Sunday, April 03, 2016

"This was how it was done
in the ordinary England of 1950"

"There might well have been another kind of occasional visitor to [Alan Turing's] life, if not to his house, one that came through the trade entrance. For all the time there was another England, on towpaths or trains, in pubs, parks, toilets, museums, at swimming baths, bus stations, shop windows, or just looking back in the street, for those who had eyes to see; a communication network of flashing eyes, millions and millions of them, sundered from the lobotomised culture of official Britain, but to which Alan Turing belonged. Before the war he would have been too shy, but by 1950 he had made some discoveries. Traditionally, for the upper-middle-class homosexual man, there was Paris, and going abroad was a double escape, both from the English law, and the class system which enveloped an Englishman as soon as he opened his mouth. But England had its opportunities too. Alan always used to stay in the YMCA in London, if only because it would hardly occur to him to pay to stay anywhere grander, and this would have held something for his eyes in the shape of naked youths in its swimming pool, if nothing more. But Manchester was another story.
Walking up to the city centre from the Victoria University, there was a point where Oxford Road became Oxford Street, just under the railway bridge. Here it was a long way indeed from the dreaming spires at the other end of the A34. There were a couple of cinemas, an amusement arcade, a pub - the Union Tavern - and a very early example of a milk bar. This stretch between the urinal and the cinema was where the male homosexual eye was focused - perhaps the same block as trodden by Ludwig Wittgenstein in 1908, such institutions lasting as long as the respectable kind. Here straggled a motley convoy of souls, and amidst them the odd independent sailing, like Alan Turing. Here merged many kinds of desires - for physical excitement, for attention, for a life outside family and factory confines, or for money. These were not sharp divisions. Money, if involved, was little but the clink of "tipping" that was heard in any encounter between different social classes; and indeed little different from the way that women could expect to be entertained and treated by men. The most special relationship would have its quid pro quo, and this kind was more likely for ten bob than a quid. This was how it was done in the ordinary England of 1950, outside privileged circles such as those of Cambridge or Oxford. For the young in particular, without means or private space, homosexual desire meant street life.
As he walked along Oxford Street, and pretended to look at the posters outside the Regal cinema, Alan caught the eye of a young man.
The Odeon on Oxford Street, Manchester, in the 50s (more here)
Arnold Murray, who was nineteen, came from the background of The Road to Wigan Piers. He had known bread and margarine at his best. His father, a concrete layer when in work, knocked his mother about.
Emaciated with malnutrition and nervousness in the blitz, he bad been sent to a boys' camp out in Cheshire for schooling, and he was very proud of having shot to the top of the class with the new encouragement and competition. They had cheered for D-day and for VE day, but for him it meant return to a Manchester slum home by the pitch and tar distillery, and six months of technical school before his father made him leave for work.
Arnold had found release from a dreary existence in July 1951, hitching down to London for the Festival of Britain. But he had been caught making a petty theft, and was sent back to Manchester on probation. He was still living with his family in Wythenshawe, and was currently unemployed and pretty hard up.
Arnold was searching for an identity, and thought that the world owed him something better than a life at the bottom of the heap. Middle-class men offered him manners and culture, and at this point of his development, homosexuality seemed something that belong to an élite to which he aspired. He looked down on those who simply offered themselves for cash. Alan offered such a promise of association with gracious living - but this was not the whole story, for Alan combined this with a freshness and youthfulness that stood out on the Oxford Street background.
Alan Turing
Alan Turing took his own life in 1954.
Alan asked Arnold where he was going and Arnold replied "nowhere special." So Alan invited him in the restaurant across the road.
Fair and with blue eyes, undernourished and with his thin hair already receding, desperate for better things and more receptive than so many educated people, Arnold touched Alan's soft spot for lost lambs, as well as other chords. He also had a determined vivacity and a saving sense of humour that could carry him through the most difficult situations. Alan told him that he had to go back to the university, where he was a lecturer, and explained that he worked on the Electronic Brain. Arnold was fascinated; Alan asked him to come to his home at Wilmslow at the weekend. By making invitations to lunch and to his home, Alan had already offered a good deal more than would usually be expected of a street encounter, where a quick adjournment to railway arch, back alley or toilet would be more customary. Arnold accepted the invitation, but he failed to appear on the night.
This might easily have been the end of the matter, but Alan saw Arnold again on Oxford Street on the next Monday afternoon. Arnold offered a feeble excuse for his failure to appear, and this time Alan invited him home immediately. Arnold did as Alan suggested."

- Andrew Hodges, Alan Turing: The Enigma, 1983. Andrew Hodges is Tutor in Mathematics at Wadham College, Oxford University. His classic text of 1983 created a new kind of biography, with mathematics, science, computing, war history, philosophy and gay liberation woven into a single personal narrative.

Alan Turing's pardon is wrong

To single out Turing is to say all the other persecuted gay men are not so deserving of justice because they were less exceptional
The Queen's announcement of a posthumous pardon, under a Royal Prerogative of Mercy, to Alan Turing follows a long campaign and a petition signed by more than 37,000 people. The pardon will be welcomed by many, and it is undoubtedly a gesture of humanity, compassion and progressive values. It is also entirely, profoundly wrong.

Alan Turing at Sherborne school in Dorset, aged 16, in 1928.
Alan Turing at Sherborne school in Dorset, aged 16, in 1928.

Turing was an intellectual legend of the 20th century. His breakthroughs in applied mathematics have led him to be described as the father of modern computing. His work on the Enigma codebreaking machine made him more responsible than almost any other British individual for the ultimate defeat of Nazi Germany. Biographers recall him as a gentle, modest, reserved man. He was also gay, and in 1952 he was convicted of gross indecency - the catch-all legal term used to prosecute any consenting sexual acts between two men. The judge at his trial, acknowledging the importance of Turing's work, laid down what seemed at the time to be a lenient sentence. The mathematician was spared jail and ordered to undergo an experimental hormone therapy for homosexual urges, often dubbed "chemical castration". We know now the treatment will not have affected his orientation or desires, but it did cause physical changes including breast enlargement and erectile dysfunction.

Turing described the experience as horrible and humiliating and less than two years later, he died of cyanide poisoning. An inquest recorded a verdict of suicide. It is a tragic, shameful episode in our recent history, but while the tragedy was Turing's, the shame was entirely the nation's.
In announcing the pardon today, the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, said: "A pardon from the Queen is a fitting tribute to an exceptional man." Turing was certainly an exceptional man but the tribute could not be less fitting. It says that the British state is prepared to forgive historical homosexual acts providing they were performed by a national hero, academic giant or world-changing innovator. This is the polar opposite of the correct message. Turing should be forgiven not because he was a modern legend, but because he did absolutely nothing wrong. The only wrong was the venality of the law. It was wrong when it was used against Oscar Wilde, it was wrong when it was used against Turing and it was wrong when it was used against an estimated 75,000 other men, whether they were famous playwrights and scientists or squaddies, plumbers or office clerks. Each of those men was just as unfairly persecuted, and many suffered similarly awful fates. To single out Turing is to say these men are less deserving of justice because they were somehow less exceptional. That cannot be right.
It is shocking to realise that there are still people alive today who were unjustly criminalised in their youth, and who have carried the stain of a criminal record, as a sex offender, through almost their entire adult lives. In 2012 the Protection of Freedoms Act was passed, which allows those who were convicted of homosexuality offences to apply to have their entire criminal records removed if the facts of the case would no longer count as a crime.
As the legal commentator David Allen Green has pointed out, there is no reason why this provision could not be extended to cover all those convicted, whether living or dead, without the requirement for a personal application. With a little bit of political marketing, it could become known as the Turing law, recorded as such in the history books for generations to come. Now that really would be a fitting tribute to a national hero.
Source: The Guardian, Ally Fogg, December 24, 2013


JiEL said...

Il faut voir «The Imitation Game» pour comprendre le génie d'Alan Turing et, aussi, tous les tourments qu'il a dû faire face.

Sa contribution à l'effort de guerre fut complétement mis sous silence.

Bref, un film à voir.

PS. Personnellement, j'aurais préféré un autre acteur que Benedict Cumberbatch malgré qu'il donne une bonne performance. Je n'aime pas et acteur mais c'est un goût personnel.

another country said...

Je viens tout juste de finir l'énorme pavé d'Andrew Hodges, et il faut malheureusement reconnaître que le film n'a absolument aucun rapport avec la réalité. C'est un conte hollywoodien. Le scénario du film est en fait une version romancée, réécrite, condensée à l'extrême de la vie, de la scolarité, de la carrière académique et de la contribution scientifique d'Alan Turing, qu'il s'agisse de son travail sur la machine Enigma ou de ses travaux sur le premier "computer". J'ai été réellement surpris et déçu de découvrir à quel point le film (que j'avais apprécié) se démarquait de la réalité biographique et semblait en faire fi. Ce film est d'abord et avant tout une oeuvre de fiction. Le livre de Hodges est passionnant sur le plan humain et sur ce qu'il nous révèle de la société britannique des années 30-40 et 50, et sur la place (ou la non-place) et la victimisation des homosexuels dans ladite société. Pour le reste, la partie scientifique est totalement inaccessible à toute personne n'ayant pas une solide culture scientifique, et notamment mathématique. J'ai eu 2/20 en maths au bac ; j'ai donc dû me contenter de survoler (de très haut) certains chapitres totalement hermétiques et... cryptés pour le littéraire que je suis.

JiEL said...

OK. Je vous l'accorde, le film est «romancé» à l'américaine mais il n'en reste pas moins intéressant en levant le voile sur ce Alan Turing qui fut un génie de l'informatique.

Pour le côté «mathématiques», j'ai fait mon secondaire en «Sciences-Maths» ce qui me permettrait de comprendre, un peu, le côté scientifique du livre que vous citez.

another country said...

Un avertissement en prologue au film, expliquant qu'il s'agit d'une version romancée, serait de bon aloi -- et plus honnête intellectuellement. Quant à la dimension scientifique du livre, elle a joué pour moi un rôle rédhibitoire et j'avoue mon ignorance crasse dans les domaines abordés -- comme dans tant d'autres.

Anonymous said...

Le so-called "pardon" de Turing par la Couronne est un modèle d'hypocrisie, tout comme all the rest of it.
Son exécution (car la castration chimique n'est rien autre) cache aussi sans doute quelque raison d'état.
Et pour ce qui est de l'homosexualité, le piège qui s'est refermé sur lui est étrangement semblable à celui de Wilde. Un même refus de se soumettre et d'affronter la justice, dans un mouvement de défi.
Il y a en effet beaucoup à dire sur la part mathématique. Les anglais exagèrent beaucoup, par chauvinisme.

another country said...

On ne peut que penser aux expériences sur l'inversion de polarité hormonale pratiquées à Buchenwald par le tristement célèbre médecin SS danois Carl Vaernet, aux malheureuses victimes desdits essais "thérapeutiques" et à l'idéologie qui a permis l'application (non limitée à l'Allemagne nazie, la preuve en est ici apportée) de ces mesures imbéciles et criminelles.

Je souscris pleinement à l'argumentation du Guardian. C'est la raison pour laquelle je reproduis cet article. Un "blanket pardon" (accompagné d'excuses officielles) aurait été infiniment plus approprié et moins humiliant.

La monarchie britannique a mis beaucoup d'eau dans sa bière depuis les procès de Wilde et de Turing. Le futur roi et son bogoss de frère, Henry, ne manquent pas une occasion de montrer qu'il sont en la matière les dignes héritiers de leur môman, grande copine de Sir Elton. It does get better.

another country said...

@ Sixte : FYI

Experiments in reversal of hormonal polarity at Buchenwald

ln contrast to the compulsory castration and typhus fever experiments, the hormonal experiments on homosexual men at Buchenwald are quite well documented. They were conducted in strict secrecy on the orders of the SS by the Danish doctor Carl Peter Jensen, alias Carl Vaernet. He went to Germany in 1942 after being forced to give up a practice he had had in Copenhagen since 1934. His contact with the leader of the Danish Nazi Party, his colleague Frits Clausen, must already have cost him a lot of patients in the first year of the war. In summer 1943 he was brought to Himmler's attention by the SS Reich Doctor, Dr Grawitz. Vaernet's claim that his hormonal research in the thirties had made it possible to cure homosexual men aroused Himmler's undivided interest. He gave instructions for Vaernet to be treated with 'the utmost generosity', and to be given the possibility of continuing his research in a Prague cover firm coming under the Reichsführer-SS, 'German Medicines Ltd.' By July 1944 he was in a position to start the human experiments. Buchenwald concentration camp was instructed to place five prisoners at his disposal.

Surviving documents tell us about the choice and temporal sequence of the experiments. Together with Schiedlausky, the Waffen-SS garrison doctor at Weimar-Buchenwald, Vaernet first selected the five prisoners during a visit to Buchenwald in late July 1944, then nominated a further ten on 8 December. According to a memorandum (from the prisoners'sick bay?) four of the five selected in July were identified as homosexuals and one as an SV or Sittlichkeitsverbrecher [sex criminel]. Of the December batch all we know (from a memorandum drawn up in October) is that six of them had been castrated. It is very likely that these too were pink-triangle prisoners, so that altogether at least ten male homosexuals would have been subjected to Vaernet's experiments.

A total of fifteen prisoners were selected. Vaernet 'operated' on twelve men - if that term can be applied at all in the nightmarish conditions of the camp. What actually happened is that he made an incision in the groin and implanted a hormone preparation in the form of a briquette; the release of hormones was then checked through examination of the blood and urine.

What seems to us today a macabre experiment was heralded by Vaernet as a great success. But in his reports to the SS leadership he did not say a word about one effect which was nevertheless quite apparent to him. If the victims readily gave the answers expected of them, they did so partly at least in the hope that they would be pronounced 'cured' and soon released from the terrible reality of the concentration camp. To the SS Reich Doctor Vaernet suggested three results of 'direct importance to the war': the maintenance or restoration of a full capacity for work, the better possibilities of sustenance, and an increase in the birth-rate.

Little is known of the victims' fate. One prisoner was already dead by December 1944. But of those who may have survived, we do not know of any who applied for compensation after 1945. (This is true also of persons born after 1910, who might have been likely to take advantage of the new regulations for the compensation of victims of sterilization and castration that came into force in the late 1980s.)

As for the perpetrators, the experiments were not explicitly mentioned in the list of charges at the Nuremberg doctors' trial. The SS doctors Schiedlausky and Ding were condemned to death for other profoundly inhuman experiments. Vaernet himself evaded responsibility by fleeing to South America.

Source: Hidden Holocaust?, Günter Grau, London: Cassell, 1995. Translated from the German by Patrick Camiller.

Anonymous said...

Oui, ils ont tout essayé : la "marchandise" était là, à leur disposition pour toutes les expériences.
Ils ont été jugés à Nurenberg.
Le problème est que l'on continue ce genre d'expériences, aux US, ici à l'UK dans le cas Turing et ailleurs (voir aussi les "expériences menées par la CIA en France sur les effets du LSD dans les années 50). Etc., etc.

Et ce n'est pas d'aujourd'hui. On a toujours puisé dans les prisons, des sujets d'expérience. Un des découvreurs du procédé de vaccination, le Dr. Clot (dit Clot-Bey), se faisait livrer des condamnés à mort par le Vice-Roi d'Egypte, pour leur inoculer la peste et voir si l'un d'eux consentirait à rester en vie.

Merci pour la référence du bouquin, dont cependant je n'admets pas la pertinence du titre. Sixte.

another country said...

Carl Vaernet n'a pas été jugé, il s'est enfui en Amérique du Sud. (Je vous recommande à ce sujet -- si vous ne l'avez pas déjà vu -- l'excellent "El médico alemán" de Lucía Puenzo, sorti en 2013. Plus d'infos ici.

Je partage votre avis sur la pertinence du titre (j'imagine que vous faites allusion à "Hidden Holocaust?"). Il faut absolument refuser les amalgames et ne pas oublier que les mots ont un sens. S'ils ont été (violemment) persécutés par les nazis, les homosexuels (notez le masculin, malgré Schoppmann) du Reich (notez la localisation géopolitique) n'ont été victimes ni d'un "génocide" (je l'ai lu) ni d'un "holocauste". L'auteur de l'ouvrage (que j'ai rencontré à Berlin) fait lui aussi, bien évidemment, cette différence, d'où, sans doute, le point d'interrogation. Je ne suis pas sûr qu'elle saute aux yeux de tous les lecteurs...

Anonymous said...

A propos du Dr. Clot, cette précision toutefois : dans le lot de prisonniers (condamnés à mort) se trouva un garçon de seize ans qui, je crois me souvenir, survit. Et ensuite, mais ensuite seulement, le bon docteur s’inocula la peste à lui-même (une forme atténuée, justement le procédé qui permet ce que l’on nomme "vaccination"). On peut imaginer là, un acte de sacrifice pour la Science, ou bien la compassion-attraction pour le jeune homme. Le livre est muet là-dessus, tout comme ce qu’il advint in-fine, du beau jeune homme.
Ceci sous toutes réserves (il se peut bien que mon imagination ait un peu travaillé…), et à vérifier à la lecture de

CLOT-BEY (A. B.) ; DE LA PESTE OBSERVÉE EN ÉGYPTE ; Recherches et considérations sur cette maladie. Paris. Fortin, Masson 1840. In-8.

Curieusement il n’est pas sur Gallica, qui ne recense que des rapports postérieurs où je doute que ces détails puissent se trouver.