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Today’s villain is tomorrow’s hero

The Turing-Manning arc

Alan Turing and Bradley Manning.

Two gay men. Two different eras. And yet the parallels are striking.

Both, considered brilliant, worked in military intelligence.

Both made a splash and consequently history-making differences in their once-privileged positions — Turing initially in a more hush-hush way.

Both were labelled — in one way or another — as different: Turing was “eccentric.” Manning is referred to as “troubled” and a “funny little character.”

Both ran afoul of the authorities of their times.

And both galvanized thousands on their behalf to call the powers-that-be on their double standards.

Turing was a master code-breaker, credited with “cracking intercepted messages [that] helped the Allies to defeat the Nazis in several crucial battles,” according to the BBC. No less a wartime personality than Winston Churchill deemed Turing’s efforts “the single biggest contribution to Allied victory in the war against Nazi Germany,” the UK broadcaster notes.

Not enough to absolve Turing of gross indecency charges after he revealed a sexual relationship with a man, at a time when homosexuality was criminalized.

Not enough to avoid his injection with female hormones to reduce his sex drive through chemical castration.

Not enough to prevent the removal of his security privileges.

The UK has seen fit to apologize to Turing, by way of 10 Downing St, for the “appalling” way he was treated for his sexuality — 55 years after he reportedly committed suicide. (Turing’s mother never bought the official cause of death.) “On behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work, I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better,” former British PM Gordon Brown wrote in The Telegraph last year.

Computer scientist John Graham-Cumming still isn’t satisfied. He wants Beth II, aka the Queen of England, to attach “Sir” to Turing’s name, posthumously.

What of Manning?

His story and eventual fate are still rapidly evolving works in progress.

For now, he’s holed up in solitary confinement in Quantico, Virginia, while he is both venerated and vilified for his alleged role in facilitating the mother of all US military intelligence floods via WikiLeaks.

“If the allegations against him are true, Brad made WikiLeaks what it is today,” journalist Denver Nicks writes of the young army analyst from Oklahoma.

Depending on who you’re inclined to listen to, you either see the ongoing fallout of the Manning-WikiLeaks alliance as an unsurpassed victory for freedom of speech and anti-censorship — or apocalyptic (especially for governments with something to hide).

Neither Manning nor Julian Assange, anti-WikiLeakers say with scorn, is a Daniel Ellsberg. That falls into the hindsight-is-20/20 hamper for me.

As if back in 1971 they would have approved of Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers leak-o-rama that called the Vietnam quagmire into question, had the government of the day scrambling to do damage control, and led Henry Kissinger to deem Ellsberg the most dangerous man in America.

But Manning’s actions — and reactions to them — have an Ellsberg-ish ring to me. Even Ellsberg himself approves, publicly saluting Manning on MSNBC for his courage to out the truth.

“Thanks to a coalition of computer scientists, historians and LGBT activists,” Gordon Brown wrote in The Telegraph, “we have this year a chance to mark and celebrate another contribution to Britain’s fight against the darkness of dictatorship: that of code-breaker Alan Turing.”

Meanwhile, a Michigan Republican has called for Manning’s execution. All in favour, give Sarah Palin the gun.

It’ll buy Manning’s supporters some time as they petition for his release — and maybe some day, something more.