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Would Alan Turing, who helped win World War II for the Allies by cracking Nazi codes, be considered too "immoral" to serve in the U.S. military? That's a question posed by Republican former U.S. senator Alan Simpson.
Simpson cited the late gay British mathematician in his criticism of the recent "homosexuality is immoral" comment from Marine Corps general Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In a op-ed for The Washington Post printed Wednesday, Simpson, of Wyoming, cited the accomplishments of Turing, who committed suicide in 1954 after he was convicted of "gross indecency" for having a same-sex relationship.
"In World War II, a British mathematician named Alan Turing led the effort to crack the Nazis' communication code," Simpson wrote. "[Turing] mastered the complex German enciphering machine, helping to save the world, and his work laid the basis for modern computer science. Does it matter that Turing was gay? Would Pace call Turing 'immoral'?"
On Monday, Pace told a Chicago Tribune reporter that he considers homosexuality to be "immoral" and that the military should not condone it by allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to serve openly.
The American media and many gay and lesbian groups have called on Pace to apologize. The comments highlight growing controversy surrounding the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military.
However, Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Sam Brownback on Wednesday praised General Pace's "personal commitment to moral principles."
"The question is whether personal moral beliefs should disqualify an individual from positions of leadership in the U.S. military. We think not," Brownback said in a circulated letter. "General Pace's recent remarks do not deserve the criticism they have received."
According to Pentagon figures released Tuesday, the number of gays discharged from the military dropped significantly in 2006, with numbers cut in half from 2001.
"More than 1,000 service members were discharged each year from 1997 to 2001--but in the past five years that number has fallen below 730," Pentagon officials said in a statement.
Turing is recognized for his scientific and mathematical research, which led to the creation of personal computers, as well as his code-cracking. However, his life was tainted by tragedy. Despite his prominence and success, he was arrested in 1952 for being gay and, rather than going to jail, agreed to be injected with hormones in a bid to change his sexuality.
He killed himself two years later by eating an apple he had injected with cyanide, although this finding was contested by his mother, who claimed his death was the result of an experiment gone wrong.
He was named among the 20 most important people of the 20th century by Time magazine in 1999 and one of the most important gay people of all time by the United Kingdom's Pink Paper in 1997. A statue of him eating an apple stands in a city park in Manchester, where he attended college, and a historic plaque marks his former home in Wilmslow, Cheshire. (Hassan Mirza and Ben Townley, Gay.com/U.K.)