Sunday, September 13, 2009
Breaking The Code
It can be fairly be said of Alan Turning (pictured above) that, more than almost any other human being during World War II, he saved Western Civilization. And it can also be fairly said that, once it had been saved, the full savagery of Western Civilization fell on Turing like the wrath of God and persecuted him to death for the crime of being gay.
Yesterday, the British government which Turing served so ably over half a century ago, officially apologized for hounding him into an early grave.
So good on them.
Thanks to the digital information age in which we now live -- and which Alan Turning is in no small part responsible for creating -- there are lots of tributes and clips and history lessons available to us all over the internet, any one of which, or all of which, would be appropriate to meditate on today.
I myself find this exchange from the play "Breaking the Code" which demonstrates both the sheer joy of aroused genius and the frustration of genius trying to communicate with others to be absolutely mesmerizing. However, if I had to choose only one item to recommend to your attention, it would be this scene from the same play.
As oh-so-carefully-calibrated as any science fiction alien first contact, this gentle, cautious exchange between Turing and his boss show both men struggling gamely from tea mugs to mortality to find just the right words to make each other comprehensible to each other across wide intellectual, sexual, professional and cultural barriers. And as they struggle, the author (Andrew Hodges) and the playwright (Hugh Whitemore) reveal the shared, sincere humanity of their characters in a way that make us believe for at least a moment that such struggles are not always doomed.