Friday, January 28, 2011

untold stories

A BBC magazine report tells the tale of a letter created at Bletchley Park, England's hotbed of cryptanalysts who broke Germany's Enigma codes and were able to plant false information at the highest levels of the Nazi regime. The letter led the Germans to believe that the invasion of Normandy was a ruse intended to distract attention from the main attack point after D-Day, the Pas de Calais. The letter led the Germans to hold troops that might otherwise have joined in the Normandy defense in readiness elsewhere. The ruse was a ruse.

One of the mathematicians who helped break the German codes was a man named Alan Turing, a co-creator of the Bombe machine that allowed the British to crack the German codes. The magazine article does not focus on Turing, but rather on the exploits of Bletchley Park, the ruse letter and the heroism of the intellectuals who helped fight the war from behind a desk.

For those who don't know when World War II was, this is all probably pretty boring. But one comment on the article caught my eye ... something that told a wider story. The comment:

Turing was a hero of this country. His name should be as famous as Churchill, Montgomery, Dowding and Harris and yet we treated him despicably. Reporting a casual lover to the police for theft, rather than receive justice, was prosecuted for the, then, crime of homosexuality, offered imprisonment or chemical castration, took the latter and that led to his suicide. His memory needs to be honoured.

I have no way of knowing how true the facts of this comment are, but they sent a chill up my spine ... and reminded me again that every story told is invariably and inevitably a story untold. Every flowering story is simply a seed packet for a hundred, a thousand, a million other stories, other flowers, all blooming at the same time.

It's enough to keep a wise man humble.

1 comment:

  1. The comment matches my knowledge of Alan Turing. He was the father of modern computer science, my professional field. According to Simon Singh in his excellent book "The Code Book", Turing loved the movie "Snow White" and ended his life by soaking an apple in poison and eating it.

    I remember discussing Alan Turing with a coworker in the late 90's and he got rather interested is some of his work. A couple of days later he saw me again and said: "Yeah, did you know he was a flamer?" as if this had some profound relevance.

    The British government formally apologized for Turing's treatment in September, 2009.