originally published august 1999, in scientific american.
as i wrote the letter
when Alan Turing committed suicide in 1954, it was on account of a prosecution related to his homosexuality, in a climate of intense hatred and public vilification of gay people in britain. were it known that he had been a war hero (having deciphered enigma), this prosecution would never have happened, and this great man might still be alive today.
but because the fact of the enigma's decipherment was still a important state secret, Turing never told the prosecutors of his pivotal role in the war. in this restraint, he exhibited the greatest order of moral courage. his wartime superiors, however, could have blocked the prosecution, but they did not, and this to their eternal shame.
the writers of your article likewise declined to explain the circumstances surrounding the tragic death, and thus hide from your readers the fact of Turing's exceptional heroism and moral courage, even when at great cost to himself. i am sorry that Copeland and Proudfoot did not see fit to mention this. apparently homophobia still exerts an influence on the posthumous colleagues of this great man even today.
as it was published
in their article Alan Turing's forgotten ideas in computer science, B. Jack Copeland and Diane Proudfoot neglected to explain the circumstances surrounding Turing's tragic death. in a climate of intense hatred and public vilification of gay people in britain, Turing committed suicide in 1954 after a conviction related to his homosexuality. were it known that he had been a war hero (having deciphered enigma), the prosecution would never have taken place, and this great man might still be alive today. but because enigma's decoding was still a state secret, Turing never told the prosecutors of his pivotal role in the war. and although his wartime superiors could have blocked the prosecution, they did not. in failing to mention this, the authors have hidden from readers Turing's exceptional heroism and moral courage—even when at great cost to himself.
the response of the authors
Copeland and Proudfoot reply:
Turing was indeed a courageous man, and he was open about his sexual orientation at a time in britain when homosexuality was a crime. treated wretchedly by the country that he helped to save, Turing was convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to a year of hormone therapy (which he seems to have borne with amused fortitude) in march 1952. but it was more than two years after his conviction that he died of cyanide poisoning. (a homemade apparatus for silver-plating teaspoons, which included a tank of cyanide, was found in the room adjoining that in which Turing's body was discovered.) a man who lived for his work, he was then in the midst of exciting research, and a close friend who visited him a few days before he died found him jolly. we wish we could explain Turing's death, but having examined the depositions made at the inquest as well as other material, we are less certain than Bushnell that the coroner's verdict of suicide was correct.
letters to editors