Professor Abrams: How an Historian’s Writing Influenced JFK in the Cuban Missile Crisis

Professor Doug Abrams writes an article about legal writing in each issue of the Journal of The Missouri Bar. His latest article recounts how President John F. Kennedy was profoundly influenced during the Cuban Missile Crisis by The Guns of August, historian Barbara W. Tuchman’s classic and gracefully written account of how European powers stumbled into World War I through miscalculations.

Reading the Guns of August led President Kennedy to pursue diplomacy, and to reject calls to risk nuclear war by bombing and invading Cuba.

“I am not going to follow a course which will allow anyone to write a comparable book about this time, The Missiles of October,” he told his brother, U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. “If anyone is around to write after this, they are going to understand that we made every effort to find peace and every effort to give our adversary room to move.”

After chronicling Tuchman’s contribution to world peace during the superpower nuclear standoff, Professor Abrams’ article discusses her later commentary about what she called the “art of writing,” commentary about graceful expression that remains instructive for lawyers who write for clients or causes in the private or public sector.

 In 2016, West Academic published Professor Abrams’ Effective Legal Writing: A Guide for Students and Practitioners, a book based on his Journal articles over the years.