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Petition to the UK government to apologize to Alan Turing (number10.gov.uk)
30 points by jgrahamc on Aug 3, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 11 comments

I think it is wrong that modern society/government should apologise for the transgressions of it's predecessors (I feel the same way about the whole apologising for slavery business).

IMO a better way is to not hold those prejudices any more. At the end of the day that is greater than any apology could ever be :)

Apologies are a way of acknowledging that what has happened was undesirable and wrong. It's also a way of signaling that you will try to prevent it from happening again. Taken from that perspective an apology is useful.

Of course, if the next step after an apology is "getting sued", there's not much incentive to ever acknowledge anything bad...

I'm generalising here from your particular view on state apologies to a more general one about state responsibility. If that's not an accurate appraisal of your view, my apologies; I hope this post will at least spur you to clarify this point.

Disavowing the continuity of the State through time might, perhaps, be a defensible position, but let's be clear as to the ramifications.

To begin with, states shouldn't have to pay the debts incurred by previous governments: those debts were incurred by a totally different set of people, perhaps with wildly different motivations and ideologies.

If a government signs a treaty, then when they lose power, the next government is under no obligation to honour that treaty.

People do, generally, consider that governments must abide by the obligations of their predecessors. They may be wrong to do so, but an argument is surely required as to why we are all wrong when we think that.

An apology might seem like a minor thing, especially when the object of that apology is deceased. We should resist this view. An apology is an admission of guilt and an acknowledgement of moral responsibility: "We did that thing, and we were wrong to do it, and we are sorry for it." An apology is required because the British state, while having a different government and different citizens, is an entity with continuity through time that retains some element of responsibility for its actions in earlier ages. With time, and the change that happens over time, this responsibility may diminish or lapse entirely. But Alan Turing's death is not long in the past, and the spectre of homophobia still lurks within our society. An apology is past due.

From a utilitarian viewpoint, we might argue that apologies better allow people to "not hold those prejudices any more". By apologising for the mistreatment of gays, or ethnic minorities, or colonial subjects, a state sets out a position: this mistreatment is not acceptable. Such apologies endorse a particular social norm, giving it a weight it might not otherwise have had.

In a way I agree with you.

But in another I dont. Those things: treaties etc. are honours of state. BUT the prosecution of Turing was simply the application of law - a law adopted by an even earlier generation and inspired by societies homophobia.

In that sense the role of the government isnt quite the same.

If the aim of such an apology is the start of a wider work against homophobia then I am 100% behind it. But it isn't really - so it's just empty words.

> If a government signs a treaty, then when they lose power, the next government is under no obligation to honour that treaty.

From http://www.open.ac.uk/courses/tasters/w201/objects/d2225.pdf

"According to the traditional view Parliament can, in effect, make laws as it sees fit, but it cannot bind its successors by entrenching laws (that is, by making laws which cannot be repealed)."

> To begin with, states shouldn't have to pay the debts incurred by previous governments:

You write this like it's a bad thing.

Given the horrendous effects of govt borrowing, why should lenders be protected? It's like returning the getaway driver's car.

Well the apology doesn't come from the person for the person. It is from the State and the State has no predecessor, in a way. I know it sounds like a formality, in fact it is: it is a symbolic message with more than one meaning:

1. State can be wrong 2. As we could have be wrong in the past, we could be wrong now. 3. It is a good thing that we recognize that 4. People who are in a similar condition today, shall no fear anymore 5. If we ever try to do something similar, you can remind us of our apologies, at least.

I couldnt agree more

Not wanting to nitpick, but shouldn't we be apologizing for his persecution, rather than his prosecution? Homosexual sex was illegal at the time, and his prosecution seems fair even if the law was not. Many others fell foul of this law, and to apologize solely to Turing because he was a war hero and a genius of the first order seems rather unjust. I find the story of Turing's subsequent persecution - the inhumane chemical castration and his treatment at the hands of an institutionally bigoted civil service - far more disturbing. Homosexual acts are no longer illegal, but this kind of institutional prejudice and bullying is still very much a problem.

As a typical cynical Brit, I think it'd be a good exercise to one day make a list of all the people to whom the UK technically owes an apology, but not to actually say sorry until we get an apology from everyone that we feel owes us one. And yes, that includes you, Italy - don't think we've forgotten that little hoo-ha between Boudicca and Paulinus! It may have been the first century AD, but some scars just never really heal.

Oh, and if I come across as crass, it's because the whole notion of the thing is absurd. History is history - we all routinely did some horrifically awful things, but we don't do them now and no-one's seriously suggesting that we should.

What purpose would it serve? either in the weak form of acknowledging that his persecution was wrong, or in the stronger form of apologising for it.

Reading about the case again, it's certainly sickening. As a whole, it's a relatively tame instance of what a government has done in the name of "national security". It's the government after all, their job is to kill people. I wonder what was really going on here? Why did this guy report the theft at all, perhaps some actual security breach occured during the robbery? If not, why did he admit to it and admit to being gay? I mean, I understand the value of telling the truth and all but if something is unjustly illegal in your culture and you get caught, isn't your primary goal getting away with it? Especially if you have security clearance...

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