Alan Turing was the writer of the letter who I researched for my project. A bright and intelligent mathematician and philosopher, Alan was very ahead of his time in his questions about artificial intelligence, including his curiosity of whether or not machines could think and be more capable of creativity and independent thought. However, he had one problem: he was homosexual during the 1950s. The letter I read was sent out very shortly before he was arrested and plead guilty for ‘gross indecency.’ His life and reputation would never be the same afterwards.
While reading his letter to his companion, Norman, the main point that stood out to me was the injustice that he went through. Thanks to Alan, the Allies won over the Third Reich by decoding their plans of the Enigma machine and helped end World War II. His country was saved due to his contributions, but he wouldn’t receive any recognition because he worked anonymously during the war. In his last years, he would be arrested in 1952 and be left off on probation with conditions. Two years later, Alan would be found dead from cyanide poisoning in his home, with many speculating his “hormone” treatment went wrong, that it was a suicide from the hormones, or that the government themselves killed him.
Throughout his letter, Alan demonstrated calmness when addressing his arrest and possible consequences of his “crimes.” To me, this was really unusual given the dire circumstances he was in and that this would’ve been the first time Norman would have heard of his arrest. Additionally, the beginning and end of the letter talking about Norman’s job and a local radio broadcasting lead me to believe this originally had intended to be a casual letter between friends catching up, not a confessional or a deep reflection of one person. It made me think: Why was Alan so calm in his writing?
The likely answer was that he wasn’t. Physical manifestations of fear and anxiousness probably took place in person, and perhaps he had already went through those emotions before writing. After all, people have more time and room to plan out what they will write, unlike talking in person. Another reason would be that Alan was in shock. He had just had his life turned upside down: going from holding successful job with the government to being publicly outed and losing his job and being arrested. Even he was aware that he would “…emerge from it all a different man, but quite who [he’s] not found out.” The future was unclear to him, and yet he knew previously the consequences and price he had to pay for being publicly gay. To me, it seemed like all of events that bombarded Alan almost snapped him out of his dream. He mentions how he’s “always considered [this] to be quite a possibility for me.” It makes me wonder how long he thought he could’ve kept this secret. What is definite was that his life was in danger, and perhaps disassociating with the events happening around him translated into his letter as well. This perhaps can explain the bizarre syllogism at the end of the letter as well.
Another question rose too: Why Norman? The two men were close friends in fact, personally working together and connecting after the end of WW2. According to my research, they never did have a relationship with each other, but Norman himself would later come out publicly as gay during the early 2000s. Although this is purely speculation, it strikes me that they trusted each other because they were so similar: both held the same interests in philosophy, both were gay during a time period that did not forgive or tolerate those who were, and they both worked for the government during the war. It goes to show how integral Norman was to Alan and vice versa. Both were able to be vulnerable with each as well as understand where each other is coming from.
Thankfully, Alan’s legacy wouldn’t be tarnished forever. As the early 2000s approached, the general public would become much more educated about WW2 and learn about his contributions to the war. After learning about his work, protests would rise in 2009 demanding the official pardoning of Alan throughout England, including the support of Stephen Hawking. Eventually, the Prime Minister would pardon him, and then later the Queen as well. In order to properly commemorate him, Parliament would officially place him on the 50 pound note as well, lifting the demonization of Alan Turing.