Preemptive strikes are costly and harmful. Existing models of defensive aggression focus narrowly on the role fear plays in motivating preemptive strikes. Theoretically integrating the literatures on conflict, decision making, and emotion, the current research investigated how specific emotions associated with certainty or uncertainty, including fear, anger, disgust, hope, and happiness, influence preemptive strikes. Study 1 demonstrated that hope negatively predicts defensive exits from relationships in choice dilemmas. Studies 2 and 3 experimentally manipulated risk of being attacked in an incentivized, interactive decision making task—the Preemptive Strike Game. Risk of being attacked fueled preemptive strikes; reduced feelings of hope partially mediated this effect in Study 3. Studies 4 and 5 investigated preemptive strikes under uncertainty (rather than risk). In Study 4, reasoning about the factors that make one trustful of others curbed preemptive strikes; cogitating about the factors that underlie discrete emotions, however, did not influence defensive aggression. Study 5 demonstrated that the valence and uncertainty appraisals of incidental emotions interact in shaping preemptive strikes. Specifically, recalling an autobiographical emotional experience that produced hope significantly decreased attack rates relative to fear, happiness, and a control condition. Fear, anger, disgust, and happiness were either unrelated to preemptive strikes or showed inconsistent relationships with preemptive strikes across the 5 studies. These findings shed light on how emotions shape defensive aggression, advance knowledge on strategic choice under risk and uncertainty, and demonstrate hope’s positive effects on social interactions and relationships.