On this day on 22nd October

On this day in 1870 Lord Alfred Douglas was born. According to his biographer, G. A. Cevasco: "Athletic and handsome, popular with his classmates, he applied himself more to writing verse than his studies (he did not take a degree), but while at Oxford he contributed to the Oxford Magazine and edited the Spirit Lamp." In June 1891, Douglas was introduced to Oscar Wilde. The two men entered into a sexual relationship. They also worked together and in 1892 Douglas was involved in the French production of Wilde's play, Salomé. They attempted to get it produced in London with Sarah Bernhardt taking the star role but it was banned by the Lord Chamberlain as being blasphemous.

In June 1894 Alfred Douglas received a letter from his father, Marquess of Queensberry, on the subject of his friend, Oscar Wilde: "I now hear on good authority, but this may be false, that his wife is petitioning to divorce him for sodomy and other crimes. Is this true, or do you know of it? If I thought the actual thing was true, and it became public property I should be quite justified in shooting him in sight." Douglas replied with a brief telegram: "What a funny little man you are." This enraged Queensberry who decided to carry out more research into the behaviour of Wilde.

Queensberry arrived at the home of Oscar Wilde at the end of June. Wilde said to Queensberry: "I suppose you have come to apologize for the statement you made about my wife and myself in letters you wrote to your son. I should have the right any day I chose to prosecute you for writing such a letter.... How dare you say such things to me about your son and me?" He replied, "You were both kicked out of the Savoy Hotel at a moment's notice for your disgusting conduct.... You have taken furnished rooms for him in Piccadilly." Wilde told Queensberry: "Somebody has been telling you an absurd set of lies about your son and me. I have not done anything of the kind." Wilde then evicted Queensberry from his home.

On 28th February, 1895, the Marquess of Queensberry left his card at his club, the Albemarle, accusing him of being a "sodomite". Wilde, Douglas and Ross approached solicitor Charles Octavius Humphreys with the intention of suing Queensberry for criminal libel. Humphreys asked Wilde directly whether there was any truth to Queensberry's allegations of homosexual activity between Wilde and Douglas. Wilde claimed he was innocent of the charge and Humphreys applied for a warrant for Queensberry's arrest.

Queensberry entered a plea of justification on 30th March. Owen Dudley Edwards has pointed out: "Having belatedly assembled evidence found for Queensberry by very recent recruits, it declared Wilde to have committed a number of sexual acts with male persons at dates and places named. None was evidence of sodomy, nor was Wilde ever charged with it. Queensberry's trial at the central criminal court, Old Bailey, on 3–5 April before Mr Justice Richard Henn Collins ended in Wilde's attempt to withdraw the prosecution after Queensberry's counsel, Edward Carson QC MP, sustained brilliant repartee from Wilde in the witness-box on questions about immorality in his works and then crushed Wilde with questions on his relations to male youths whose lower-class background was much stressed." Richard Ellmann, the author of Oscar Wilde (1988), has argued that Wilde abandoned the case rather than call Douglas as a witness.

Queensberry was found not guilty and his solicitors sent its evidence to the public prosecutor. Wilde was arrested on 5th April and taken to Holloway Prison. The following day, Alfred Taylor, the owner of a male brothel Wilde had used, was also arrested. Taylor refused to give evidence against Wilde and both men were charged with offences under the Criminal Law Amendment Act (1885).

The trial of Wilde and Taylor began before Justice Arthur Charles on 26th April. Of the ten alleged sexual partners Queensberry's plea had named, five were omitted from the Wilde indictment. The trial under Charles ended in jury disagreement after four hours. The second trial, under Justice Alfred Wills, began on 22nd May. Douglas was not called to give evidence at either trial, but his letters to Wilde were entered into evidence, as was his poem, Two Loves. Called on to explain its concluding line - "I am the love that dares not speak its name" Wilde answered that it meant the "affection of an elder for a younger man".

Both men were found guilty and sentenced to two years' penal servitude with hard labour. The two known persons with whom Wilde was found guilty of gross indecency were male prostitutes, Wood and Parker. Wilde was also found guilty on two counts charging gross indecency with a person unknown on two separate occasions in the Savoy Hotel. These may in fact have related to acts committed by Douglas, who had also been Wood's lover.

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas
Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas

On this day in 1887 John Reed, the American journalist was born. On 9th November 1916, Reed married Louise Bryant. Eleven days later, Reed had one of his kidneys removed at an hospital in Baltimore. His friend, Robert Benchley, who worked for the New York Tribune, wrote to him while he was recovering from the operation: "Allow me to to condole with you on your recent bereavement. we never realize. I suppose, what a wonderful thing a kidney is until it is gone. How true that is of everything in life, after all, isn't it?"

In early 1917 Lincoln Steffens suggested that Reed should go to Russia. He was keen that Louise should accompany him and so he helped her to get accreditation as a foreign correspondent to report the war for the Bell Syndicate. The notation clipped to her application read: "I suppose I will have to issue a passport to this wild woman. She is full of socialistic and ultra-modern ideas, which accounts for her wild hair and open mouth. She is the wife of John Reed, a well-known correspondent."

On 8th November, 1917, Reed spent time with Lenin: "A short, stocky figure, with a big head set down in his shoulders, bald and bulging. Little eyes, a snubbish nose, wide, generous mouth, and heavy chin; clean-shaven now, but already beginning to bristle with the well-known beard of his past and future. Dressed in shabby clothes, his trousers much too long for him. Unimpressive, to be the idol of a mob, loved and revered as perhaps few leaders in history have been. A strange popular leader 'a leader purely by virtue of intellect; colourless, humourless, uncompromising and detached, without picturesque idiosyncrasies - but with the power of explaining profound ideas in simple terms, of analysing a concrete situation. And combined with shrewdness, the greatest intellectual audacity."

Reed's experiences in Russia were recorded in his book, Ten Days That Shook the World, that was published in March 1919. Lenin later claimed it was the best book written about the Russian Revolution. and added that he "unreservedly do I recommend it to the workers of the world". However, others were not so kind. Walter Lippmann argued: "Reed was a great talent, the great descriptive journalist of our era, but as a descriptive, romantic writer, not a political thinker." Charles E. Russell, writing in The New York Times, had grave misgivings about Reed's thesis that: "All revolutions are good; some revolutions are better than others; the Bolshevik revolution was of the best."

John Reed
John Reed

On this day in 1913, Robert Capa was born in Hungary. In 1939 Capa emigrated to the United States and in 1942 he was recruited by Collier's Weekly as a photojournalist. He went to Britain and covered the Home Front before moving to North Africa. The following year Capa joined Life Magazine and accompanied Allied troops to Sicily in July 1943.

Capa also recorded dramatic photographs of the D-Day landing. In all, Capa took 108 pictures in the first couple of hours of the invasion of France. Unfortunately, a member of the staff of Life Magazine made a mistake in the darkroom and only eleven were publishable.

Subsequently he reported on the early days of the state of Israel and then the attempt by France to hold onto Vietnam. Robert Capa was killed by a land mine in Vietnam in 1954.

Robert Capa
Robert Capa

On this day in 1920, Timothy Leary, American psychologist was born. Richard Nixon described Leary as the "most dangerous man in America" and ordered G. Gordon Liddy to destroy him. In 1974 he was illegally kidnapped by Interpol agents in Kabul and transported to the United States. (At the time Afghanistan had no extradition treaty with the United States.) Leary was eventually released from prison in April, 1976.

Books by Leary include The Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality (1957), The Psychedelic Experience (1964), The Politics of Ecstasy (1965), Start Your Own Religion (1967), High Priest (1968), Confessions of a Hope Fiend (1973), Flashbacks (1983), Info-Psychology (1987), Change Your Brain (1988), Game of Life (1989), Intelligence Agents (1996) and Turn On, Tune In and Drop Out (1999).

Timothy Leary
Timothy Leary

On this day in 1923 Bert Trautmann, was born in Germany. A member of the Hitler Youth and the German Army he was captured by Allied forces in 1944. Trautmann, the 22-year-old "veteran" was sent to England as a prisoner of war. Members of the German armed forces were interrogated before being classified into three categories: White for anti-Nazis, Grey for unsure and Black for convinced Nazis. Around 10 per cent, including Trautmann, were judged to be a convinced Nazi.

After he was released Trautmann married a local woman. The manager of Manchester City, Jock Thomson, decided to sign Trautmann to replace Frank Swift. Manchester had a large Jewish community and they began a campaign to stop him playing for the club. In October 1949, 25,000 fans demonstrated outside the Maine Road Stadium, shouting and waving placards emblazoned with swastikas, "Nazi" and "War Criminal" threatening to boycott the club unless they got rid of the German.

Bert Trautmann
Bert Trautmann

On this day in 1943 in the second firestorm raid on Germany, the RAF conducts an air raid on the town of Kassel, killing 10,000 and rendering 150,000 homeless. In 1941 Charles Portal of the British Air Staff advocated that entire cities and towns should be bombed. Portal claimed that this would quickly bring about the collapse of civilian morale in Germany. Air Marshall Arthur Harris agreed and when he became head of RAF Bomber Command in February 1942, he introduced a policy of area bombing (known in Germany as terror bombing) where entire cities and towns were targeted.

One tactic used by the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Force was the creation of firestorms. This was achieved by dropping incendiary bombs, filled with highly combustible chemicals such as magnesium, phosphorus or petroleum jelly (napalm), in clusters over a specific target. After the area caught fire, the air above the bombed area, become extremely hot and rose rapidly. Cold air then rushed in at ground level from the outside and people were sucked into the fire. The most notable examples of this tactic being used was in Hamburg (August, 1943), Dresden (February, 1945) and Tokyo (March 1945).

The creation of a firestorm in Dresden
The creation of a firestorm

On this day in 2002 Richard Helms died. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor Helms joined the United States Navy. In August, 1943, he was transferred to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) that had made established by William Donovan. The OSS had responsibility for collecting and analyzing information about countries at war with the United States. It also helped to organize guerrilla fighting, sabotage and espionage.

After the surrender of Germany in 1945, Helms helped interview suspected Nazi war criminals. Helms remained in the OSS and in 1946 was put in charge of intelligence and counter-intelligence activities in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The following year Helms joined the recently formed Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Helms has been accused of being involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In 1966 President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Helms as Director General of the CIA. During the Watergate Scandal President Richard Nixon became concerned about the activities of the CIA. Three of those involved in the burglary, E. Howard Hunt, Eugenio Martinez and James W. McCord had close links with the CIA. Nixon and his aides attempted to force Richard Helms, and his deputy, Vernon Walters, to pay hush-money to Hunt, who was attempting to blackmail the government. Although it seemed Walters was willing to do this, Helms refused. In February, 1973, Nixon sacked Helms. His deputy, Thomas H. Karamessines, resigned in protest. The following month Helms became U.S. Ambassador to Iran.

Richard Helms
Richard Helms