Sample Essay on History: The Homosexual Mathematician Who Broke the Nazi’s Enigma

EssayHistory
Jan 1, 2007

An essay is a type of written coursework that features a discussion built around a central message known as the thesis statement. It contains three essential parts: introduction, body, and conclusion. This sample essay on history discusses the crucial role played by the great mathematician Alan Turin in ending the Second World War.

The Second World War is universally regarded as the bloodiest armed conflict in the history of the world, bloodier even than its predecessor, the First World War . Not only did it claim the lives of around 40 to 50 million people according to various estimates, but it caused massive destruction to the economy, infrastructure, and social fabric of many countries across three continents (Beevor, 2012). Indeed, the war extensively and irrevocably changed the course of world history and the lives of countless people. While the war lasted six long years from 1939 to 1945, it would have lasted longer if not for a man’s extraordinary brilliance. This man was Alan Mathison Turing. However, this man’s name almost became a footnote on the pages of history rather than the unparalleled intellectual and celebrated war hero that he is remembered today, all because of the prevailing bigotry of the time that criminalized homosexuality.

Early Life

Alan Mathison Turing, better known as Alan Turing, was a British logician and mathematician who made great contributions to various scientific fields including computer science, mathematics, logic, and cryptanalysis. Turing was born in London on the 23 rd of June 1912 (Copeland, 2014). Even as a child, Turing already showed remarkable intelligence. His parents sent the young Turing to St. Michael’s, a primary school in St Leonards-on-Sea, where the headmistress immediately recognized the boy’s talents. He was then enrolled at Sherborne School, a public school in Sherborne, where he continued to exhibit interest and advanced knowledge in mathematics and science. Those who knew Turing recall how even as a teenager he could already understand highly advanced publications including those written by Albert Einstein (Copeland, 2014). But as dazzling as these episodes were, Turing’s full greatness was yet to come.

Turing went on to study mathematics at University of Cambridge and was eventually elected to a fellowship at King’s College by 1934. His study titled “On Computable Numbers, with an Application to Entscheidungsproblem” was recommended for publication because Turing’s methodology is a significant element that completes the science of computing. The Entscheidungsproblem basically arrived at the idea that there is no specific system of arithmetic that arrives at an effective decision method. With this idea, Turing, along with other mathematicians who ended up with the same result, established a formal system that was aimed to reduce the tasks of human computers to a great extent. This extensive research and progress of the Entscheidungsproblem led to the principal concepts of the Turing machine, eventually onto the basic principles of a digital computer (Hodges, 2014). His growth as a mathematician during these years would prove to be instrumental to the role he would play in the imminent war.

Breaking the Enigma

In the summer of 1938, Turing joined the Government Code and Cypher School. Later in the same year, he was relocated to the headquarters of the said organization at Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire. It was here that Turing would achieve his greatest accomplishment: breaking the Enigma machine. World War II broke out in 1939 following Germany’s invasion of Poland. The initial years of the war, however, saw the Allied forces at a disadvantage. British troops were forced to retreat in Dunkirk as Nazi Germany swept through Europe. The Nazis had many advantages, and one of these was their use of the Enigma machine. This machine was a device used to encrypt messages and was extremely difficult to break for a number of reasons. For one, the device was so intricate that it had billions of possible settings. For another, the settings were changed every day. This meant that it was impossible to manually decode the messages since there was simply not enough time to figure out the setting before it was changed by midnight (Lyons & Ulbrich, 2021). The Enigma gave the Germans an important advantage, since it allowed them to plan and execute missions without the Allies finding out.

Turin was certainly not the only person who worked on beating Enigma. Thanks to a team led by Marian Rejewski, a Polish mathematician and cryptologist, the wiring of the Enigma machine was decoded. By the time Turing and his team moved into Bletchley, their job then was to break every cryptic message day in and day out. The total number of messages they were tasked to decrypt was 84,000 messages a month, or around two messages every minute. For months, Alan Turing’s co-mathematicians tried to break the code manually. But Turing knew it was humanly impossible and instead focused on building a machine. He called this machine “Bombe,” which was a significantly improved version of a machine initially made by the Polish called “Bomba.” If it succeeded, this machine would be able to decode messages much faster. Turing’s machine proved to be a success. His first prototype, known as “Victory,” successfully cracked the code of the Enigma in July 1942. For the first time, the British could easily decode the daily communication made by the Nazi Party (Hodges, 2014). The Allies’ ability to intercept and decode messages gave them the upper hand, since this meant that the Allies could finally plan ahead, avert attacks, and respond to the Nazis’ strategies. As it turns out, it took a mysterious man to crack a mysterious machine and aid the fall of the vilest leader who ever lived.

Persecution and Death

The value of Turing’s work is difficult to measure in quantifiable terms. But scholars estimate that his work cut the war short by two years. If it was not for Turing, the war would have dragged on, causing more destruction and claiming the lives of countless more people. In other words, Turing saved the lives of millions of people. But the benefits of his work were not limited to the war (Cooper & van Leeuwen, 2013). With his machine, Turing initiated the field of artificial intelligence. He changed the history of computers forever and ushered in a new age where artificial intelligence plays a bigger role not only in specialized fields and settings but also in the daily life of private citizens (Cooper & van Leeuwen, 2013). But despite the fact that his brilliance helped end a devastating war, saved countless lives, and marked the beginning of a new age, he could not save himself from the homophobia that was still firmly in place at the time.

Aside from the haunting racial laws and acts implemented by many countries in Europe at the time, particularly the Nuremberg Laws in Nazi Germany, it was no secret that there were other forms of bigotry that were plaguing the continent. These included the fact that homosexuality was treated as a crime. Being a homosexual remained illegal in Britain until 1967. One reason behind this was the prevailing attitudes toward what society considered as immorality. Furthermore, homosexuality was considered as a potential weakness due to the fact that many homosexuals were vulnerable to blackmail. In other words, homosexual men were considered a threat to national security, since agents intending to undermine Great Britain could use homosexual men’s status as a threat to extract state secrets (Hodges, 2014). Turing created the machine that broke an impossible code and yet he was arrested because he was considered a threat to national security.

The consequences of Turing’s arrest were profound. He lost the job he had because of that. Worse, he was made to take medications that would “neutralize hormones,” a euphemism for the fact that he was “chemically castrated”. Losing his job and being subjected to this inhumane therapy broke Turing’s mental health, and on the 7th of June 1954 he took his own life by ingesting at least four ounces of cyanide. His body was found dead in his home, with a bitten apple nearby. Authorities first believed that the apple was laced with cyanide, but further investigation showed that Turing took the cyanide first then bit the apple to perhaps neutralize the taste. He was 41 years old (Hodges, 2014). That day the world lost one of the most brilliant minds in modern history.

Rehabilitation

Turing’s name would have been reduced to a footnote in history if it were not for developments in the recent decade. In December of 2013, Turing was granted a Royal Pardon, seventy-one years after developing the code-breaking machine at Bletchley Park (British Broadcasting Corporation, 2013). The man who was a pivotal element in putting an end to World War II was finally given justice and given credit for the unparalleled service he rendered not only to the British people but also to the rest of the world. The following year, the American historical drama film The Imitation Game  was released. It portrayed Turing’s life including the crucial role he played in breaking Enigma and his subsequent chemical castration and suicide. The film was a critical and commercial success. It was also praised for further raising awareness about Turing’s work as well as the persecution of people who identify as LGBT+.

Conclusion

Alan Turing is without doubt one of the greatest minds in modern history. He is also among the most important figures in the Second World War. His exceptional talent helped end the most destructive military conflict in the history of humanity. But in spite of what he accomplished, he fell victim to bigotry and homophobia. There are simply no words to describe the terrible injustice he was made to endure. And even though justice was eventually served and his contributions were given due recognition, these can never bring him back to life or recover the works he would have produced had he lived his natural lifespan. One can only imagine the wonders that Turing would have produced had he lived in a more progressive, more liberal, and more open-minded time. In the end, Turing’s story serves as a poignant reminder that homosexuality, or for that matter identifying as LGBT+, is neither a moral transgression nor a disease. The life and works of Turing are proof of that. Meanwhile, his tragic death is a stark warning for what humanity loses when it gives in to its prejudices.

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References

Beevor, A. (2012). The Second World War. Hatchette UK.

British Broadcasting Corporation. (2013, December 23). Royal pardon for codebreaker Alan Turing. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-25495315

Cooper, S. B. & van Leeuwen, J. (2013). Alan Turing: His work and impact. Elsevier.

Copeland, B. J. (2014). Turing: Pioneer of the Information Age. Oxford University Press.

Hodges, A. (2014). Alan Turing: The Enigma. Princeton University Press.

Lyons, M. J. & Ulbrich, D. J. (2021). World War II: A global history. Routledge.

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