Two Hundred Years of Preemption   [open pdf - 132KB]

"The world could this year be celebrating the two-hundredth anniversary of what came to be known as 'Copenhagening.' In August 1807, a British fleet for the second time confronted the Danish government at Copenhagen with an ultimatum that the possibility of the Danish fleet falling under the control of Napoleon could not be tolerated. Just as before the 1801 attack under the command of Admiral Horatio Nelson, the Danes were given the choice of surrendering their fleet to British control or of doing battle. The Danes resisted in 1807 as in 1801,with the result that the bulk of their fleet was destroyed (along with perhaps 30 percent of the city of Copenhagen itself), but the important result for Britain was that Napoleon was once more precluded from mustering a naval threat. The British rocket-firing and mortar ships that were used in the attack on Copenhagen were to see action again in the 1814 British attack on Baltimore during the War of 1812, in 'the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air.' [...] The threat headed off by British preemption is all too analogous, of course, to the threat posed since September 2001 by the possibility of mass-destruction terrorism against the U.S. homeland. Since such terrorists cannot be deterred by the prospect of retaliation, and since defenses against such attacks will always be imperfect, the lives of millions of Americans will be at stake. Whatever the wisdom or folly of the particular American 'preemptive' attack on Iraq, future American presidents will have to be willing to consider striking first to preempt an attack on American cities."

2007 George H. Quester
Retrieved From:
Naval War College Review: http://www.usnwc.edu/Publications/Naval-War-College-Review.aspx
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Naval War College Review (Autumn 2007), v. 60 no. 4, p. 14-28
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