:39 (#14 of 44)

The activities of Bletchley park were secret until the 1980s.

There wasn't really much 'recognition' for anyone.

bailliegillies - 26 May 2021 20:38:35 (#15 of 44)

Aye, few people knew of Bletchley and this American didn't know much either, just mentioned that he, along with some other Americans had been there to act as liaisons between Bletchley and American high command in Britain. His job was to carry information, escorted to American commanders that effect their operations. He was a banker who joined the Royal Navy at the beginning of the war, too old for active service he was based at Campbeltown, which controlled the North Channel, had subs, escorts and training facilities in the Loch. There was little detail of Bletchley in the book, just that it was involved in radio intelligence gathering, nothing about code breaking, which he wouldn't have known about as he and his colleagues were isolated from that.

barkis - 26 May 2021 20:41:48 (#16 of 44)

My mother came from that part of the world. When I asked if she had any idea that something secret was happening there she said no, they just thought it was a big civil service department moved out of London, which was the cover story of course.

Delighted_User - 26 May 2021 20:47:57 (#17 of 44)

Churchill seems to have taken a hard line on homosexuality. This is not atypical for the 1950s. I don't know why anyone would expect otherwise. Here he is from notebooks written at the time:

Prime Minister Winston Churchill bluntly replied that the Tory party were not going to accept responsibility for making the law more lenient towards gay men.

He suggested that an enquiry might be the way forward, proposed limiting press coverage of the convictions of homosexuals, and suggested that any man caught by police should be offered the option of medical treatment.

bailliegillies - 26 May 2021 20:49:17 (#18 of 44)

They sent a lot of the civil service out of London and around the country, so no one would have question one arrived at a big country estate as a lot of them were taken over and used.

NoobRomeo - 26 May 2021 21:03:44 (#19 of 44)

Turing would have been just another one of the uncountable Britons worthy of special recognition or protection for a man like Churchill, although he preferred it when a chap could keep his secrets secret. Which is rather ironic. Turing didn't stand out as the Empire's Great Genius because the future hadn't yet happened, irritatingly, so Turing was just another diabolically clever scientific type, like Barnes-Wallace and so many others. And God only knows what he got up to in the evenings at his testing range. I don't really see how Churchill can be dragged into it; it's shitty but the law was clear, no matter the path that led to its application in Turing's case was hateful. Churchill's hands would have been tied and he would have had no desire - or support at that time - for the battles that would surely follow.

barkis - 26 May 2021 21:08:25 (#20 of 44)


I agree with all of that. I think Churchill was more culpable for hampering the UK computer industry by keeping collosus secret.

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