The petition for an Alan Turing apology has been gaining steam and press coverage as of late. It certainly makes one think about how we truly treat heroes in this world. There's an old adage that people will kill their own prophets. If they don't kill them, they're more than happy to exile them, destroy them or otherwise discredit them for a few years. Turing is certainly one of the more tragic examples of this, but he certainly isn't the last nor the greatest.
Alan Turing was, in a word, amazing. One of the first pioneers of what would become computer science, the man had keen insight to the language that they would use and the mathematics behind the first programs written. His insight was almost preternatural, and he would find life-saving applications for his work at Bletchley Park.
Bletchley Park was the first ever electronic warfare center. Based northwest of London, the men who worked there were ceaselessly breaking Nazi codes, analyzing information, and passing the pertinent facts on to the Allied armed forces. With some help from the tenacious Polish Resistance, the wizards of Bletchley Park were able to provide priceless information on U-boat operations, Luftwaffe attacks, and Wermacht positions as the Allies first struggled to survive, then sought to drive straight into the heart of Germany. Turing was a key figure in this, and some have said he was THE main mind behind one of the most important advantages the Allies held during World War II.
What did he receive in return, this techie hero? After the war, he was outed as a homosexual. He lost everything. His pension, his benefits, his recognition, everything. On top of it all, he was forced to undergo chemical castration in accordance with British laws at the time. For the lives he saved, the efforts he made, the intelligence he provided, he was rendered sterile and chemically imbalanced.
We shouldn't act surprised at this, unfortunately. Turing is, after all, just another glorious person who meets an undignified end at the hands of the people they've saved. Look at Simon Bolivar, the man who single-handendly liberated most of South America from Spain. Heavily influenced by the American Revolutionary War, he hoped to create a confederation across all of South America out of the newly-liberated states. Unfortunately, petty rivalries among the nations not only drove him from power, but halted his dream of a unified South America until the recent formation of the Union of South American Nations. He died alone from tuberculosis, nearly broke and reviled among the nations he helped to free.
Recently, historians have begun to put Benedict Arnold into this category. There is no doubt that, at first, Arnold was the most ingenious commander of the insurgency and completely devoted to the cause of colonial independence. His capture of Ticonderoga and ability to turn what a rout into a strategic withdrawal should have placed him in the highest honors, alongside Washington. This man even funneled his own personal funds into his army, when the Continental Congress could no longer allocate funds. In thanks for his efforts, he was investigated by Congress, passed over for promotion, and watched as credit that was due to him alone went to opportunistic, back-stabbing politicos in the Continental Army. Benedict Arnold didn't become a traitor because he saw the cause failing or because he was offered money. Benedict Arnold switched side because the British offered him the decency that the Americans just wouldn't give him.
These aren't the only cases, though. The English sailors who defeated the Spanish Armada were left to languish onboard their ships, unpaid and suffering from scurvy and plague. The Native Americans of the American armed forces were left to the reservations after every war, dying like Ira Hayes out of desperation and alcoholism. There are countless others that have done more than anyone should have ever asked them to do, only to meet an inglorious and unbefitting end.
It makes one think twice about doing anything for anyone, doesn't it?