But I am allowing myself to be distracted. The divisive figure I'm intending to write about isn't Kaiser Bill, it's Jeremy Paxman. Last Thursday, Wellington School hosted a prestigious conference at Westminster. The subject was Schools and the Great War Centenary, and the speakers included, as well as a number of eminent historians, Michael Morpurgo and Ian Hislop (who recently co-wrote an excellent TV drama about The Wipers Times).
According to a report in The Times on Friday ( I can't provide a link because access to The Times online is not free), Paxman used the occasion to weigh into schools, which, he apparently said, are 'relying too much on poetry when introducing pupils to the realities of the First World War.' He went on: 'It seems to me poetry is part of the problem of how we teach World War One... All that is taught is about the pointless sacrifice. It's not helpful to see the whole thing through the eyes of poetry... Luxuriating in the horror of the thing really won't do and doesn't set out to answer really interesting questions.'
Please note: I am relying on the report in The Times. I wasn't there. I emphasise this to be clear that I'm very aware, as we all are on this blog, that it's important to get your facts right.
Now, as I said before, I used to teach war poetry. Before this, I studied it at school. I was immensely moved by it - by its beauty, by the pity of it, and because for the first time, through poems like Dulce Et Decorum Est and Strange Meeting, I could really see how the form of the poetry was indispensable to the meaning. Because it seized my imagination, I went on to read more about the war. And when I was teaching, I saw the same poems have a very similar effect on the wide range of pupils that I taught. More than anything except, perhaps, Of Mice And Men, reading these poems created a still and silent classroom. They spoke to the students in the same way that they had spoken to me.
As well as I could, I put them into context. I talked to the students about the causes and the nature of this particular war. (And yes, I even showed them the last episode of Blackadder. I admit it, and I don't regret it, because the effect of that last scene was electrifying.) But - here's the thing, Mr Paxman: as an English teacher, my priority was not to teach them about the war. There was another department that did that - the history department. Are you forgetting about the historians? You shouldn't. Without their teaching, none of those eminent historians at the conference would have been inspired to go on and study history.
So - please. Just think it through a little. 'Poetry is no way to teach the Great War' might make a nice soundbite. But your argument is based on a false premiss: poetry is not the way the Great War is taught - it's only a small part of it. You don't need to take inaccurate shots at teachers to make an interesting argument - they are already targets for flak from all quarters quite often enough.
Michael Morpurgo, of course, had a different approach. 'Stories engaged pupils in a way that history books sometimes failed to do, he said.' (The Times)
Just one last thought before I leave the subject of TV programmes about the war. Last night, interviews were broadcast with veteran soldiers from all sides. The interviews were offcuts from the 1964 landmark series, The Great War. Now, I remember sitting down with my whole family to watch that. It was horrifying and mesmerising.
And yet, my grandfather was himself a veteran. I knew he had fought in France. I was thirteen. Why did it never occur to me to go and ask him about his experiences? It's not always easy to explain the things we do, is it - or the things we don't do.