By some standards I was raised in evil times when even mild and sweet natured boys were expected to stand up for themselves. Backing down to threat or pressure was seen as shameful. My grandfather, unrelated except by name, liked to impress on us boys (vastly outnumbered in our family with a four to one lead by the girls) the importance of standing up. Sitting with “Ja-ja” on the glider on his back porch I got lessons in what was to be expected of an eight year old male if he wished to live up to tradition. Oh, and Ja-ja gave me sips of beer from the quart bottles that were his norm. The beer may have helped cement my recollections into something definite as it did bringing mother to a boil every time “the old bastard” sent me weaving back indoors to the women. Ja-ja laughed boisterously, slapped his leg, and swallowed more beer at every protest from the women. It was great fun for him and at the time I had no qualms against feeling light headed.

In later years mother kept a closer eye on me during visits. I dared not step from kitchen doorway to porch. Instead, I’d go out the front and around the back to sit with Ja-ja. We had a sort of pact. What the women, and especially my mother, didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. Ja-ja said beer would put hair on my chest, something at the time I didn’t want after having seen an uncle shirtless on a picnic and thinking the family was blood related to Smokey Bear. Ja-ja’s emphasis on men being hairy confused me because he was quite bald. I had to suppose his very considerable moustache made up under the nose for the thatch lacking above. Well, what does a boy know anyway? I was there to get the better of mother, be with Ja-ja, hear his stories, and of course the beer.

Ja-ja’s English wasn’t the best so it was primarily his enthusiasm and total sincerity that got through to me. Only parts of his tales made sense to a boy who could hardly figure out what was the name of a foreign sounding place versus that of a person. For years I thought Pilsudski was a town and Czestochowa some kind of great big church. With obvious impediments such as mine I was lucky to grasp that the Husaria Ja-ja spoke of so proudly was a kind of army. Actually, they were one of the best cavalries ever to take a field. Formed around 1500 the Husaria had a stretch (I believe the formation existed officially until the time of the American Revolution) of five generations, 125 years, of going undefeated. That may sound so-so to some, but they did so almost always against far superior numbers. To a Winged Hussar five to one against them was nothing more than the usual two to one odds they faced. The Husaria were aggressive in a way I’ll call valiant in spirit. They made war to defend.

That’s a thing to take into account. We’re told of the virtues and fruits of peace, but if we were peaceful we’d never have survived. Even one celled organisms are aggressive eating one another and we humans have a lot more cells. Back before educational standards didn’t couch learning in terms of conciliation I learned there were three basic animal/human responses to a threat. These are Fright, then Flight, and then Fight. Fright, hackles raise, eyes bug, and we are on alert. Flight sets us in motion away from threat or danger. Flight is a survival winner. Be peaceful and mild when you should be running and you’ll be dead, especially if you’re a naked ape with claws called fingernails. Fight is the last resort. Last because it puts an animal/human at risk when minor injury could lead to deadly infection, etc. Fight came into play when attacked or when attacking meant putting a meat meal on the communal fire.

The ideal of peace may be the most deadly idea we could adopt. Peace unrealistically dulls expectations and responses. I say unrealistically because we know there are plenty of threats out there. Not being alert to them NOW, at the time of threat, and NOT reacting in timely fashion is the route to extinction. The gift of aggression is the side of aggression that keeps individuals and societies from being totally savaged by the other form of aggression. That form is not defensive but is in fact out for blood, glory, wealth, ideology, or any of the other triggers that are used to trigger (and in some cases justify) what is often called naked aggression.

Other kinds of aggression can be quite peaceful in outward appearance but operate over time in a genocidal fashion. Any groups in conflict over territory, resources, or control will suffer from aggression in one form or another. In some instances being the peaceful ones can spell cultural or national doom. There are plenty of examples to pick from. Asia saw long centuries of Chinese, Mongolian, Korean, and Japanese power struggle. The word Kamikaze wasn’t born in WW II.  There was a 600 year long bash between Muslim Moguls and Hindu Hindus that echoes yet in Pakistan and India. I’ll mention the Greek and Roman empires only as a start to the empire and religious wars of Europe. African saw lots of strife between groups followed by more and different trouble as Europeans appeared on the scene. You know the big name players in the New World, but there was tension and skirmishing between groups before gunpowder was added to the mix.

If you’re still inclined to favor peace as an ideal goal I’d ask you to consider the peace of your spirit and dignity of “peace” was imposed as slavish submission to a code personally demeaning to anyone with a vestige of ‘stand up” in them. The spirit one boy recalls of tales his Ja-ja told is this. “Stand up, stand up, stand up, always stand up, and fight if you have to.”