by James C. Nelson, Justice, Montana Supreme Court (Retired)
Earlier this month, we celebrated the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied landing in France at Normandy. There is a backstory to that event worth telling.
During World War II, the Nazi war machine utilized a ciphering device for encrypting secret messages called the Enigma machine. The German Navy and Army used these machines to control and report the locations of submarines in the Atlantic and to pass information about bombing raids, the movement of military units, and the location of cargo and military supply ships. Allied cargo convoys were decimated so successfully by German U Boats that Britain was in danger of being starved into surrender.
A number of British code breakers expended considerable effort to work out the vast permutations of the Enigma. It fell, however, to one brilliant, young mathematician, Alan Turing, to create the computing device that cracked Enigma’s code. And, once the Enigma machines’ operations were compromised, the tide of war began to turn against Germany. Indeed, Britain was able to successfully use the Enigma’s capabilities against Germany’s own Navy and Air Force.
In developing the code-breaking computer, Turing also developed the concepts of algorithms and computation—known as Turing Rules or Tests—upon which all modern computers, artificial intelligence and theoretical computation devices operate.
Turing was also gay. In the early 1950s, homosexuality was a crime in Britain. In 1952, Turing was charged with “gross indecency” for having sex with a man. Instead of being hailed as one of the crucial figures in defeating the Nazis, saving Britain and thousands of lives and securing a favorable conclusion to World War II for the Allies, Turing’s security clearance was revoked, he was barred from working for the British government and he was forced to be chemically castrated with huge injections of female hormones. Less than two years later, at age 41, Alan Turing committed suicide by eating a cyanide-laced apple.